Singing (and Photographing) in the Rain
OK, I admit it, I can’t sing. But I have been known to photograph in the rain. Here are some ideas on keeping your gear and yourself dry, and the possibilities that await you if you do.
First of all, there are times when it rains, and there are times when it really rains. Our weather here in the Pacific Northwest is known for its rain, but its far less of a problem generally than rain in many other places I’ve lived. We tend to get hours on end of light drizzle here. Other areas can get torrential downpours that are over in twenty minutes but can leave the unprepared soaked. The type of protection needed for the latter would be overkill for the former. Rain comes in all varieties, and correspondingly so should the measures you take to protect yourself and your gear from it.
The time to think about protection is before the need arises so you can be prepared. If there’s a reasonable chance, it’s better to have protection and not end up needing it than the other way around. If you take nothing else away from reading this article, know that enough water can ruin your camera and ruin your day. Cameras require electrical power to operate, and electricity takes to water just a little bit too much, if you get my meaning. At best, a short-circuited camera won’t operate. At worst, it becomes a ruined, ex-camera. Repair costs can be quite steep. And while you may think you’ll be able to stay warm and dry yourself, you may find yourself in over your head. Well, hopefully not that much rain, but it can happen if you’re shooting in a slot canyon or something. But if enough water seeps in, you’re going to find yourself cold and wet, if not worse, even if you can hold your head high. And you’d better get my meaning this time. Hypothermia can kill. Rain can sometimes be associated with lightning, too, and lightning most definitely can kill.
Beyond the important safety warning above, it follows that rain protection needs can vary just as rain itself can. You can buy very nice, sturdy, rain hoods for your camera and lens, and if you shoot outdoors in the rain enough, you should find one that fits your gear, and use it. These things aren’t cheap, but they are a lot less expensive than a new lens or camera. Consider the cost of buying one as money well spent. But on the flip side, most shooters honestly don’t need one. Most current cameras are at least somewhat sealed to the elements, with the degree to which obviously varying on price and target audience. Understand what your camera can reasonably handle with no more assistance than an occasional wipe with a towel and use this as a baseline for how often you need more than this. Pay some attention on how long you stay out in the rain, too. A small leak could eventually become a big problem.
Apart from keeping your gear dry to keep it working as it should, and keeping yourself dry so you can, what rain can do to your images. Raindrops on your lens will likely have at least some impact on images taken with that lens. Even a single drop of rain landing on the front element of your lens could ruin every image you shoot. At wide enough apertures, it may blur. With the lens stopped down enough to increase depth of field, it just might show up as a drop. Your first line of defense here should be a lens hood. A good hood can shield the front element enough so you can avoid finding out how bad rain spots make things. I’m a firm believer in using lens hoods whenever possible to protect the front element from dirt, fingerprints, stray branches, and yes, raindrops.
If more than just a mist, you’ll probably want more than just a lens hood. But before you jump to buying a fancy commercial rain hood, we should talk about plastic bags and shower caps. Shower caps with an elastic edge work great to cover your camera when not shooting. With a short enough lens or just a body cap and no lens, these things are great to keep you mobile, Snap one over your tripod-mounted camera and you can carry your rig around as safely as if it were a sunny day. I used to take the disposable plastic shower caps whenever I stayed in a motel. These days, I’ve found it easier to just buy a whole bunch of them off Amazon. You can buy almost anything on Amazon. For a cheap solution when shooting, find a plastic bag big enough to cover your setup and cut a whole the corner just smaller than the front of your lens. You can then stretch it to fit with the front element just poking out, and top the whole thing off with the lens hood making a near water tight camera raincoat for the price of a trash bag. Such protection won’t last forever, but it doesn’t need to. When you get back to basecamp, you can simply dispose of the bag if it’s starting to wear out. A whole box of them won’t cost you much at all, available at stores everywhere.
Carry a micro-fiber cloth, too, just in case any stray raindrops do make it past your defenses. These things are safe on your lenses when kept clean, and also super absorbent. Check your lens elements often, and clean as appropriate.
At about this point, there may be at least a few of you who are starting to ask yourself why anyone would want to shoot in the rain. I mean, any idiot knows to come in out of the rain, right? Easy: there are some great images to be made on the cusp of a rainstorm or even in the middle of one. If you believe one function of photography is to reveal a subject to the viewer in a way they wouldn’t normally encounter it, then shooting in the rain should be high on your list of things to seek out.
Rapidly changing lighting in a storm can create unique and almost magical landscapes. Uncommon cloud formations can add an extra element to any image, whether you are visiting a spot you’ve already shot multiple times and know quite well, or if you simply have the wherewithal to see an opportunity and take advantage of it before it’s gone wherever you find yourself. If you and your gear are protected, stick around and shoot in the rain to see what happens. Try playing with shutter speeds to see what happens with it, too. And watch for rainbows if the sun is being cooperative.
If you’ve never tried shooting in the rain, hopefully I’ve given you a starting place and enough confidence to give it a try. If you’ve always said you didn’t want to shoot in the rain, perhaps I can convince you to sing a new tune.
Singing in the rain, get it?