Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Cold, Wet, and Windy…Tips for Miserable Nature Photographers

I took this shot in the Columbia River Gorge – in between bouts of stinging hail and pouring rain.

Are you willing to go out and shoot in wet conditions? We often shoot in the rain – and we’ve been out there in some pretty nasty weather… thunderstorms, hail, sand-storms, windstorms, snowstorms… nasty weather can make shooting difficult. But unless the weather is dangerous, we don’t mind shooting in it. It’s about being prepared.

High winds, rain, and ocean spray made this shot from Iceland particularly difficult to capture.

Please don’t take this as an invitation to go out when the weather is dangerous… lightening can be deadly, and so can serious storms. Please stay in a safe place if there are tornado warnings, hurricane warnings, or other hazardous conditions. We’ve booked it out of locations that we felt could be dangerous more than once – because of the possibility of flash flooding, trees that might come crashing down on us (no kidding… it happens more often than you think!), high waves, and more.

Each wave splashed my lens, and rain made it difficult to stay dry while we were shooting in Glacier National Park… but that alpenglow made it all worthwhile!

But when safety is not a concern, we often shoot in nasty weather. Here are some tips that can make a real difference when you are shooting in difficult weather.

  • Use a waterproof cover to protect your camera while you are shooting. Our cameras are weather-sealed, but they certainly aren’t entirely waterproof. We use simple waterproof covers with elastic to keep them in place. Nothing fancy. If you don’t have a cover, use a plastic bag with a hole cut from one corner for the lens to poke through. It works just a well.
  • Carry a waterproof cover for your camera bag as well. It will protect your gear and your bag from the elements. When you are back indoors, be sure to open up your bag and let everything dry out. Moisture can seep in over time, and leaving the bag closed means it will take a lot longer to dry out. Even if your bag is dry inside, your camera strap and other gear may collect water while you are shooting. When you put it back in the back, that water doesn’t evaporate quickly.
  • Always carry waterproof and windproof gear. Jay and I both carry a waterproof jacket and waterproof pants in our camera bag. They fit neatly into the front pocket, and they stay there all the time, unless we are using them… or drying them out. 😉 We use them for rain, of course – but we also use them a lot when it’s windy. A wind-proof layer makes a huge difference, especially when it’s cold. We can stay out a lot longer if we are protected from the wind than we could otherwise.
  • Neoprene shoes don’t keep your feet dry – but they do help keep you warm when you are walking in cold water. We spent three house walking in the Paria River in Utah one winter. With each step, our feel broke through three layers of ice before plunging into frigid water underneath. Or feet were warm and comfortable.
  • Wear fleece underneath. Fleece makes a great warmth layer – and it holds less than 1% of it’s weight in water, so it doesn’t get soggy or heavy when you are working in the rain. But it doesn’t block wind well, so wear it underneath your waterproof/windproof layer for best results. When we went for that hike in the Paria River, we wore fleece pants underneath a waterproof layer. They were in the water with every step, but they didn’t get waterlogged, and they helped capture the heat from our bodies.
  • Wear fleece OVER a pair of quick-dry pants. Sounds silly, I know. But the fact is that in many cases, we only need that warmer layer in the morning and evening. We often deal with freezing conditions in the morning, and then end up having to remove layers later in the day. If your quick-dry pants are underneath your fleece layer, you get the benefit of the warm layer, but you can also remove it quickly. You’ll be ready to keep going in your quick-dry pants all day – and when it gets cold again in the evening, you can put that fleece layer back on and you are good to go.
  • Quick-dry pants? Definitely! The first time I visited Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, I didn’t own any quick-dry pants. I waded through the river to get to a waterfall, and ended up knee-deep in the water. Wet jeans are very heavy, and they take forever to dry. By the time we returned to the car, I was freezing cold. Jay had a pair of quick-dry pants. His were dry within about 30 minutes of climbing out of the river – and he was comfortable and warm. Now, I have several pairs, and I always use them when I’m on location.
  • Carry chemical heat packs. We keep a couple of these in our pockets when we are out in the cold. In between shots, we can warm our hands by sticking them in our pockets – and we can help extend the life of our batteries, by putting our camera inside our jackets. You can also keep one in your camera bag to help keep your batteries from draining because of the cold. You can put them inside your shoes if your feet are cold, too. I even put two inside my hood by my cheeks once. My face was getting really cold in the wind, so I cinched my hoods nice and tight, and placed heat packs between the two layers against my cheeks. I wouldn’t recommend putting these directly on your skin – especially when you are very cold. A layer of fabric will protect your skin from direct heat, and help to radiate the heat more evenly.
  • And what about post-production? Be ready to clone out water droplets! We use a Wacom graphics tablet and the power of Photoshop to make short work of water, dust, dirt, sand… you name it!

