‘How do you keep the camera safe when photographing in rain and bad weather’ is a question I hear quite often. ‘Won’t you damage the camera when it gets wet?’
The truth is that the best images may involves a certain level of risk. Sometimes that means taking the camera out in less-than-ideal conditions that may damage it. That’s why I always recommend thinking of the camera as a work tool rather than a valuable.
That being said, there are still certain precautions you can make to minimise the risk of damaging the equipment. There’s no need to take unnecessary risks – even when photographing or camping in a storm, standing in the splash-zone of a waterfall or getting close to the breaking waves.
Implementing a few simple steps into your workflow can make a difference. Let’s take a look at a few things that you should do to protect your camera when photographing in rain:
#1 Use a rain cover to protect the camera in heavy rain
High-end DSLR cameras are built to withstand harsh conditions but few of them are completely waterproof. They have no problem with light rain but too much water can damage both the camera body and lens. A rain cover is a good (and cheap) investment to protect the camera from heavy rain but can also be used when, for example, photographing waterfalls.
Personally, I don’t use a rain cover unless it’s heavy rain. I know that my camera is able to handle a fair amount of rain but as soon as the rain increases, the rain cover goes on. This is something I always have in my backpack and it’s something that I strongly recommend that you have too. It’s worth it on the days when the heavens open.
A common misconception is that rain covers are expensive. Yes, there certainly are pricy options out there but that doesn’t necessarily make them better options than those you get for a few bucks in the nearest electronic shop.
The biggest difference between a cheap and expensive rain cover is that the pricier version tends to be more flexible. What that means, is that they have two sleeves for your hands so you can easily adjust the camera settings while the cover is on. They will also fit the camera better so that less water finds its way in.
That being said, I tend to always come back to the cheaper versions as they are lighter in weight, take less place in the backpack, and do an equally good job of keeping water out.
Here are a few different rain covers that I’ve tried and recommend:
Disclaimer: I’m not sponsored or paid by the mentioned brands. These are products that I’ve purchased and used, are what I recommend based on my own experiences.
#2 Use an umbrella
Did you know that there are umbrella holders made specifically for photographers? Well, there are!
Using an umbrella might not be as efficient as a rain cover but it does a good job protecting the camera from light rainfall. Even more importantly, it gives some shelter to the camera, allowing you to change lenses without worrying about the sensor getting wet or dirty.
The best way to use an umbrella as a photographer is to attach it to your tripod using an umbrella holder. This means that you have two free hands and can continue working with your camera as normal.
I’ll admit that I don’t have much experience with an umbrella for photography as the weather here in Arctic Norway rarely allows for it. The winds are so strong that an umbrella would either break or transport you across the ocean…!
#3 Don’t change lenses in the rain
This should go without saying but you’d be surprised to hear how many times I’ve seen someone change lenses when photographing in rain or heavy winds. Is it really necessary to explain that this is a bad idea?
I’ve seen it too often that photographers change lenses in stormy conditions while photographing a seascape with big waves. I can only imagine how the sensor looks like afterwards. This is a recipe of ruining your camera.
Getting dirt on the lens is normal and it’s easy to clean using a microfiber cloth or lens cleaning supplies back at home but when that dirt gets on the camera sensor, it’s much worse. Yes, it’s unavoidable to get some dust on the sensor but there’s a difference between some dust, and raindrops, sand, or even worse, saltwater.
Changing lenses when photographing in rain or wind is quite possibly the worst thing you can do to your camera.
If you need to change your lens in such conditions, I urge you to be smart about it. Try to angle yourself in a position where you protect the camera and lens, use an umbrella if you have one, or find a shelter to do it beneath.
#4 Use microfiber cloths to remove water from the lens
There’s one thing that I can never repeat enough: you need microfiber cloths!
I always have a handful of them in my camera bag and I keep finding more in the pockets of my outdoor gear (and at the strangest places around my home!) These are without a doubt a photographer’s best friend when it comes to keeping the lens clean.
I’ve been using MagicFiber Cloths for years now and, I’ll admit, I panic a little if I find myself without one in my pocket.
Make sure that you have at least a few available when photographing in rain or wet conditions. For example, it’s an essential way to keep your lens free of water drops when standing at the base of a waterfall. In those situations, the workflow looks something like this: wipe, shoot, wipe, shoot, wipe, shoot. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you.
A microfiber cloth can also be used to wipe off water from the camera. They might not be intended to be used as a towel but sometimes, that’s the only option you’ve got. The bigger cloths are especially useful for this purpose.
You can’t always bring a towel in the camera bag but there’s always space for a few microfiber cloths. The best part? It works!
As landscape photographers, we spend a lot of time outside in harsh conditions. Either we’re hiking in the remote mountains and camping in a storm, standing at the base of a waterfall, or photographing a rugged seascape beneath the rain, we expose the camera equipment for less than ideal conditions.
Luckily, technology has come a long way and most of today’s cameras have some sort of water sealing but that doesn’t make them invincible. Too much rain, or too rough conditions, will at some point damage the camera. Take that from someone who’s lost more than one camera due to bad weather!
It’s a part of our job to push the limits but that doesn’t mean we need to take unnecessary risks. Be smart about your choices and the camera will last a lot longer, and your image files will look a lot better.
A rain cover and a few microfiber cloths is a small investment to protect camera gear worth thousands of dollars.
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