Keeping Your Gear Safe in the Rain

October 29, 2014

Keeping Your Gear Safe in the Rain

You've heard this before.

"When it starts to rain, good photographers head out to make pictures."–Jim Richardson, National Geographic

This saying may seem a bit cliché, but this really rings true. That's because rain, even in all its potential yuckiness and regardless of its less-than-flattering effects on hair, can actually enhance a photo. Rain can add dimension to an image as it brings a wonderful sense of moodiness and drama to a scene. And the puddles and the general wetness of a rainy day means that light will be reflected off all sorts of different surfaces and in unique and exciting ways.

In other words, rain can make the familiar new and interesting.

So don't let rainy weather stop you from heading out to take photos. But be sure to come prepared. Because, while rain can be a great photographic element, wet weather can also wreck havoc on electronic equipment.

That said, here are some tips for keeping your gear safe on rainy days.

Protect your Gear in Transport

Protecting your gear from the rain starts before you set up your first shot. So it's important that you carry your equipment in a bag that can fend off the wet elements.

Consider one of the many camera bags on the market that come equipped with a rain cover. This is an especially handy setup since the cover is always with you—there's a designated pocket for storage—and it's specifically designed for the dimensions of the bag, so the fit is good.

Personally, I like any of the bags from Lowepro's All-Weather series. The rain cover mechanism on these bags is built in and really handy and you can access your photography gear even with the cover on.

You can also purchase a rain cover separately if your bag doesn't come with one. Many bag manufacturers sell coordinating rain covers. If there isn't one available for your particular bag, lots of generic covers can be found online or through your local camera shop.

When all else fails, tuck your camera bag inside a suitably sized plastic bag. It does the job and you can't beat the price.

Use an Umbrella

For many of us, an umbrella is our go-to accessory for protection from the elements on rainy days. An umbrella can do the same for your camera and photographic gear.

That said, though, there's no denying that holding an umbrella while shooting can be a bit of a hassle. But it can work when you're shooting on a tripod. In that case, you can go one step further and get a clamp to attach an umbrella onto your tripod so that you can work hands-free.

There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind with this setup.

  • Size.

    It's important to use an umbrella that large enough to cover your equipment from front to back, lens and all.

  • Wind.

    Umbrellas, by the nature of their shape, are notorious for catching even the slightest breeze. And that can mean your equipment could go tumbling if the wind kicks up. So if it is at all windy, be sure to weigh your tripod down or even consider skipping the umbrella altogether and look for other options.

  • Lighting.

    Be aware of lighting issues if you are using an umbrella while photographing something close to you. In that case, the umbrellas can often at least partially block light from your subject, darkening the scene that you are photographing. Also, a colored umbrella may add a tinted cast to the scene lighting. Using a white or very light colored umbrella can help with both of these issues.

Cover your Camera with a Rain Jacket

A rain jacket is a protective sleeve that fits around your camera and lens and acts as a buffer against inclement weather while you are actively snapping photos. Rain jackets are constructed of waterproof material and fit in such a way to allow you easy access to the camera and lens controls.

There are tons of rain jackets available on the market today.

Some of the high-end ones like those from Think Tank, are virtually watertight and will keep your gear dry and safe in even the worst environmental conditions. These sleeves are great options for professional photographers or anyone traveling to extreme weather areas.

On the other hand, there are lower cost options like the Op/Tech Rainsleeves. These are disposable, clear, lightweight plastic sleeves that you can get for less than $15. These sleeves are thin enough to keep tucked in your camera bag so that you're always ready just in case.

Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photo) takes a quick look at both of these options.

My personal favorite is somewhere in the middle. I like the Storm Jackets made by Vortex Media. These rain covers are simple designs—they utilize an adjustable elastic band to tighten and fit around the camera—and are fast and easy to use, but effective in keeping camera gear dry.

Whatever type of rain jacket you decide on, be sure to measure your camera body attached to the lens you'll be using with the jacket before making any purchase. Most jackets are sized based on the distance from the back of the camera to the front of the lens, but some jackets also require a measurement for the depth of the camera as well as the diameter of the lens barrel. And when you are taking these dimensions, be sure to include measurements for any additional equipment—filters, teleconverters, a lens hood, etc.—that you want the rain jacket to cover.

But what if you are caught in a rainy situation without a rain jacket? Well, the good news in that, when it comes to keeping your camera dry while shooting in the rain, a little bit of improvising will often take you a long way. Hunt around for anything that will keep the wetness away from your expensive camera and gear. Try tucking your camera inside a gallon-size plastic bag. Or, if you are traveling, snatch the free shower cap from the hotel bathroom and use that to keep your camera dry.

Finally, you can make your own rain cover using a large Ziploc Freezer bag. You'll find step-by-step instructions at Purple Summit Photography.

Use A Lens Hood

While the big concern when shooting in the rain is to keep the camera body and lens barrel dry and safe from the elements, don't forget to consider the very front of your lens.

Most rain jackets do a great job of keeping your photo equipment dry, but they often leave the front of the lens glass exposed. And that can be a problem because water droplets on those front lens elements can cause your pictures to be blurred, fuzzy and distorted.

Using a lens hood will help to hold the water at bay and keep the front of the lens dry.

Shoot from an Awning, Porch or Shelter

Hunt around for a sheltered area that you can use for cover while you shoot. Any kind of semi-permanent structure that will keep you and your camera out of the rain will do—awnings, porches, open garages, roof overhangs, doorways, covered decks, etc.

There's no doubt that this option is a bit limiting and you may not be able to take all of the images that you want, but you and your camera will stay dry.

Shoot From Your Car

If you are traveling by car, use it as a shelter.

Shooting from the window of your car is often the easiest and most practical option for photographing in the rain, especially in serious downpours. Just drive to a good spot, park and shoot.

When shooting from your car, you will probably want to keep the camera back a bit from the window opening to avoid wetness. And a small travel or tabletop tripod can help in keeping things steady.

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