Just Inappropriate Clothing
Photographers are supposed to thrive on bad weather. Snow and ice, rain, fog and soft overcast light are all opportunities for dramatic images that can go beyond the postcard pictures that come from bright sunny weather. In New England we have a generous share of opportunities to revel in inclement weather, but the challenges of dealing with the dark and damp was recently brought home to me during a trip to Alaska. The journey included visits to Denali, Talkeetna and Seward on the rugged Kenai Peninsula. We also spent a week cruising through the rain forested islands of Southeastern Alaska. Over 16 days we had 2 days that might reasonably be described as sunny. The rest was overcast with periods of light to occasionally torrential rain. Many of my favorite images of hump back whales, eagles and grizzly bears, as well as the dramatic misty mountains, came during the worst weather, but in coping with these damp conditions I was reminded of an important maxim that was emphasized during our trip. Whether in Alaska or the Forests of New England, it is worth remembering that…
“There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Just Inappropriate Clothing.”
Susan and I were prepared for the rain. We packed rain-proof jackets and pants and, as recommended, we brought water-proof boots that provided protection up to our knees. We routinely dressed in full rain gear before heading out on hikes through the rain forest or while exploring the coast in small zodiacs. It was a reminder of how liberating it is to feel comfortable in the rain and mist and to have no second thoughts about plopping down on the wet grass to get a unique angle on a scene. Wildlife images are usually captured best at eye level, and, sadly, I can think of many situations over the years where I missed the low angles because I didn’t want to get my pants drenched.
For me, gearing-up was not a problem, since, for some time, I have kept rain gear in the back of my car, ready for the inevitably variable New England weather. The experience in Alaska, however, made me reassess and upgrade my weather gear, and it is worth considering your own foul weather kit. The key is to have gear that is light and easy to get on when the situation arises. So to encourage the gathering of you own gear, here is a summary of what I keep in the back of my car. Nothing complicated, and there are many options out there, but it comes down to jacket, pants, boots and a hat. Gloves depend on the temperature.
I will start by saying that I will not discuss rain protection for your camera. There are many solutions for this problem ranging from a cheap trash bag with a hole cut for the lens to expensive and complication systems. I have previously discussed the options, but I will say that my most essential piece of camera protection gear is a simple towel, which for many situation serves to both protect from the rain and to dry up any drops that sneak through.
Good water-proof rain pants are probably my most essential item. I keep my LL Bean pants in the back. The key is that they are large enough to fit over my jeans and with only a little effort I can slip them on without being forced to remove my boots.
The problem with truly water-proof jackets is that they tend to retain moisture, especially if intense activity leads to perspiration. It is possible to become drenched inside not from the rain but from your own condensed sweat. There are various choices of “breathable” or vented jackets, but they all involve some compromise. I keep a rain-proof jacket, which is reasonably vented, in the car, but when the rain is mild I will often go with a “rain-resistant” jacket that is better at releasing the moisture.
For years I have kept a pair of rubber boots in the back of the car, but I have seldom struggled to put them on. They require removing my regular boots and that is just WAY too much work for me. I often prefer to drive home with wet feet than to struggle in and out of these sticky rubber torture devises. As I planned for our Alaskan trip, I searched for an alternative and found a great solution for dry feet. NEOS produces overshoe waterproof boots that work remarkably well. They are light and open wide to accept everything from shoes to my heaviest hiking boots. They wrap snugly around the leg and clip across the top of the foot to provide secure water protection up to the knee. They worked well in Alaska and were the envy of my fellow adventurers as they struggled with their rubber iron maidens. The boots weigh less than two pounds, are easily packable and leave me no excuse for avoiding wading out into those streams this fall. NEOS makes heavier duty versions of these boots that may be better for longer hikes over difficult terrain and I suspect I will be grabbing a pair of those as well.
Overshoe Boots Video
Ok, let me start with the undeniable fact that I’m not a hat kind of guy. I have a nice floppy water proof hat, but it makes me look even more like a doofus than I am already (no image required). I’ll stick with simple baseball caps, not impervious to water, but if I need protection I can use the hood on my jacket and in the meanwhile the cap’s visor helps to keep drops off my glasses.
I keep a small umbrella in the car. It is of little help in the wind, but in gentle air I can hold it against the left side of my camera to obtain reasonably steady and dry shots. With a tripod the umbrella is much easier to use effectively.
That’s my quick list. We live and shoot in New England and, as I often say, if you wait for perfect weather to photograph, you will get out just a few times a year. A bit of an exaggeration, but you will miss many great opportunities for dramatic images. So put together your foul weather kit and be ready to take advantage of all that our region’s weather has to offer.
~ Jeffrey Newcomer