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Protecting your camera in bad weather

by Frantisek Staud, 2004


When it comes to ugly weather on a hike, there are two major concerns: to protect yourself and protect your photo-gear. In short, all precautions to keep your body working apply to your photo-paraphernalia, i.e. stay reasonably warm and dry.

Cold

In cold weather the major issue is batteries, as they tend to die rather fast when the temperature drops, turning your auto-everything camera into an adornment around your neck or a useless load in a rucksack. Try to allow batteries to share your body temperature by keeping them in your shirt pocket or in a glove, and insert them into the camera only when needed. Also, always have a set of spare batteries somewhere close to your body - not in your backpack or camera bag. It is always helpful to switch off energy-consuming autofocus unless absolutely necessary.

In the most unmerciful conditions, battery independent manual cameras such as Nikon FM2 are the best choice. Icefield at Mt. Tomuraushi

Another potentially annoying problem in cold is moisture condensation. This becomes especially oppressive when entering a warm room from subfreezing outdoor temperatures (not the other way round). The condensation will fog your lens right-down, giving it an appearance (and usefulness) of a sweating empty lager can.

To prevent it, try the following: while still outside, put your camera into a plastic bag. Now, the moisture will condense on the bag and leave your treasure unaffected. If you do not have a plastic bag at hand, let your camera warm up slowly. Put it in a tightly sealed camera bag or leave it on a windowsill or in an unheated room until it gets used to the indoor temperature.

Yet another problem plaguing outdoor photographers in cold is static electricity. When advancing or rewinding a film in a low humidity area, and cold weather always means low humidity, you may build up sufficient amount of static electricity to spark within your camera body and leave lighting strikes on film. Not often, but it does happen. So if you are not planning to pride on enigmatic UFO streaks in your pictures, advance and rewind the film slowly. With automatic bodies, shoot only one frame at a time and pray when rewinding the film. Flowers and dew, NP Daisetsuzan

Rain

Rain should not discourage you from taking pictures; it can give an unexpected dimension to an image. Unless you are out with a disposable camera, protecting your photo-gear against water may become a problem. Set up your tripod, cover your camera and lens with a plastic bag, shower cap or even spare gaiter, decide on composition and exposure and when the time comes uncover just the front of the lens to take the picture. A lens hood or a UV filter may help you protect the lens' front element. Cord release makes pressing the shutter a lot easier in these situations.

Readers' Comments


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M. S. , December 12, 2004; 11:26 P.M.

Wind hasn't been mentioned, but strong gusts can either topple your tripod or induce unwanted vibrations and might carry sand or other debris at speeds which could make it dangerous to your camera.
Using a clear or skylight filter (I usually carried a polarizing filter, but that depends on light conditions) will, as usual, protect the lens itself, but on the downside it is much more prone to flares than the recessed front element of a lens. I wasted only one filter to date, but that saved a Zeiss UltraPrime whose price I don't even dare to imagine...
Halfway down the LF basiscs primer on lf.info you can see a pretty funny picture just how annoying simple wind can be...

A folding umbrella can act as a wind shield for long exposure times and - who would have guessed - also protects against rain.
Be especially aware of sandy beaches in bad weather. The sand there is your enemy anyway as it somehow gets into everything, but when its at speed, it is positively hazardous to even change the lens.

To prevent your tripod from falling over or vibrating, hang your rucksack to it (but not so that it will swing in the wind). Some people carry nets where they put stones or water bottles in to weight the tripod down. Depending on the ground, you can also drill a spike into it and pull the tripod down with a rope.

Saltwater will corrode and damage everything in your bag. If something fell into the sea, clean it thoroughly with tap water (even better should be distilled water), its the salts which make it especially dangerous. My father dropped a lens into the atlantic in Norway once. He cleaned it and had it sent for service and he said it was as good as new. Here I don't have an equipment tip, apart from probably a watertight housing like the Ewa Marine, which also protects against dust and sand.

A shower cap is godsent. They fold small, they're free on location and are quick to wrap around your camera. You can see the displays through the clear plastic and can manipulate most of the usual buttons. And if the camera is on the tripod already, you can wrap a second one around the lens to remove it just before the shoot to protect it against droplets etc.

A hairdryer can be used to fight condensation and moisture. Carefully heat the glass and the body from a distance at medium power settings. I wouldn't blow into the camera itself, though.
Always remember "cold in warm, that does harm" and plan your shooting accordingly. Not really a problem for an amateur, but showing up late to a press conference and not being able to take pictures because your lenses keep fogging is a humiliating experience under the pitiful smiles of all colleagues. I've seen it happen and it's not a pretty sight.

