Photography in Rain, Snow, or Hail
When water in any form is falling from the sky, especially in freezing temperatures, it’s time to call it a day, right? Well…no. Stop thinking about your numb fingers and the water soaking through the seal in your camera for a moment and look around you. Different than usual, right? Water (or snow, or hail even) can make a plain place fascinating, covering every strand of grass with silver waterdrops, or sublimely, quietly reflecting the world. Some visual wonders disappear as soon as it stops raining, so it’s well worth figuring out how to photograph in the wet without getting wet yourself.
Like photography in cold weather, how you dress in the rain or snow will largely determine your comfort and your ability to concentrate on your photography. Of course, if it’s cold, dress for the temperatures as mentioned before. Since your hands will get the coldest when they’re wet, make sure to wear warm, waterproof gloves. With practice, it should be possible to operate most of the controls on your camera with even very thick gloves on.
Waterproof boots, jackets, and pants will all help you stay more comfortable in the cold. However, even the best waterproof/breathable fabric won’t keep you completely dry while you’re hiking fast and sweating, so prepare for it. Wear clothes underneath that maintain their warmth when wet — wool or synthetic clothing is best. Cotton will stay clammy and cool your skin, even on a relatively warm day. With rain comes mud, so be sure you’re OK with getting dirty!
The most effective tool for keeping rain, snow and hail away from you and your camera is the humble umbrella. I carry a pocket-sized one whenever the weather looks uncertain. Provided it’s not windy, an umbrella is the best way to keep water off of your camera and out of your camera bag. Also, under the cover of your trusty umbrella, you won’t have to use your jacket’s hood, making it easier to look around for photographs.
If you do venture out in the full weather with your camera, protect it from the elements as much as possible, then forget about it. I’ve photographed with a variety of equipment in pouring rain and dumping snow, and have never had any serious malfunctions as a result. A lens hood will keep a lot of rain off the lens. If bad weather is the norm, try to find a sealed casing for your camera and lens. Most importantly, be very careful to not get any water in the camera when changing lenses or film. When you’re not using your camera, point the lens towards the ground with your hand over the viewfinder. Before photographing in a snowstorm, try letting the camera freeze under cover. This will prevent snowflakes from melting on contact and will keep your camera dry.
When bringing your camera inside, keep it in its bag until it warms up to room temperature. Take the camera out of its bag and remove all lenses, lens caps, filters, and eyepiece covers. Let everything dry completely (8 hours or more) before putting it away. Sometimes you’ll still see fog on the inside of a lens element. Before you panic and take it to a shop for repairs, try working the focus or zoom rings back and forth for awhile. This will work air through the lens and can help dry inner lens elements.
Enjoy the crummy weather! After a day spent photographing drops of water on delicate grasses, reflections in a rippling puddle, or a clean blanket of new snow, you’ll feel the satisfaction of a job well done that no warm fire can give. And you’ll have the soaking wet camera to prove it!