Imagine shooting in a snow storm in Antarctica.
Living in the Pacific NW, our weather challenge is—rain. Like the Antarctica snowstorm, rain can be harsh on camera gear. During the month of December we saw so much rain that waterfalls were dispersing water at rapid rates and rivers were overflowing. This makes ideal conditions for extreme weather photography.
Shooting in the mountains with freezing temperatures and howling wind can produce a stark contrast of snow against the trees and rocks. Photograph beaches where waves upon waves of salt water wash ashore. Freezing snow, ice, rain, and splashing salt water, all great for shooting, but can be rough on your camera gear.
You may be putting yourself and your pricey gear at risk in order to get these extreme weather shots. The mantra of every adventurer is be prepared. Plan ahead, take all precautions, then enjoy and capture the image that says it all.
Here are a few suggestions to help:
1. Place Silica Gel Packets In Your Camera Bag
Silica Gel Packets— you will find them in certain shipments and in vitamin bottles. Moisture can wreak havoc on camera equipment. These magic little things help reduce moisture by helping to keep it out, especially condensation. A simple thing goes a long way toward protecting your gear.
2. Don’t Open Your Camera Outside
This may sound like a no brainer, but in the rush of the moment you just might forget. It is amazing how fast dust, water, even snow can get on the sensor or inside those magical electronics, trashing a camera faster than you can say “OH S&*T!”
When you need to change a lens, battery or memory card, jump inside some type of shelter or car. If those options are not available, do it inside your jacket. Turn your back to the wind and bend over to use your body to protect the camera. The same goes for when opening your camera bag to retrieve another lens or memory card. Block the wind or weather, and shield the bag with your body or with your coat opened.
Keep memory cards and spare batteries in your pocket, to save having to open your camera bag. Another option… shoot with the lens you have. Don’t risk it.
* If shooting at a location that is not freezing, you can skip these next two steps.
3. Don’t Bring Your Cold Gear Into A Warm Place Unprotected
After enjoying a day of traipsing through snow or cold weather conditions, when you get back inside the warm room or tent, leave your camera protected inside the bag while you settle in. Take off your winter gear and get a hot drink to warm your hands.
This allows the cooler temperature inside the bag to equalize with the warmer indoor air. One of those odd facts in that Physics Class book from years ago mentions something about “cold metal exposed to warm, (often humid) air will result in massive condensation.” The cold metal would be your camera and lens, and if exposed, it can quickly become wet with condensation, inside and out.
You can’t argue with Physics so let your camera rest in the bag while you relax with a hot drink.
4. Save Your Batteries Power By Keeping Them—And Your Hands Warm
Freezing conditions just plain suck the life out of batteries — Another one of those weird physics things. Cold batteries reduce the number of shots you can take before you have to change them. NOTE: When it comes time to change them, review Step 2.
Add a little extra warmth, and life, by keeping spare batteries in an inside pocket of your jacket, possibly with one of those hand-warming packets. When you see the battery getting low, quickly swap it out with a warm one. There is a weird phenomenon that as a battery warms up in your pocket it will slowly regain some of the charge lost while in a cold camera. Not a full charge, but enough to have ready for that next battery swap.
Besides keeping your batteries happy, have a few extra hand warmer packs to keep your fingers (and toes with electric insoles) warm so you can continue to shoot in relative comfort.
5. Ziplock Bags Save The (Rainy) Day
Don’t have rain gear for your camera? In a pinch, use a ziplock bag. I keep one (or two) of the large storage bags handy in each of my camera bags. Put a slit in the bottom seam, just large enough for the lens to poke through, slide the camera in so the lens just barely sticks out, put a rubber band around the end of the lens, with the “zip-lock” side towards the rear of the camera, then put on the lens hood for added protection.
For the best rubber bands, go to the produce section of your grocer, look for the broccoli, cauliflower or other large veggies with those big fat rubber bands holding them together. Have the veggies for dinner and use the rubber bands on your homemade rain protection. They work great.
Storage bags are cheap, plentiful by the box, and when not in use, the bag easily folds up into a very small package, wrapped with the rubber band to keep it together, ready for use during that next down-pour.
Those ready-made rain covers are nice too, just make sure you always have something with you. If you lose or break the rubber band, you can always use the MacGyver solution via duct tape or string to hold the bag in place. You do have duct tape with you, don’t you? I also carry a small towel (see #6), which allows me to wipe things down and doubles as a quick rain shield.
Speaking of weather proofing, when looking at camera bags, go for one that has a pull-over rain coat to protect it.
Purchase inexpensive “ready to use” rain pouches, such as these from OP/Tech....
6. Be Ready To Clean Your Gear With “Microfiber Camp Towels”
You know, those nice moisture wicking microfiber camping towels you can pick up at outdoors stores like REI. Make sure you have at least one or two handy in each camera bag, and maybe a large one in your vehicle. They are easy to wash and quickly dry, ready for that next outing. Don’t forget to wipe down your tripod too.
Here’s a 12-pack for $10.88, or amazingly, for only $3 more you can get 24 of them, which will last a lifetime!
If I don’t have a polarizer or neutral density filter on my lens, I always have a high quality UV filter. Why? Protection. Yes, there are some that say you have extra glass impeding your image. Personally, I have never seen any issues. It is possible when using an inexpensive UV filter, but not a quality one.
The other reason I use a UV filter — I have had a lens take a dive from a not properly secured quick-release. The front element of my lens remained unharmed, unfortunately (or fortunately) the sacrificial UV filter shattered. There is also the added protection of the expensive coating on the lens surface from blowing sand, ice pellets, snow and rain. It is much cheaper to replace a UV filter than to buy a new lens or replace an element. Another added bonus—the UV light protection also helps reduce some haze and blocks UV light from hitting your sensor.
If you don’t have a UV filter, HOYA makes a great inexpensive one to get you going. Just make sure you check your filter tread size for each of your lens. The size can be found listed on the ring around the front glass of your lens.
Sometimes the weather is too extreme. It doesn’t matter if you are at the beach, in the desert, or in the mountains, when the wind is howling it might be best to wait it out in the safety of your vehicle. Try shooting from inside your car, it could produce some unique shots due to your limited range of motion. Sand, or even worse, its smaller cousin silt, can quickly get itself inside all of the tiny workings of your camera and lens, especially the focusing and zoom rings, making them grind (pun intended) to a halt!
At the beach salt water is one of the most corrosive elements around (besides Coke, which will quickly eat through a nail. YouTube it). Splash or mist from ocean waves can attack very quickly while your mind is in the zone shooting. Fresh water lakes aren’t as bad, but water is still water. Electronics and water are not good friends. Snow, sleet, and hail are just frozen water and can create havoc on your gear. Sometimes, when the conditions demand it, it is just best to shoot from your vehicle—at least until Mother Nature calms down and takes a break.