Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

September 2005

Tip of the Month

Shooting in Inclement Weather

Intermittently it was poring rain while we photographed this bull moose
on our Denali Photo Tour. Our 'rain gear' protected our equipment and
a high ISO (400) gave us a fast enough shutter speed to insure sharpness.

Having just returned from Denali National Park I have renewed experience in shooting in inclement weather. On one or two days we photographed, at times, in true rain squalls, and our clothing was often soaked. Protecting camera gear is critically important in foul weather, and we certainly protected our's. Here's how:

First off, quite honestly, I wasn't really worried about the gear. Both Mary and I were shooting Canon 500mm IS lenses that are supposed to be weather sealed, with O ring type seals at critical locations, and we were using Canon EOS 1D Mark II cameras, which I've been told are weather proof for 2 inches of rain per hour. When I bought my first Mark II I stupidly placed the camera on a table underneath an aquarium where I was filming aquatic insects. That night the aquarium sprung a leak, and dripped all night onto the camera! I had a non-weather resistant 180mm lens attached, but very little, if any, water fell upon the lens. But the camera took a direct hit. I didn't panic when I discovered the accident the next morning, and I merely wiped off the body. Everything was fine. Talk about trial by fire .... err, water!

After that experience I was fairly confident that the gear would hold up in bad weather. However, for drenching rain squalls I felt it only prudent not to tempt fate so Mary and I did cover and protect our gear. To do so, we merely used plastic garbage bags! We cut a hole in the bottom that was small, or big, enough to just fit the lens, creating a tight, snug fit. The camera, then, stuck out of the open end of the bag, but the length of our garbage bags extended beyond, and over, the camera far enough that water dripped passed the camera. Sometimes the rain came in nearly horizontal sheets, and at those times we made sure that our lenses were aimed away from the wind, and pointed downward so that any blowing rain didn't strike the lens.

Now I realize that using a garbage bag for protecting a lens isn't a brainstorm tip, but I'm mentioning this now because of the other systems we saw. One of our photographers had commercially produced, rather fancy-looking custom covers for both his 600mm and 300mm lenses. The 600mm hood was too short, and the section that is supposed to cover the camera just barely did so, and he felt very compromised in its use. The 300mm, made by the same manufacturer, was actually too long, and he had to bunch it up a bit so that he could properly use it. I didn't get the name of the product, so my only advice here is if you order a commercial lens cover make sure you TEST it before you actually have to use it. You may wish to make a provision in ordering -- if it doesn't fit, you don't acquit - oops, that was OJ, I meant to say, you don't buy or you can return the product. I felt the custom covers that photographer was using were virtually worthless.

In the past I've also used heavy nylon covers that were commercially made, and that secured to the lens by velcro. Again, my problem with those covers was two fold. One, either the lens porthole diameter was too narrow, and the velcro didn't secure the lens securely, or ( a dumb move on my part) I'd grab the wrong cover for the lens I was using and either have one that was too long, or too short. When wet, the heavy, rather bulky nylon covers also created a bit of an issue for storing. Where do you put a soaking wet cover when you don't need it?

So, for all of our trips, Mary and I now go the simplest route possible for weather-proofing our lenses and cameras. A big white kitchen garbage bag, or an even heavier-duty black plastic trash can liner bag, takes up almost no space when neatly folded, and there is no weight. After use, a couple of crisp shakes will generally flip off excess water and what little remains can be secured fairly easily when the bag is rolled up. For really damp bags I've sometimes placed the bag into a ziplock bag for storage so that my pack or my pocket stays dry.

Normally, the light level is fairly low during a heavy rain, and shutter speeds can be an issue. Three of the sixteen photographers on this trip shot with film and I worried about their shutter speeds in some of the low lighting conditions we had. For the digital shooters (which included Mary and me), I simply advised raising the ISO to 400, which in virtually every situation gave us shutter speeds faster than 1/320th at f4, and sometimes 1/600th. These speeds were fast enough to stop most subject motion and almost all camera-induced motion, provided the photographers' tripods were securely mounted.

Remember, with digital, you can and you should raise your ISO as shooting conditions require. In 2005's BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest I had two third-places, or Highly Commendeds, which will appear in their book and displays. Both were shot with ISO 400, one on a cloudy day, and one during or just after a storm in very dim conditions. Accordingly, I have no worries about using ISO 400 when needed, and for much of our Denali shooting I kept my ISO there, only changing it when it was truly a bright day.


Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


ProShow Gold
Digital Slide Program



 DIGITAL- Digital Birding

 DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future

 DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II

 Capture 1's Most Useful Features

maximizing depth of field digitally

  Backing Up Your Digital Files - you'll need more than you think

 DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values

 NPN- Nature Photography Network - a digital forum for nature photography

 Digital Pro Image Management Software

 Watch Your Backgrounds
The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format

 A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society

 Save Your Equipment from Crashing!

 The L-Bracket, the ultimate camera bumper

At the Pulse of Life
by Fritz Polking

 Carry Your Gear!

 Ask Questions
Before You Go

 Seize the Moment!

Geared Focusing Rail for Macro Work 

 Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography

 How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari

 The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Padding Your Wimberley
Tripod Head

  Specular highlights and the flashing frog
 Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds  Testing your Flash's Aim
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!  If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation  How do you shoot the Moon?
  Low level tripod work  A great depth of field guide  Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate

 Sigma's 120-300mm F2.8 APO HSM zoom lens

 Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

 Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO
zoom telephoto lens

 Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters

 Sighting in a very, very long lens
 The Nature Photography Network - a super website for images and information
  Take a Workshop First   Luck, what is it?  Don't take in baby wild animals

  Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

 Disconnect -- travel precautions

Photograph America Newsletter
 Wildlife Portraiture

 Obey the Rules
The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites Bushnell Night Vision Optics  Adobe Photoshop 7 for $300

 The Sibley Bird Guides

 Removing Cactus Spines

 Drying out boots with newspaper

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