4 Tips for Shooting Sports in the Rain

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Fall is here and the weather is changing. Gone are the days of bright and harsh sunlight and now for the cloudy and gloomier days.  The clouds we like as a sports photographer because the bright summer sunlight can be harsh and cause shadows on faces.  I heard one photographer once say “clouds are natures softbox.”  I always liked that because that is so true, the light is more even most of the day when it is cloudy.

What about when the clouds open up and it starts to rain?  Do we pack up and head back inside to stay warm and dry? Do we keep shooting while risking that our gear gets wet and ruined?

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Myself, I love to shoot in the rain as I find it adds a sense of drama to the images.   I also enjoy the challenges that come with shooting in the rain.  Keeping the lens dry, focusing on the subject and not on the rain, as well as keeping myself comfortable. I am able to be successful at shooting in the rain because I am well prepared.  I live in the great Pacific Northwest where in the Fall and Spring as the seasons are changing the weather is almost as unpredictable as the action I am shooting. So my car and camera bag is always packed with the right items I will need f there is any chance of rain.

Know your Gear

The first thing is know your gear.  Some camera bodies are “weather resistant” and some are not.  As I have said many times I am a Nikon guy and right now my main camera body is the D7100.  This is considered a “Prosumer” model as all the D7xxx family of camera bodies are in that category.  The new D500 also fits in this category and both models are weather resistant.  On the Full Frame side the D3, D4 and D5 are also weather resistant. One important thing to know is weather resistant is not water tight.  Weather resistant means you can keep working in a light drizzle or a short passing shower.  Anything more that and you will need a rain cover.

Camera lenses are also rated as weather resistant as well.  Most of the pro Sports lenses are weather resistant but be sure to check.  Again weather resistant is not water tight and can handle some rain.  Using camera gear that is not weather resistant can lead to water damage and fungus in the lens.

Rain Covers

Even with a full setup of weather resistant gear when the rain is persistent or heavy you need to take additional precautions.  Rain covers for your gear can be inexpensive or very expensive depending on what you prefer.  I prefer more inexpensive ones mainly because when you have the big heavy sports lens on with a mono-pod you are going to put a hole in the cover after attaching the mono-pod through the rain cover.

An additional tip, even with a rain cover you will still get rain on the front of the lens if you point the camera up at all.  So keep the camera level when shooting and down when moving around.

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Personal Comfort

Usually with the rain comes a little wind and cooler temperatures so as we get wet we have a harder time staying warm.  It is important to make sure you have the proper attire to keep yourself as warm and comfortable as possible.

  • A Good kneeler – The ground will be wet so sitting or kneeling directly on the ground will quickly soak through our pants.  The best way to avoid this is to have something to kneel or sit on to keep from having direct contact with the ground.
  • Rain Coat – A rain coat does not have to be thick or expensive it just needs to be waterproof.  In fact the best rain jackets are simply a shell (no lining inside) and are sized a little on the big side.
  • A billed hat like a baseball hat – I find that the hood on rain jackets like to slide down over my face so wearing a baseball cap under the hood helps hold the hood into a more comfortable position on my head.
  • Dress in Layers – Make sure you have multiple layers on under the rain jacket (why you want it over sized).  In the Spring time the temperature outside can start out warmer but when the rain comes in the temperature can quickly drop.  Having the ability to quickly change clothes will make a huge difference.
  • Water resistant shoes – Not necessarily boots (at least for my personal preference) but a good leather shoe and not the light running shoes.  The light running shoes are by nature ventilated which quickly lets all the water in and gets your feet wet.  There are two things that make a personal cold and miserable and hard to recover is when your feet get soaked and when your hands get cold.
  • