Dealing with the Weather

by Rob Sheppard | July 1, 2013

© Rob SheppardSeasons bring changes to the weather that can offer amazing opportunities for unique and terrific photos, but sometimes that weather can be very challenging to a photographer. Extreme cold, extreme hot, wet conditions, blowing dust and sand are among the challenges we have to deal with. I grew up both as a photographer and a naturalist in Minnesota. Though I now live in Southern California, I still shoot all over the country at all times of year, and here is what I have learned that helps me as the weather gets challenging. The following is a list of things to consider for:

1. Any condition.

Now I have to sound like mom! Be sure you are dressed properly for the conditions, whether they are hot or cold, wet or dry. I know from experience that you will not enjoy shooting if you are not comfortable yourself. Cold and wet feet are a major cause of dampening enthusiasm when photographing in difficult conditions.

Cold weather conditions © Rob Sheppard

2. Any cold – condensation.

When a camera is cold and is brought into a warm, damper environment, condensation can coat both the outside and inside of the camera. Condensation on the inside of your camera is a serious problem and can happen even going from below freezing outdoors to a car in the sun that has warmth and moisture from melting snow on the carpet. This can also happen when you take a camera chilled by air conditioning into damp conditions. The condensation can damage the electronics of a camera or put an unwanted film on inner optics of your lens (which can be expensive to remove), plus if temperatures drop, it could freeze again later and damage the camera. If your camera bag zips tightly, put your camera away while you are still out in the cold, then bring the camera to the warmer place and keep the bag zipped until it all warms up or you go into the cold again. You can also put your camera (and open types of camera bags) into a sealed garbage bag until it warms up.

Rays of light in forest © Rob Sheppard

3. Cold fingers.

This is a tough one that I have struggled with for years. Super warm gloves are often too bulky to use for photographing, and many gloves are too slippery. Go to a store that sells hunting gloves. These gloves have special surfaces on the fingers for gripping hard surfaces and they are made to be flexible. When it gets really cold, use a pair of mittens or a shooters hand warmer over your gloves. You may like shooter’s gloves that allow your fingers to be free of the glove while the rest of your hand is protected, though I have never liked them because my fingers get too cold.

4. Extreme cold – batteries.

Cameras today work fine in cold weather, but the batteries might not. The easiest way to deal with cold batteries is to keep switching with a warm one you hold in a pocket next to your body. I have also used a chemical hand warmer packet in a jacket pocket to keep batteries warm.

Trees and atmosphere © Rob Sheppard

5. Wet conditions.

I love Gore-Tex rain gear for when it is wet. It keeps you dry without making you feel damp inside (though it does not work as well in the tropics when the outside temps are high). I do have a pair of totally waterproof pants to keep my knees dry when I think I might be doing some kneeling.

6. Rain and cameras.

Cameras vary considerably in how well they are sealed against rain (and dust). High-end pro cameras usually have the best sealing, but I have never been fond of their weight, so I usually end up with gear that needs additional protection. A great “accessory” is a shower cap that you pick up from when you or a friend visits a hotel that offers them. They fit most cameras perfectly. I also use a compact umbrella when shooting in the rain. The camera is usually on a tripod and the umbrella makes it a lot easier to keep things dry. You can also buy specially designed weather covers for specific camera and lens combinations. I have tried some of them but found them a pain to work with, personally.

Cactus and mountains © Rob Sheppard

7. Dusty and blowing sand conditions.

Dust does not go well with cameras. Sensors don’t appreciate the dust, plus dust can cause all sorts of problems throughout a camera and lens. First, avoid changing the lens too often or don’t do it at all. Second, keep your camera out of blowing dust and sand as much as you can. Leave it in your bag until you are ready to use it. Protect the front of your lens with a filter or keep that lens cap on until you are ready to shoot. The weather covers mentioned in the last tip also work for dust and blowing sand.

8. Heat and the camera.

Electronics are particularly sensitive to heat, and digital cameras are based on electronics. Even just letting a black camera sit in hot sun too long can cause problems. At the least, you are likely to see increased noise and problems with image files. At the worst, you can have the gear quit working altogether. Keep your camera out of the sun when conditions are hot – just draping it with a white washcloth can help. Never leave camera gear in a car parked in the sun during hot weather (though it can help, if you have to do this, to put the camera gear inside a large cooler—no ice). Keep your gear in the shade whenever possible.

When conditions are particularly bad, go back inside and relax. Neither you nor your gear are going to benefit from being trashed by the weather!

Marsh © Rob Sheppard

About the Author

Rob Sheppard is an author, nature photographer and teacher who says his favorite location is the one he is in at any time. He is the author/photographer of over 40 books, as well as a well-known speaker and workshop leader, an accomplished online and video photography instructor, and a Fellow with the North American Nature Photography Association. He was the long-time editor of the prestigious Outdoor Photographer magazine and is presently a contributing editor. His free book, A Nature Photography Manifesto, is is available for both the iPad and as a PDF eBook. Visit his website at www.robsheppardphoto.com and blog www.natureandphotography.com.

One thought on “Dealing with the Weather

  1. Thank you very much for the article!

    So what we can do here in my country when the heat getting closer to 50 C and so high humidity? I sweat even when i am inside without any air conditioning, so staying out for few minutes will get me and my gear exhausted, so do you have a solution here? Shade doesn’t help much in my country.

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