When Nature Photography Gets Wet

For a lot of the country, conditions are wet. Where I am in Southern California, it is wet, wet, wet. The rain is steady and nearly continuous. This is our rainy season, but this is far wetter than it normally is. I was just in Costa Rica earlier this month and I feel like I am back in the rainforest! The wet black-bellied hummingbird below is from Costa Rica (and it really does have a very black belly and chest).

Last night, my wife watched the Vikings play Chicago in very wet snow conditions (she is an ever hopeful Vikings fan from our years living in Minnesota). At this time of year, there is a lot of wet weather all over.

A lot of photographers put their cameras away in these conditions. That's not for me. Even when I lived in Minnesota and spent a lot of time outdoors throughout the whole year, I refused to let my camera hibernate. There are many opportunities for interesting photos when the weather is bad. Anyway, if I really want to photograph nature in all of its glory, I need to at least shoot a little bad weather nature. And I know I can get photos that other photographers don't have because they have put their cameras away. The next photo is a rainy day in the chaparral of the Santa Monica Mountains.

But I understand the worry about damaging gear. When gear gets wet, it can fail. Here are some things I do to keep my camera gear dry:

1. Use an umbrella. I carry a small, black umbrella that folds up small enough to fit inside my camera bag. With my camera on a tripod, the umbrella keeps the camera and lens dry without fighting with (or even needing) a lot of special waterproof protection. Doing this is sometimes a bit awkward, but it does work, and a little practice makes the use of the umbrella much easier.

2. Use a shower cap. Whenever I travel and the hotel has shower caps in the bathroom, I keep them for my camera bag. They fit a camera and a moderate-sized lens very well. I brought some for my group in Costa Rica and our cameras often sported these handy accessories. Locals sometimes laughed at us, but our cameras were dry!

3. Bring along a pack towel. Go to an outdoor store such as REI, Sports Chalet, Bass Pro Shops, and look for a small, pack towel made of microfiber. These pack nicely in your camera bag and help dry gear as it gets wet.

4. Try waterproof protection from OpTech and other brands. OpTech makes an inexpensive, plastic cover for cameras and long lenses that is designed to fit and cover them well.

5. Use a hair dryer. Now I have to caution you about this. I will always use a hair dryer after my gear and bag have been out in wet conditions -- I dry out the bag and the gear. But for the gear, I hold lenses and cameras in my hand as I point the hair dryer at them -- that way I cannot get the gear too hot since too hot would be uncomfortable for my hands, too. However, never do this if your camera is very cold.

6. Bonus tip for winter photographers -- beware of another sort of wetness, condensation on your camera. Cold cameras brought into warm interiors (including cars) can act just like that cool glass of lemonade on the counter in warm, humid summer conditions. You can get water condensing both on and in your camera. It is the "in" that can be really bad because it can damage your camera. Avoid it by never bringing an exposed cold camera into those conditions. Put the camera into a zipped camera bag or into a closed plastic bag while it warms up.

About Rob Sheppard

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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2 Responses to When Nature Photography Gets Wet

  1. Holly says:

    People put their cameras away because of WEATHER?! Srsly? Really? I cannot .imagine. doing that. I bought my camera to use and not just when things are perfect. If you don't go out and use it during less than perfect conditions imagine the shots you miss!

    That said, I am going to use those ideas of yours that aren't already in use. I always carry towels with me, and some sort of plastic weather proofing material (often kitchen plastic wrap for UNDER the towel) but the shower cap is a good idea and the umbrella is good too. The umbrella would be good for getting ears up on horses and dogs, they don't usually see that stuff.

  2. Pingback: Winter Photography Tips « Natural History Wanderings

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