As stormy days make interesting photos, photographers are drawn to moody weather. Problem is, hard rain, extreme cold, and even humidity can destroy expensive camera gear. Protecting your camera from harsh weather needn’t be expensive, but it does require a bit of forethought and planning.
In this guide we’ll look at common weather challenges that photographers face, and how we personally deal with them.
The Basics - Protect Your Camera In Any Weather
Level One Camera Gear Protection
Whether sheltering your gear from the elements, or protecting it from dramatic temperature changes, a quality insulated camera bag is your first level of protection in harsh weather.
When it’s bad weather I tend to leave my camera protected in the bag until the last possible moment. Typically, I’ll scout a location using my phone camera until I have a vision for the photos I want to get.
While most camera bags have some level of water resistance, few are waterproof. In a heavy downpour, I feel more comfortable with the added protection of a rain cover.
Lots of camera bags now come with rain covers, but if yours doesn’t, covers are super cheap to buy separately on Amazon.
I bought several of these reusable rain covers, and put one in every bag we own. They roll up small, and stuff easily into external pockets. Just remember to put them on when the rain comes.
Always Carry Basic Cleaning Gear
Your next best friend in harsh weather is a soft microfiber cloth. These are great for wiping dirt, water or condensation off your lens.
Though a little pricey, I like the Sensei Cleaning Cloth. One side has a grip, making it easy to hold. Plus, it ensures I never use the side my hands touch. It’s simple and brilliant.
Also, I usually have a blower in my bag to remove sand or hard particles that can scratch the glass.
Don't Change Lenses In The Field
The best way to keep dust off the sensor is to not change lenses in harsh environments. I know, easier said than done.
If you need to change a lens, do so in a car, or try to get some type of shelter from the elements. At minimum, use your body to shelter the camera opening. Make the switch as quickly as possible to minimize the sensor’s exposure.
If dust gets inside the camera, once in a safe environment, take the lens off and hold the camera upside down. Use a blower with a HEPA filter to blow out any loose particles. The filtered blower ensures you’re not blowing dust back onto the sensor. I use the Orbit HEPA Blower and couldn’t be happier with it.
Protect Your Camera From Rain and Snow
If there was one thing I could count on while living in the UK, it was rain. However, it took me a long time to feel comfortable bringing my camera out on a rainy day. Once I did, I realized how amazing shooting in the rain can be. It’s like a whole new world of opportunity!
Luckily, rain is one of the easiest weather conditions to manage. Plus, snow can be managed the same way. Though, I do take a few added measures for extreme cold, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Protect Your Camera In Light-To-Medium Rain and Snow
Most mid-range to high-end DSLRs and Mirrorless camera bodies and lenses are weather sealed. However, it’s important to check the specs on your specific gear. Sometimes camera bodies are sealed but lenses are not.
Weather sealing is not water proofing. I don’t stress about a light mist or rain, but I still try to minimize how much water reaches my camera, and how long it stays there.
- I bring an extra towel in a dry bag to wipe down my gear when I can.
- Plus, I use the lens hood to keep rain and snow off my lens glass, and use my microfiber cloth to remove any water straight away.
If there’s not much wind or lightning, an umbrella is an excellent choice. Especially a clear see-through umbrella if you can find one.
The only real challenge with umbrellas is holding them. When my faithful assistant (Jeremy 😉 ) is not around to hold it for me, I strap the umbrella to my camera bag using the tripod straps. It’s not perfect for walking around, but for tripod shots it works great.
Protect Your Camera In Heavy Rain
When working in the rain for long periods of time, or in heavy rain, you should cover your camera and keep it as dry as possible.
There are a ton of makeshift rain cover designs on YouTube. I used to use plastic bags strapped to my lens with rubber bands, but I personally didn’t like the wastefulness of their one time use.
As I was worried about the weather on our trip to Iceland, I bought the Altura rain cover on Amazon. It was cheap and reusable. Though it takes a little getting use to, it does a great job at keeping water off my gear.
You put the camera in through the bottom double zipper. Your hands come in from the sides to make your adjustments. The velcro strap on the front keeps it tight to the lens (I always keep the lens hood on too). I love that I can use it hand held or on a tripod.
There are other more expensive rain sleeves out there, but for the price, I’m pretty happy with mine. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about it.
Protect Your Camera From Extreme Cold
This Florida girl has never been so cold as standing out all night to see the Northern Lights on our trip to Norway. Luckily, I not only did a ton of research on how to keep myself warm, but also how to protect my camera in such extreme weather.