It was REALLY cold out there! But it doesn’t get much prettier than Bryce Canyon after a snow storm!

The photos on this page were all taken in difficult conditions. But because we were prepared, we weren’t uncomfortable. Take care of yourself and your gear, and you’ll be able to shoot even when the weather isn’t cooperating! Have fun – and stay safe!

This one is from our Photo Walk at San Gregorio Beach. It was cold and windy – and the water was chilly, too! Brrr!

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

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12 replies
  1. Karthik Iyer
    Karthik Iyer says:

    Hi Varina and Jay,

    I am a big fan of your work and would love to learn from you. Do you provide feedback to photographs from novices like me? If you could spare some time to critics my pics, I’d be honored and would help me become a better photographer.

    Regards,
    Karthik

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Karthik. I’m sorry to say that Jay and I can not offer critique for photos. We get so many requests that we simply can not keep up with them all. Please feel free to read our blog for tips and suggestions for photographers… Especially the Quick Tips and Tutorials in the Learn section.

      Good luck with your photography!

      Reply
  2. davangelderofaz
    davangelderofaz says:

    You didn’t mention alcohol…some folks like a little ‘nip’ to take the chill off. Because alcohol is a vasodilator you will feel warm momentarily but it actually makes your body lose core heat. You could get hypothermic which makes your judgment poor and your motor skills clumsy. Just use the heat packs!

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      I’m glad you brought that up! You’re right. It’s definitely better to skip the alcohol and just stick to heat packs. Save the alcoholic drink for later – when you are back at home, nice and warm. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Khurram
    Khurram says:

    Varina,

    Just wanted to let you and Jay know that I am the biggest admirer of your’s and Jay’s Pictures. The colors, Lights and the clarity in all your pictures make me travel with you guys.

    I wish If can even learn 10 % what you guys know, I will consider lucky. Just want to know what kind of editing software you guys use.

    Keep up the good work.

    Malick

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Malick. Jay and I use Adobe Photoshop for all our digital-darkroom work. We use Adobe Bridge to organize our photos and design files. Good luck with your own photography!

      Reply
  4. John H. Moore
    John H. Moore says:

    High on my list to add to my gear is one of those spinning rain deflectors for my lens… so you can shoot in rain (or waterfall mist) and not have rain droplet blobs in the photos.

    Also, I would add to your list a good pair of true winter boots. Hiking boots just don’t cut it for standing in one place for hours waiting on The Shot when it’s really cold out and/or you’re standing in snow or on ice. For me, even adding heat packs to my hiking boots isn’t enough, but man are real winter boots nice for those times!

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      Yes, John! Good point. Insulated winter boots are definitely a good idea if you are shooting for extended periods in freezing weather! Thanks for the comment! I’ll have to look into “spinning rain deflectors” = I haven’t heard of such a thing!

      Reply
  5. Manan Gajjar
    Manan Gajjar says:

    Hello Mr. patel I just want to say you that I am a big crazy fan of you…
    an I love your all the photographs soooooo much…

    and I am from INDIA and I am a Gujarati..
    where are you from Mr. patel ??

    Reply
  6. Jackson Frishman
    Jackson Frishman says:

    All great advice, Varina, and great images! One tip I’d add is to consider carrying that old-fashioned rain management device, the umbrella. It might not be sensible in every context, and it doesn’t really work while you need both hands, but if you’re expecting to be set up and shooting in the rain for a while, waiting for the right conditions, it can be pretty nice. The company GoLite makes some super lightweight ones intended for hikers.

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      Excellent suggestion, Jackson. A “rain management device” is a great thing to have along. 😉 A rain jacket with a hood and a cover for the camera are enough in many situations, and they are hands-free devices. But a small, sturdy, and lightweight umbrella could be very useful at times. Thanks for adding that!

      Reply

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