Field Notes: Photographing in the Rain

Posted on Apr 21, 2012

 Field Notes: Photographing in the Rain Photographing in the Rain 01 photo

Coastal British Columbia is a notoriously wet part of Canada. It seems that most places you go in this province water seems to find a way to get at you, whether it’s falling from the sky in the form of rain or snow, splashing up at you from the ocean, or just floating, ghost-like, as temperate rainforest fog. It can make being a photographer a difficult (if not downright stressful) occupation, so I’ve come up with a simple solution that helps me keep my lens raindrop-free when I just can’t seem to stay dry.

This little gadget came in handy on a recent trip to Haida Gwaii – an archipelago 80 km off the northwest coast of Canada – while canoeing up the rushing Juskatla Narrows in the rain in search of styuu k’amdala for the Elders in Skidegate.

To make Jon’s West Coast Retracto-Towel you will need:

  • 1 Retractable ID Tag Holder (the kind designed to clip an ID tag to a belt or pocket, and it must have a retractable lanyard). These can be very easy or very difficult to find depending on where you work. I typically work in the woods so I had a friendly office-dweller swipe one for me, but a quick search suggests these can be easily found online for about $3. Most stationary, office supply and dollar stores carry them as well.
  • 1 QuickDry Camp Towel. You’re going to cut a small piece out of it so if you can find an old one then so much the better, but if you must purchase a new one, don’t worry: there’ll be plenty left over to use as an actual towel on the next fishing trip. (Note: anybody who’s actually relied on one of these for more than a few days knows that, while they may do a half-decent job of drying you off after a cold Bolivian shower, they do a nowhere-near-decent job of covering you up on your way back through the hostel. If this sounds like a familiar experience you should have no qualms about cutting your cursed QuickDry to bits.)

    If you live in British Columbia then you probably already have a QuickDry towel hanging in the closet between your fleece and your headlamp; if not, you can buy one from somewhere like Mountain Equipment Co-op. A regular towel would work too, but QuickDry has the benefit of being almost as soft as a lens cleaning cloth and having a very tight weave, meaning it won’t scratch or leave fibres on your lens.
  • A pair of scissors or an Xacto knife.

 Field Notes: Photographing in the Rain Photographing in the Rain 02 photo

To assemble your lens cleaner:

  1. Cut a small piece from your QuickDry towel. It can be any size or shape you like; mine is a rectangle measuring about 2″ by 4″.
  2. Cut two small slits in your piece of towel, about a half-inch apart and a little ways down from the ‘top’. You are going to fold the towel so these slits line up and clip your ID tag holder through them, so make sure they are big enough to accomodate the clasp of your ID tag holder. You could probably get away with cutting just one hole near the top, but the two hole + fold method makes it less likely to tear when you pull on it.
  3. Fold the towel over so that the slits line up.
  4. Open the clasp of your ID tag holder, push one end through the slit, and close the clasp again.
  5. Attach the belt clip of the ID tag holder to an accessible pocket, strap, bag – anywhere you can reach it easily.
  6. Get out in some weather. If your glass gets wet, simply pull your towel up to your lens, give it a quick wipe, and release. The retractable lanyard will snap the towel back to wherever you have it clipped, and your lens will be dry. Even better, it’ll keep your lens cleaner from blowing away when the Salish Sea is blowing salt spray in your face at 30 knots.

Important notes

  • Make sure you have a some kind – any kind – of filter on your lens before attempting to wipe it with anything. Even specialty lens cloths can get dirty, and an invisible grain of sand becomes pretty darn visible once you drag it across that front element. Common sense is key, and I accept no responsibility for any damage incurred through the use of this handy lens cleaner. A replaceable filter will protect your lens’ irreplaceable front element, and on some lenses is necessary to complete the barrel’s water seal.
  • It is never a good idea to get your gear wet if you can possibly avoid it. To keep my camera bodies and lens barrels dry I use a couple of these clear rain covers when it’s really coming down. They’re cheap, reusable (provided you dry them out thoroughly), and not too offensive to look at.
  • Much like writing, this important technological advance may have been developed simultaneously elsewhere on the planet – I haven’t searched for a similar solution, but you may find something equally brilliant elsewhere.