Coping with bad weather comes with the territory when you're a travel photographer. The way to make the best of a rainy day, or a snowy one, is to plan ahead. When it comes right down to it, pictorially speaking, there isn't any such thing as lousy weather. Certain weather has distinct photographic advantages and possibilities. Cloudy days have fewer problems with contrast caused by bright light and dark scenes in your photo, which is something most cameras don't handle well. Rainy or wet weather makes colors more saturated and makes the roads look clean.
Keep in mind that world-renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was most famous for a photograph he took of a man jumping over a puddle.
Figure 5.16. If rain's a part of your trip, then make it part of the story of your trip. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 5.17. When it's raining, learn to relax, like Rolf Gestalter of Bremerton, Washington, did while on a photo trip to Costa Rica. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 5.18. This pretty shot of boats on a beach wouldn't have been possible on a bright, sunny day. Sometimes the soft light works to your advantage. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 5.20. If your umbrella's working, you're more likely to be a happy photographer. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Keeping You and your Gear Dry
Every photographer has his or her own technique for dealing with inclement weather. It's OK for professional-level camera gear to get a bit wet, but nothing likes to get soaked.
A can of compressed air will blow raindrops off of your lens without leaving smudges, but remember you can't take compressed canisters on the plane with you; you'll have to buy them locally.
If your packing went according to plan, you've got some rain gear, a few plastic bags, Ziploc bags, and a pack towel in your suitcase. If you missed a few items, this would be a good time to head to the local grocery store for a box of garbage bags. Three holes is all it takes to turn a garbage bag into a poncho; a superb hooded poncho can be fashioned from a few garbage bags and duct tape.
A disposable diaper makes a wonderful water-absorbing tool, great for soaking up huge amounts of water. You might get funny looks using one on your camera gear, but you'll prevent a costly repair bill.
Some photographers swear by umbrellas (especially the large "golf" ones, but I find those to be a too big and unwieldy if you don't have an assistant). The more MacGuyver-ish photographers even concoct ways to attach umbrellas to tripods for hands-free, dry-as-a-bone photography.
Figure 5.21. A little thought and some time in the workshop turned this old flash bracket into a handy way to mount an umbrella to a monopod. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
To protect your gear from dust, sand, and wet, use freezer-weight Ziploc plastic bags. One trick is to take a two-gallon bagand cut a hole in the bottom just large enough to get the front of a lens through, then tape the bag to the barrel to hold it in place. Reach into the bag's opening to use the gear or zip it closed when not using.
Camera bags like Lowe Pro's AW series are excellent for weather protection because they come with built-in rain covers.
Figure 5.22. A little ingenuity can go a long way when it's raining. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Some point-and-shoots and SLRs can be placed inside waterproof camera housings developed for scuba divers. While I've never used one under water, I've found them great for high-moisture environments such as downpours and on kayaking trips. SLR-sized cases usually cost a fortune, so I stick with ones for my compact travel cameras.
Shooting in Cold Weather
Cold weather presents its own set of challenges. Rain turns to snow, and water turns to ice. Cold weather can hurt your performance, and I'm not talking about your ability to go on a long walk; batteries don't do well when they get cold. When the temperature drops, it affects the chemical reaction inside your batteries; consequently, they run out of juice when you need them the most.
Most pros keep a few extra battery packs at all times. In the cold weather we keep them stashed inside our jackets, close to our bodies' natural furnace. As a battery pack dies from the cold, we swap it with one tucked in a warm inner pocket and keep shooting. The good news: When you put the cold battery into a warm pocket it slowly comes back to life, allowing you to keep shooting with that one, usually by the time the replacement battery conks out.
Another issue that plagues cold-weather photographers is condensation. When a warm camera is brought to the cold, the moisture on the lens and body begins to condense, forming dew-like layers of moisture on your lens and viewfinder.
Figure 5.23. Dressing for the cold and using large battery packs, like this one by Digital Camera Battery, lets you concentrate on making photos, not staying warm and trying to keep your gear working. (Photo by Dick Whipple)
Never, and I mean never ever try to warm up a battery by putting it in something like an oven or on top of a radiator. The battery will explode.
Several companies, notably Quantum Instruments (www.qtm.com) and Digital Camera Battery (www.digitalcamerabattery.com), make external battery packs that you can wear under your cold-weather gear, and that tether to the camera via a cable. With this solution, it's possible to shoot nearly all day in the cold.
The only effective solution is to leave the camera gear outside long enough for the temperature to equalize, but that often means overnight. If you don't have a rental car with a trunk (in a place where your gear won't get stolen) or some other way to safely store the camera outside, your only choice is to continually wipe the condensation off the camera. And then you're back to the baby diapers.
Figure 5.24. Many beautiful photos can be made in cold, foggy weather, like this atop Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Nothing makes me grumpier than the aggravating cycle of continually donning and removing my gloves so I can take photos in the cold without my fingers falling off from frostbite. Luckily, I spend a lot of time in camping and hiking stores, and I've picked up a few pairs of gloves over the years with fold-down finger flaps that are secured by Velcro. These gloves, and mittens, have fingertips that flip out of the way, allowing me to tweak all the tiny buttons on my camera while exposing my fingers to the elements for the shortest time possible.
Working in the Heat
Hot weather can wreak havoc with sensitive electronics, and with your body too. If you're photographing in a hot location, be sure to keep all of your photographic gear out of the sun.
Remember that the interior of a car in the summer can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees, high enough to cause your electronics to fail, and sometimes high enough to melt plastics. And the LCD screen on the back of your camera that displays the photos doesn't like the heat, either. You'll know your gear is getting hot when the displays start to conk out or become unresponsive.
Figure 5.25. The desert can be a great place to make pictures, but avoid overheating yourself or your gear. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
The best way to prevent camera heatstroke is to keep your gear out of direct sunlight and out of hot, confined spaces. Fortunately, the risks of high temperatures are less severe now that people shoot with digital cameras; film hates the heat. I vividly remember a photo shoot in the Nevada desert where I drove around with a cooler full of ice, and my camera bag in a Ziploc bag inside the cooler, to prevent ruining my images.
Figure 5.26. Hot weather can lead to good sunsets, like this one seen from a port city in Malaysia. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 5.27. There's nothing wrong with taking a break to sit in the shade. Who knows, you might even get a picture out of it. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)