Photography in Bad Weather – Tips and Techniques

Sea Anemones, Botanical Beach

Sea Anemones, Botanical Beach

Let’s face it, the weather in most parts of the world is not always picture perfect. Where I live on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada we have our share of rain and what I like to call heavy mist. As a photographer what do we do to prepare ourselves for this?

On a recent trip to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island the weather was a typical heavy mist with occasional rain mixed in. Rather than putting the camera away and forgetting photography completely I took this opportunity to capture what in many ways is a unique landscape. All landscapes do not look like a Tahiti beach at sunset!

Keeping the camera gear dry while shooting is of course one of the primary concerns. While I don’t go overboard in buying raincoats for my gear I also don’t leave it sitting out on a tripod either. I try to change lenses under cover of trees or cliffs or when there is a slight break in the drizzle. Often I’ll wear a baggy raincoat that I can slide the camera under when I’m not shooting images and I will drape plastic bags over the camera if needed. What I don’t do is seal my camera gear in plastic or anything else that can’t breathe as I think this will just cause more issues with moisture. A little air circulation is a good thing! I try to have a light towel or in a pinch my tee shirt to wipe off the camera if a little too much moisture lands on it.

I’m a strong advocate of using your lens shade at all times and not just to shade the lens from sunlight and glare. These shades are also very effective at keeping rain off the front element of your lens or filter. It’s amazing how a few drops on your front element can make unpleasant blurred areas in your photos. If I do get drops or mist on the element I wide it off with a dry cloth or tissue and wait for it to clear. You have to be patient here as it may take a while! Lens shades can also save your lens if you are moving quickly and give the front of the camera a smack against a tree or rocks and this does happen, at least to me!

I really don’t worry too much about my camera bag getting a little damp but try to keep it closed as much as possible. On occasion I have slipped a garbage bag over my camera bag if the weather gets extremely ugly and while this works well for the worst of it, it also makes access to equipment very difficult. The harder it is to access your equipment and shoot the less likely you will be shooting photographs; trust me on this!

Big waves at Botanical Beach, British Columbia

Big waves at Botanical Beach, British Columbia

My biggest concern with equipment is getting it dry when I return to the vehicle or to my house. I find returning to a vehicle is the easiest as the temperature inside is about the same as outside so I tend not to get condensation. I wipe my gear off as well as possible, open up my camera bag so it can breathe and don’t think too much about it. As the vehicle warms up the air temperature inside slowly warms the equipment and condensation generally isn’t a problem.

Concentrate on the small picture

Concentrate on the small picture

Coming into a warm home or trailer is another issue however as condensation will form very quickly if a damp and cool camera is brought into a warm and dry environment. A few options work reasonable well. Generally I dry my equipment off the best I can outdoors and let it sit in a covered area for an hour or so. At this point I bring it indoors and haven’t had any issues. Another option is to dry the equipment as well as possible and place the items in plastic bags. When brought into a warmer environment any condensation should form on the plastic and once that equipment has warmed up to ambient temperature it should be fine. I’m a little skeptical on this as I have always thought I likely have rain clouds forming inside the plastic bags and this can’t be good! At any rate, in my many years of shooting I have only had major condensation issues a few times and while I have had anxious moments watching all my lenses fog over they have always dried out fine without lasting damage. Yes, I’m sure damage can be done but do your best with drying out your equipment and you likely will be OK.

What do you do if the weather is just so awful that you don’t want to risk your valuable photography equipment? I always come up with a few different options. My first is to shoot in the forest or another protected area and concentrate on close up photography and not the grand landscape. It’s certainly easier to protect cameras without heavy rain and wind. The second is to stay at home and wait for another day. While I hate to admit defeat, this does happen on occasion. The third for me is to find a warm cafe or pub and just sit the weather out for an hour or two. The weather often changes hourly and your photography day may have just been delayed a little.

Our equipment is surprisingly tough, get out there and shoot even when the weather isn’t perfect, you will be shooting memorable images that aren’t that common.

Looking in tidepools, Botanical Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Looking in tidepools, Botanical Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Botanical Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC

Botanical Beach Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC

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2 Responses to “Photography in Bad Weather – Tips and Techniques”

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for sharing some great tips and some awesome photos!!

    kevin Reply:

    Thanks Karen,

    I need a little motivation this year to head out into the cold weather! Must be in the pub and cafe mode.

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