5 Tips That Will Have You Ready to Shoot in Challenging Conditions

As a photographers I often talk about great light, chasing that soft gorgeous glow, maybe some gentle rays sweeping across our key subject … you can picture it right? But great light can be dark and shadowy, moody and chilling.  Sadly these are the times many of us can be found warm in front of the TV, clutching an even warmer drink; content.

I was like that until I started looking at other photographers’ work shot in ‘bad weather’ and I was mesmerised by the mood they had captured, the anger, ferocity, contrast between land and sky, light and dark. It finally dawned on me that for photographers, there is no bad weather just different, it just comes down to be prepared to shoot in the inclement conditions.

This week I’d like to share with you 5 tips that will have you ready to shoot in challenging conditions.

=> BONUS tip at the end.

  1. Dress right!

You will never take a great image if you are uncomfortable and miserable. Think of any situation when you’ve been uncomfortable or miserable, you can’t wait to leave and get out of there. If you rush, you make mistakes, we all know how important patience is in getting that shot

  • Jacket - Waterproof is a must! I like to grab something at Kathmandu (in Australia) as they have a great range of Goretex options. Something with a hood is best. Be aware that you can spend anything from around $200 to $1000+ for  a waterproof jacket
  • Pants - Goretex pants are a little harder to come by, although lightweight ski pants are an alternative. Many people prefer a good pair of over-pants to get the job done. Try to get a pair with an easy-open bottom, to go over your boots.
  • Boots - Weatherproof boots are best. I have found Salomon boots to be great in all conditions from hiking to the wet. Additionally, if you are planning on shooting in shallow water, streams or even snow for lengths of time, you may want to invest in a good pair of gumboots (wellington boots).  My personal preference in this case is the Classic High Gumboot by Australian company, Bogs footwear.

   When I'm shooting along coastal rocks, particularly when the tide is surging, a pair of spiked fishing boots are a very good idea.

2.     Choose a Suitable Bag!

Sadly, I would fall into the category of a ‘Camera Bag Tragic’ and would be the first to admit I would have more camera bags than my wife has shoes. Suffice to say, I’ve tried many different styles from large kit bags for DSLR gear, to others smaller bags scaled for mirrorless gear. Regardless of what you’re carrying there are some things you must consider:

  • Waterproof - make sure it can stand up to a heavy downpour, or for that time (I should say 3 times) you fall over in the river and fully submerge your bag! Bags vary in shape, style, size, etc, etc. - based upon my impromptu ‘river test’  F-Stop bags have become a favourite of mine and you’d be hard-pressed not to find something suitable in their range.
  • Sealed Zippers - it should go without saying that a waterproof bag is not good to you if the material keeps the water out but the zippers and surrounds let it seep through.
  • Placing on Wet Ground - At some stage there’s a pretty good chance you’ll want to put your bag down and there’s a good chance that ground will be wet. If your bag exterior is not waterproof you may want to consider a small drop sheet.
  • Raincover - If your bag is not waterproof, having a rain cover in your bag is critical.

3.     Consider a Tripod

While you don’t have to have a tripod to shoot in inclement weather, the stability of a tripod can often come in handy as will enhance your chances of working with:

  • Long exposures
  • Low light

The extra addition of a hook at the base of the centre column can often add extra stability as a weight (quite often your bag) can be hung for it.

The range of choices available for tripods is almost as vast as it is for bags.  They vary greatly in price, size, capacity and weight. After looking at what you can you afford, I suggest your next consideration should be whether it is carbon fibre or aluminium. When purchasing gear you do not need the latest, greatest and or most expensive, but don’t skimp on a tripod. A good tripod will possibly last you 10 ten years, where if you buy cheap you may simply become best friends of the owner of your local camera store!

My preference is for the Sirui W-2204 waterproof carbon fibre tripod.  It’s not a cheap tripod, but certainly not the most expensive and its performance is fantastic.

4.     Keep that Camera Dry!

While there’s little you can do, if anything, to improve the construction of your camera it’s important to remember that if it’s not weather sealed, it’s much like a gremlin ..’don’t get them wet!’

  • Weather seals are critical if shooting in less than favourable conditions.
  • Lens Hood - Make sure you are shooting with your lens hood on. Tis gives you an additional buffer from the water drops getting on your lens. If your composition allows it, angling your lens down will also assist.
  • Wet Weather Cover - Always have something in your bag that will provide protection for your camera - a clear plastic bag and rubber band can be surprisingly functional. Beyond that something light and compact that takes up little room is a good choice  -Peak Design have their ‘Shell’ which is a good starting point against dust, dirt and rain.  

 If rain is expected a more substantial cover may be necessary. Think Tank have their ‘Hydrophobia Series’ which provide great protection will be fully functional.

Look for - 

    • something expandable that will work with the expansion and contraction of your lens;
    • clear cover at rear for the LCD;
    • sleeves.

Special Mention -  to the Outex system which is a silicone cover designed for underwater photography (to 10m), but is a great option for coastal or even, desert work.

5.     Bring those Accessories!

  • Umbrella - If you have geared up properly clothing wise the only need you would have, is for a travel umbrella.  This can be used to hold over your camera gear, assuming you are setup on a tripod. I know some people use clips or ties to mount umbrellas to their tripods but be warned, in windy conditions this can serve to tip or carry your tripod away if you're not careful.
  • Cloths and Towels - You should have a couple of microfibre lens cloths on hand for use on your lenses only. Small hand towels should be handy for drying the rest of your gear.
  • Moisture absorbent silica gel - very useful to have in your bag to prevent condensation.

=> BONUS TIP:

While it may sound a bit odd, have a second thought before you throw away that old shaggy-dog toothbrush. I do a lot of shooting around coastal, sandy areas and I always keep a toothbrush in my tripod bag that I use to brush away debris from the tripod legs, especially around the closures being packing my tripod away.

Please note: any gear mentions or preferences are purely my own opinions and suggestions and no affiliation with any company

Next week: 7 Ways to Take Advantage of Challenging Weather to Improve Your Photography

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