I personally carry bags of rice in all my equipment cases. Those "Uncle Ben's" plastic bags which go into boiling water. Theory goes that they draw the moisture from the air (you put rice grains into salt to keep it dry and loose). The bags are quite tough and alredy have holes in them where the rice won't fall out. A word of advice: Travel could be a problem into countrys where you're not allowed to carry food over the border. Silica gel will do the same and reportedly you can even reactivate it by putting it into an oven

A soft towel can be used as additional padding in your bag and be completely forgotten, but is invalueable to wipe down your equipment before you wrap up after a rain. Sure, your stuff will still be still moist but not dripping wet - and that can be taken care of with the aforementioned hairdryer and/or paper towels back at the hotel.

At the moment I use clear kitchen foil a lot for movie cameras and my equipment. Just wrap it tightly around almost everything, it sticks to itself. Just leave some room for moving parts like focus gears and so on. Then fix the loose ends with gaffer tape and you're ready to have some SFX guys hose your camera (and yourself) down with an artificial rainstorm.


Best regards,

Matthias


P.S.: Please excuse my appaling spelling and grammar, I'm not a native speaker.

Dennis McKenzie , October 16, 2005; 07:41 P.M.

Shooting in the rain can be a problem in wet Prince William Sound Alaska. So when using a tripod I carry a small umblella in my tripod bag along with two large clothes pin type of clamps in a side pocket of the bag. I always have my gitzo trecker monopod with me which sees more duty as a walking staff. But because of its small dia. I can set up a rain free area over my gitzo tripod in very short order by clamping the monopod(which is pushed deep into the soil) to one of the tripod legs. Then the end of the umblella is clamped to the top of the monopod and this has worked very well for me here in Alaska. Of course a strong wind would mess up the whole system. One could always bring a friend to hold the umblella. An umblella is a very handy thing to carry when trecking and that squall line comes moving through. Kept us dry on many a time.

Paul O'Toole , January 16, 2006; 10:44 P.M.

Extra large zip lock bag. Cut out the bottom which gives you both open ends open. Slip over camera and put camera on tripod and your good to go.

Jenya Nicol Antonova , January 28, 2006; 11:11 A.M.

Thanks Matthias for his thoughtful comments and great ideas. I just wanted to mention that the salt that he adds to his rice to keep it loose is great moisture absorbent by itself. It has been tested for many years by my parents who put a bowl of salt in the middle of a double window in our home in Russian Urals to protect it from being completely frozen in the winter because of the moisture. Worked perfectly. Besides, salt is not food and you can bring it to another country, or simply buy it there for very cheap. Where to keep the salt? You might ask. Simply put it into an old sock of yours (or into your child?s sock, the one that is too small now) and tight it. This method should never fail you, and is very cost-effective. Good luck with your photography and everything else that matters to you. --Jenya Antonova

Andy Spiridonica , July 18, 2006; 08:06 P.M.


Don't know if mentioning brands here is considered advertising, but there is (to my knowledge) at least one producer who makes rain sleeves for cameras. They're made of clear heavy-duty mil-std transparent vinyl, have an around-the-lens velcro closure (which also allows zooming) and a bottom zipper allowing to be put on and off, leaving also space for a tripod. I'm talking professional gear here. And I've got mine for a good discount, since that particular stock was aging and the vinyl was not that clear ;). Photo above is the presentation of the described product...

mark hoffman , August 15, 2006; 10:46 P.M.

Camera manufacturer's don't seem to take weather/dust proofing seriously. Outside of the the auto-compacts like the Olympus Mju or Pentax Optio W series the only alternative is to go for a sealed DSLR like the Olympus E-1 or Nikon D200, EOS 1D etc - which are great, BUT make sure you have a sealed lens or you're back to square one. It would be great to have a quality compact with full professional control that was weather-proofed with a fast lens and good ISO range.

Catalin S. , October 16, 2006; 01:53 P.M.

With my digital equipment I am using a battery grip and I have no problems even at -20 Celsius; a shower protection worked great and I am also carrying all the time special optics towels for my filters. The idea is not to change the lenses in critical conditions and to keep your camera in a bag when you have to go from a space with low temperature to one with a higher temperature. Before and after each shooting, cleaning up the camera is important. Best regards Catalin

Michael Evans , October 24, 2006; 09:53 P.M.

I've taken my poncho off to use as precipitation protection for my Nikon. I never thought about ziploc bags and I have plenty. I'm learning a lot here from everyone.

Image Attachment: DSCN4312.JPG

thomas knightlinger , November 20, 2006; 02:25 P.M.

