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Monday, February 26, 2007

Rain, Water and Digital Cameras

As the guidebook says, digital cameras, “…are not waterproof, and may malfunction if immersed in water or exposed to high levels of humidity.”

Don’t be deceived. If you immerse your digital camera in water, there is no ‘may’ about it, it will malfunction! (Don’t ask me how I know.)

But digital camera owners in the Pacific Northwest face the prospect of never being able to use their cameras outside if they don’t come to terms with humidity in the form of precipitation.

It’s been raining in the Columbia River Gorge for about two straight weeks now and I’ve been thwarted by ‘humidity’ in two ways in my efforts to get pictures at Oneonta Gorge. The first way is by high water that confines me to the mouth of the gorge. The second way I’ve been thwarted is by raindrops on the lens which I don’t notice until I unload my images to the computer for review.

I thought the solution to my first challenge would be hip-waders, but the helpful outdoorsmen at work suggested neoprene bib overalls with built in boots. In fact, Bob had a pair he was willing to let me borrow.

Bob hunts with arrows and also fishes, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he invested in a good pair with an excellent camouflage design.

I then set about devising a means by which to protect the camera from rain.

1. Get a plastic sack.

2. Get a rubber band.

3. Poke a hole in the sack.

4. First place the rubber band at the base of the camera’s lens, then enlarge/stretch the hole in the sack over the tip of the lens.

5. Fasten the sack to the lens with the rubber band (be careful not to interfere with the focus ring).

6. Fold the sack back over the rubber band, creating a plastic-sack-housing for the camera and lens.

7. The sack will help protect the camera from rain. Finally, put a hood on the front of the lens to minimize the number of raindrops that will land on the glass.

Feeling a little bit like Jacque Cousteau, I step into the flowing water and search for a shallow route upstream. I manage to get to the large boulders in front of the logjam, but to get beyond the boulders will require some graceful jumping on slippery rocks over deep fast running water. Though my brain - clinging to idealized memories of my body’s athletic capabilities - suggests that it would be easy, my body reminds me that it hasn’t forgiven me for the snowshoe adventure yet, and my wallet reminds me that a single misstep will likely result in financial hardship, either in camera replacement or medical costs, provided I survive.

Though I know there is a waterfall at the end of this gorge, I settle for this view beyond the logjam.

Even though I have taken steps to protect the camera from water (keeping it in the camera bag, wiping the lens regularly), picture review time on the computer shows me that there continues to be a high correlation between the degree to which I like an image and the number of raindrops which appear on the lens – that is, the more I like an image, the more raindrops it will have.

As a last resort, since I have taken multiple exposures, I am able to use imagery from similar pictures to save the shot I prefer by cutting and pasting to layers within Photoshop.

Detail: Before Photoshop / After Photoshop

Final repaired image of logjam

Equipment Evaluation:

Neoprene bib with built in boots

Pros: These things work. I stayed dry and warm even when I sat on a rock in the middle of the stream to fiddle with the tripod. Also, I'm told that if you should fall into the water, they float (as opposed to hip-waders which act as water anchors).

Cons: You have to have the skills and agility of Harry Houdini to get in and out of them. This has scary implications if you should fall into the water. I felt clumsy with the big boots. They are so comfortable in the water that one tends to become reckless. I think if you ever get a hole in them, they would become instantly useless.

Plastic sack rain shield

Pros: Works briefly to keep rain off camera body

Cons: In practice, after lengthy exposure to rain, the inside of the sack becomes as wet as the outside of the sack. An invaluable tool to have is an old T-shirt to periodically wipe the camera and the inside of the sack. Keep the camera in a camera bag until you're ready to shoot.

Wet/dry bag (Used in rafts and canoes)

Pros: As long as the camera is in the bag and the bag is closed, you don't have to worry about immersing your gear.

Cons: These bags don't have shoulder straps so you have to carry them by hand. In practice, this means that you almost always have the bag open, and when you are using your camera and trying to set up the tripod, the wet/dry bag has a tendency to migrate down river with all of your extra batteries.


  1. Scott,

    I've used this same technique with digital video cameras, while shooting in the rain, and it works pretty well. Although I've also shot video in pouring rain with no protection and my camera performed perfectly and sustained no damage. Though that's something I probably would not do again! Nice site, keep up the good work!

  2. Guy,

    Thank you for your comment.

    For its price, I am generally pleased with the functionality of the plastic-sack rain shield.

    I am curious about what drove you to shoot video in the pouring rain with no protection. The investment in digital gear sometimes weighs so heavy that I get scared to use it. I’ve looked inside a video camera and seen the tiny springs and gears made of metal and the exposed circuit boards and the tape paths and imagined what a carefully placed salty drop of water might do.

    Even with my camera, I imagine the few times I’ve chased after photo clichés like waterfalls and rainbows, I’m paying a price in accelerated decrepitude for my gear. The rust may already be forming, the leftover salt from muggy coastal humidity may need to form only one more crystal before an important electrical component shorts. I have even heard that Oregonians are subject to mold growing inside the lens elements. It’s enough to give anyone a much greater appreciation for pin-hole cameras.

    Also, I hope you don’t find this insulting or worrisome, but I thought your name wasn’t a real name. I’m not saying it sounded like a porn star name either, but more like something you’d find in a retro science fiction movie. I tossed it in a search engine and found out you paint. It looks like you’ve recently had a gallery show and I found some examples of your work in a picture rental program – (I didn’t even know they had such programs).

    Anyway, those are really cool paintings. For me, they conjure up that lonely time in the morning when the whole entire world is asleep and all the material objects, buildings, bridges, stores, wait patiently to be reanimated.

    It is hard to tell from the web pictures, but are they oils? Do you use canvas? Where did you learn to paint? Do you work from photographs? Or do you take your easel out into the field? Do you make a living doing art? Is that too many questions?

    Well, thanks again for taking the time to comment.


  3. My name is actually my real name. That's what it says on my birth certificate. Believe me, I wouldn't make up something that dumb sounding. I used to paint in oil. I got sick of it after about 16 years, so I gave it up about two years ago to persue filmmaking full time. I'm currently working on my second feature film.



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