Safety for yourself and your equipment : a relative concept?

A question which is often asked of nature and landscape photographers is how far we would go to obtain an image.  How much risk would you allow for a given situation before you bail out? Answering those questions in absolute terms is difficult  in since all of us have differing ‘zones’ of comfort when it comes to our adventurous side.  For example, a routine back-country expedition by the likes of Marc Adamus would be something I would personally consider insanely risky as I have extensive hiking experience but only on established trails for shorter periods of time.  However, a night time foray up to certain local peaks is not out of my comfort zone but would be out of Marianne’s.  I feel that sometimes  we are irresponsible in answering the original question as our answers influence those who follow our work who may then be inclined to attempt a similar journey.

Inching closer to the edge of this cliff, I knew my limits!

While I have issues with the ‘bravado’ that is demonstrated by over-exaggeration of a  journey’s dangers, it is ironically probably the safest answer to give an audience. They at least will not attempt to re-emulate such a journey without some reservation regarding the ‘life threatening’ circumstances endured to obtain an image.  The reader as a consumer though, should try to take into account the photographer’s experience when interpreting  recounts of such adventures.

Some are more comfortable with scrambling than others

Some are more comfortable with scrambling than others

Related to the first question, is what we use to protect our equipment. The stakes for protecting camera gear are not nearly as high as preservation of our lives! Hence, some of the responses online I feel, are very one sided. I think you will find that many photographers say they don’t protect their gear and there are very valid reasons why that is the case. However, in reading these answers, you very rarely obtain insights as to why there are just as valid reasons for using protective gear. As someone who likes a balanced point of view, I have over the years become one who is now leaning toward the judicious use of protection.In my mind, these are some of the arguments for and against various approaches specifically regarding seascapes.

The arguments for not using protection:

  1. Camera manouverability: There is no question that if you don’t have a  rain jacket on, it is easier to manipulate the camera on the tripod, it is easier to use filters, it is easier to adjust focus and focal length. You can achieve your desired composition quickly and within a comfort zone of shooting you’ve been doing for the many years of your career to date.
  2. Personal manouverability: The rain jacket doesn’t impede your physical ability to move but fiddling around with an extra device may well defer your attention from  important environmental factors like a huge wave coming at you from an unforeseen angle. Awareness is important to maintain during any shoot around the ocean.
  3. Most splash damage is harmless and you can keep shooting away. Eventually when the damage starts to manifest, it may actually be time to upgrade the body anyway! Do you have an endless pocket of cash to keep replacing gear though?
Shot without a raincover, ultimately paid the price afterward.

Shot without a raincover, ultimately paid the price afterward.

The counterarguments:

  1. Compositional stability: Once you have the rainjacket on (provided its one that you have absolute trust in), you can stand through that deluging wave which you otherwise would have had to move for. The initial setup for composition is trickier but you can maintain your position for circumstances which would have otherwise had you retreating and resetting up. Common sense needs to prevail though ; that humungous wave that’s going to knock you off a platform still needs to elicit a ‘flight’ response. I have been at many a shoot where those around me have had to check to see if their gear is still working after retreating from  a deluge. I have also personally experienced many shoots where due to moisture , the camera has temporarily malfunctioned cutting my shooting time short unnecessarily in great conditions.
  2. Environmental factors: In some situations there simply isn’t an option to ‘retreat’ and recompose. A prime example is standing up on the starfish colony shelfs at Motukiekie.  If you’re about to get splashed big time without a camera, your options are to risk camera damage or to turn away and recompose . With a camera cover, unless the actual swell is going to swallow up the camera, you can maintain the same composition and continue firing shots while cleaning the front of the lens intermittently. Add this to the periodically heavy rain and you end up in a situation where it’s almost camera suicide to shoot without a degree of protection.
  3. The overall picture: Water damage can be cumulative and there was no worse example than when our 5dmk2 died in 2009 in Iceland leaving us 1 camera between the two of us ( we didn’t have a spare at the time).  The 5dmk2 has needed repairing from water damage twice , the 5dmk3 once. All of which has incurred  significant cost. Our wedding photography was made decisively more inconvenient with rust damage to the 5dmk2 flash hotshoe meaning we could not use ETTL modes but use the flash in full manual.
Malfunctioning 5dmk2 without a raincover in the drizzle! I was cursing!!

Malfunctioning 5dmk2 without a raincover in the drizzle! I was cursing!!

I do not intend to do a ‘hard sell’ on the use of rain jackets. Indeed our Kata rain jackets , though impermeable to even dumps of water, have significant maneuverability issues (like a very stiff collar which makes manual focusing and focal length adjustments tricky). I would like to try using an umbrella at some stage for rain protection but for seascapes, clearly an umbrella does not cover the direction of splash.

Umbrella is a good option, but not against general moisture  spray and splash dampness

Umbrella is a good option, but not against general moisture spray and splash dampness

What I hope I have provided in this article, is a good reason to at least consider when you would use protection. The intention of this article is NOT purely to play devil’s advocate to other opinions out there. I have no agenda other than to spare up and coming seascapers the financial and opportunistic cost of equipment succumbing to the elements. The only way to get dramatic seascapes is to put yourself in the middle of dramatic conditions (often in terrible weather). In those situations, personal safety comes first, second and third but as for the degree of camera safety, I will leave that for you to decide 🙂


Rain, spray, no escape route, all fun & games!

Rain, spray, no escape route, all fun & games!


Posted on July 3, 2013, in How we..., Photography, Random Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Excellent article Dylan! I believe that carrying a rain cover is a MUST for any “wet” situation!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. A rain cover? Why would I have a Nikonos then? 😛

  3. I tend to always have a rain cover in my bag and then deciding spontaneously if i need it or not. It´s a really great feeling to continue shooting without problems even in heavy rain. As i have seen a lot of seascapers getting problems with their gear, i always use the cover when i shoot incoming waves- it makes me feel better. Last December i got heavily splashed and thx to the cover the only thing that quit service was the cable release that took a deep dunk- i´m sure the camera would have been injured.

    Thx for the nice article and KUDOS for all the great work you show- a true inspiration 🙂

  4. Christian Braun

    Thx for the article!
    I too do have always a raincover in my bag! Specially for spray… But I use a rather thin one, something like this:
    Why do you take sturdier one? To get some protection against rock etc.?

    Btw. great photo from the Cobbler, in wich direction did you shoot? I it southwards?

    Best regards,


    • Hi Christian – actually that shot is from Stac Pollaidh in the Inverpolly region! I just liked the idea of having something sturdy like the kata when we got it but in retrospect, that hard ring at the front is quite annoying lol

  5. Your work is amazing… I cant believe I have only just stumbled upon your work… Love love love!! I will be sure to read through all your posts and awe at all your gorgeous images over the next few weeks.

  6. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this web site before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized it’s new to me.

    Regardless, I’m certainly pleased I discovered it and I’ll be bookmarking it and
    checking back often!

  7. There is some stunning images here, especially the ones of the waterfall – simply beautiful

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