Let me please introduce myself. My name is Tom Knightlinger and I have invented a product because when I was in Alaska I was having problems with bad weather while pictures were being taken. my product is called popabrella and it can be used for sunflare and a flash bounce also. You may view this at www.popabrella.com and I would love to hear some comments. Thanks Tom

Jamie Fullerton , December 07, 2006; 11:50 P.M.

Interesting idea! Though, i would have called it the "portabrella" (boo...!).

I'm a big fan of plastic bags, which also serve well when "packing out" any litter generated in the field.

Dennis Jones , February 18, 2007; 08:54 P.M.

A Thermacare heat wrap used in cold weather will keep a camera warm. I've used one in sub-zero weather with my Nikon D1, last 8 hrs. Works for laptops too.

Freddie Fabila , February 24, 2007; 10:31 P.M.

Whenever I take photos in the cold, the water vapor from my breath condenses on the back of the camera, particularly the buttons. I'm afraid the condensate will work its way into the body and corrode the contacts or other electronic components. What can be done to stop or minimize this?

Scott Henderson , March 08, 2007; 03:04 P.M.

I used to struggle with battery life issues in the cold as well. I now place a small disposable handwarmer in my camera case, which has solved the problem. It doesn't overheat the camera, but provides enough warmth to prevent the battery power from dropping. This may also help with the condensation issue caused by going from a cold dry exterior to a warm moist interior, as it might keep your camera body warm enough to prevent the condensation from forming.

The handwarmers I use are 2.5 by 3.5 cm envelopes, which you expose to air by shaking. They last 8-10 hours.

Cheers, Scott.

Efrat Nakash , June 30, 2007; 03:25 A.M.


The Melchior Islands, Antarctica 2004

  • When the frame contains much bright snow and ice, there is a problem with light measurement. Overexpose by using a spot metering from the darker parts, and check the results immediately. When photographing a close object in a bright background, consider adding a fill in flash.
  • Use manual focus in snow and fog conditions, when the camera fails to focus automatically.
  • Previous comments mention to clean the lens and the display using dry, soft cloth. Do not use breath, as it will turn into ice.
  • Pack some extra NEW batteries. As mentioned above, the batteries lose their potential quickly in extreme cold conditions, in particular non-fresh ones.
  • Pack extra (at least two) memory cards, designed to perform in extreme temperatures, with fast write speed (e.g. Sandisk Extreme Compact Flash Card, high performance from -25?C to 85?C). Redundancy is the name of the game.
  • Make sure the camera does not get too cold, and don't keep it exposed unnecessarily. Follow the manufacturers' instructions. Keep extra batteries close to your body.
  • The article related to moisture condensation. If the camera becomes misty, remove the battery and memory card, leave their compartments open, and allow them to dry out.
  • Use a sealed camera bag, to keep the camera dry when it rains, snows, or when you slip in the snow.
  • Instead of bags of rice mentioned above, you can use Silica Gel bags to absorb wetness inside the sealed bag and the camera bag. Dry the Silica Gel bags with heat (e.g. in a microwave).
  • Photography Under Arctic Conditions article by Kodak.
You are invited to read additional Outdoor Photography Tips.

Efrat
www.EfratNakash.com

Julie Gilbreath , July 03, 2007; 07:02 P.M.


DiCAPac

A fantastic and economical way to protect your camera in bad weather or in the water is with DiCAPac; Underwater housing plastic camera cases. They fit about 90% of all compact digital cameras on the market. Compared to $100-300 hard cases, they are a steal at only $34.95.

I wish you happy outdoor adventures. Don't forget your camera, no matter what Mother Nature has in mind!

Sincerely,

Julie Gilbreath Owner - Juewels Aquatic Gear www.coolcameracases.com

Jeffery Bennett , October 16, 2007; 08:21 A.M.

I have been to many sites on the web and I have got to say, that this site is by far the best one out there, hands down. I am no pro, but by reading what everyone leaves here in comments and you folks that write the articles to begin with, I have learned so very much from all of you and just wanted to say thank you all for all your insight into a world I have been in for many years, but never as serious as I have been in the past 2 years. I asked a question about my new Sony Alpha and was amazed at the quick feedback I got from a few of your members here and the info they gave was excellent and taught me alot in a very short time. Again, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for your wonderful expertise and your insight into all that I would ever need to cover in photography. Best to all of you.

Sincerely, Jeffery P. Bennett Beach Bum Photography Tampa Bay, Florida

PNF Photography , November 26, 2007; 11:49 P.M.

Excellent helpful information as the winter months arrive here....

Dan Gurevich , December 04, 2010; 11:30 P.M.

Thanks for all the info. I was wondering if the plastic bag has to be sealed to protect the lens and cam from condensation. If so, what could be used to remove the air?


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