by Gary W. Stanley
This year most of us East Coast folks experienced one of the driest winters on record. Our reservoirs were at dangerously low levels and with no relief in sight. Well, I photographed this spring in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and can say without hesitation; “This has been one of the wettest droughts on record.”
I have so many umbrellas in the back of my van, that, I look like a vender at a Red Socks game. Unlike our poor friends in the Southwest, we have made up for the drought in a major way. When you make your living photographing and leading photo tours, you had better know how to photograph in the rain.
I’ll say this from the outset: if I can keep my camera gear dry, I don’t worry too much about the rest. I know I’ll dry out eventually, and since my camera gear is worth twice what my van is, I better protect it as best as I know how. Fortunately, it is possible to keep both yourself and your equipment relatively dry if you pay attention to a few small details. Keep in mind that this article is written for short term wet weather shooting, and not intended to guide you through equipment needs for a photographic adventure in a tropical rain forest.
Shower Caps: Have you ever heard of people who take towels from hotel rooms? How about ashtrays? Maybe shampoo? That’s free anyway right? But shower caps, this guy is strange. I have shown more workshop participants the value of something as simple as a shower cap to quickly cover your camera and lens when it starts to rain. By the way, you can buy the ones the beauty salons use. I paid $3.50 for 50 of them at the place where I go. They are even a little bigger.
Clear 30 Gallon Plastic Recycling Bags: I usually keep a couple of these folded up in my photo vest so that if is starts to rain hard, I can quickly cover my entire camera, lens and most of my tripod and make a made dash for the van if I want to. Okay Gary, why a clear bag? Well, I have been known to cut a small hole in the corner of the bag (just a little smaller than the end of the lens that I am using), slip the entire bag over the camera, and just the very end of the lens. The clear bag helps me to be able to see and work the camera’s various functions. There actually is enough room to get your head and shoulders comfortably under the bag as well. I can still see out of the bag relatively well when I’m not looking through the viewfinder. This is not a good idea if you are a small child, are claustrophobic, or if it is very hot or humid.
Umbrella: Wow! You mean I don’t have to use the plastic bag idea? Yes I have to say in all honesty that I bagged that idea for the umbrella idea. I still use the plastic bags for covering my equipment and to kneel on when the ground is wet of sandy. There are probably as many ways to mount an umbrella to your tripod as there are reasons to stay inside when it rains. While you may have a method that works better (and we’d love to hear them), I’m still going to recommend a few things that I have done.
In a pinch, I have stopped in a nearby pharmacy or department store and purchased small beach umbrellas for about $3.00 on sale. They are the ones with a ‘C’ clamp that you can attach directly to the tripod leg. Don’t expect them to come with a lifetime warranty. They will get the job done, but they are cheap. Another way, is to invest about $36 dollars in a couple of Bogen Mini-Clamps, one with a stud and one without (#2940 and #2941). One clamp attaches to the tripod, the other to the umbrella, and the stud connects the two clamps together.
A UV Filter: I will also screw a UV filter on the end of the lens just to protect the lens from moisture. This is a good idea when working near the ocean as it helps to protect from the saltwater spray on windy days. When I am in the Southwest I will use them to protect the lenses from the blowing sand.
Terry Cloth Towels: It is always a good idea to wipe down your equipment after shooting. The tripod especially will be wet, and wiping it down will ensure smooth operation of the legs. I will dab any moisture that may have accumulated on my camera and lens, then, using a hand blower I will blow off any excess moisture. Be sure to use only lens tissue or a lens cloth when cleaning the front lens element itself.
Keeping Yourself Dry: It goes without saying that; a lightweight pair of water-resistant hiking boots, is important to keep your feet dry. A raincoat or rain gear that is both lightweight and comfortable will also be important. Something that keeps the moisture away from your body will keep you comfortable.
I recently broke down and bought a pair of L.L. Bean Outdoor pants; the kind that un-zip above the knees to make shorts. They have a moisture control system, and are made of 100% Codura. Being cheap at times (they cost $79 dollars), and not realizing the value of investing in quality outdoor wear, it has opened my eyes to a whole new meaning of comfort (Pam and I now own three pair each). I have worn these pants out west in 95° temperatures, and in the rain photographing here in New England, and I have to say they are nothing short of amazing. We will finish photographing in the rain, get back in the van, and within ten to fifteen minutes be totally dry.
Besides the obvious problems photographing in the rain, often times we are out in the early morning when the dew is very heavy on the ground or there is a light drizzle. It is just as important to take care of you and your equipment under these conditions.
Why write this article Gary? After all, why risk getting wet, getting your equipment wet or catching a cold if you don’t have to? Well, I’d have to say, for the same reason I get out of be at 4:00 am to take pictures, “For the light man, the light.”
All Images shot on Fuji Velvia @ ISO 40, Nikon F100,
Velbon Carbon Fiber Tripod.
Close-ups of the Lupines were done with a 200mm Micro Nikkor
lens. Wide angle shot of Texas Falls River was with a
Tokina 20-35 f/2.8 lens. The Old Mill was shot with the
Tokina 24-200mm lens.
The Plastic Bags…. Who cares!