First thing I learned about is condensation, the arch enemy of photographers.
As you move from a warm building or car into the cold, you’ll likely notice your glass fog up. The same thing can happen to your camera. Any extreme temperature changes will cause condensation to form on the lens, and sometimes on the inner workings of the camera.
I use two very simple techniques to mitigate this issue.
- The easiest way is to put your camera gear into your insulated bag before leaving the car or building. Allow the air inside the bag to slowly acclimatize to the outdoor temperature before removing your gear.
- Alternatively, put your camera into a large zip-locked freezer bag before going outside. The air in the freezer bags tend to get to outdoor temperature much quicker than a larger camera bag.
The same is true when moving from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors. Don’t forget to put your camera back in the bag before going in so it can warm up slowly.
If you do get condensation on your camera, you can wipe the lens. However, if it gets inside the camera, remove the batteries and let the camera dry out completely before using it again.
See our tips below for drying out your camera, under the section on humidity.
Protecting Batteries And Other Gear From Extreme Cold
Once you mitigate the condensation issue, you’ll find few issues with modern cameras, lenses, and memory cards, even in extreme cold.
However, there are a few specific pieces of equipment which may still encounter issues.
- Batteries are always my biggest worry. Cold loves to zap the life out of them. Bring as many fully charged batteries as you can, especially if you’ll be out for a while without access to a charger. The key is to keep them as warm as possible. Leave them in your pockets to warm next to your body, or even better, get a few hand warmers to keep next to them in your bag.
- Careful opening the plastic compartment for the batteries. Plastic goes extremely brittle in cold weather. This goes for any plastic or wired equipment you are using. I had a wired shutter release which went completely stiff out in the extreme cold. I had to handle it so carefully so it didn’t snap in half.
- LCD screens are another part of your camera sensitive to extreme cold. You may find it slow to react, colors may get skewed, or it might not work at all. Luckily, usually these issues resolve themselves once the camera warms up.
- Finally, take care when handling metal tripods or other metals. Bare hands or skin can stick to metal in extreme cold, think super glue stuck! Always wear gloves or insulate the tripod legs with a cloth sleeve.
Protect Your Camera In High Humidity (or Fog)
Just like with extreme cold, condensation can form in extreme heat situations. Like being in an air conditioned hotel room, then moving outside in the heat and humidity.
For temperature changes, follow the same tips as using a camera in extreme cold. Put your gear in a bag before moving between drastic temperature changes to let your gear acclimatize.
However, growing up in Florida, I know extreme humidity can have a few additional issues (besides horrible hair days).
Sometimes, especially after a bit of rain, steam will fill the air. This is the worst! No matter what you do, you feel wet. It’s the same as being in fog, except it’s hot. You and your lens will get wet.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do, except leave your camera in your bag until you need it. Keep a dry cloth in your bag and wipe down your lens as often as possible.
Once you’re back in a climate controlled environment, like an air conditioned room, take your camera out of the bag so the drier air can dry out your camera.
If you know you’re going to be in steamy conditions, wet fog, or misty rain, consider buying a few silica packs to keep in your bag. These will help dry out your gear.
In a pinch, I sometimes use rice the same way. Put the rice in a very well sealed baggy with tiny pin holes. The rice will absorb the water in the air.
BONUS: Protect Your Camera From Waterfall Spray
Okay, so this one isn’t strictly weather related, but if you’re a fan of the site, then you already know how much we love to find waterfalls. However, waterfalls have a nasty habit of spraying a fine mist into the air.
Sometimes it’s impossible to set up your camera without the spray soaking your lens.
For a super easy and cheap solution, keep those plastic shower caps from your hotel. As the shower caps are clear, drape them over your lens as you set up your shot.
Once you’re all set-up, pull off the shower cap and voila, a dry lens.
Summary - Protect Your Camera In Harsh Weather
I hope you’ve learned a few new tips to protect your camera in various weather. These were a few of the key points:
- Keep your camera in an insulated bag until ready for use.
- Use a microfiber cloth to wipe off dirt and water on the lens.
- Though many cameras have some weather protection, they are not waterproof.
- Rain covers for bags and rain covers made for cameras are inexpensive. Stuff them in your camera bag so you have them available when you need them.
- Sometimes the simplest solution is the best, don’t overlook the umbrella.
- Mitigate condensation when moving from hot to cold, or cold to hot. Put your gear in a bag and let the air in the bag acclimatize to the temperature change before bringing out your gear.
- If your camera does get wet, dry it out using a climate controlled room, or silica gel packs work great.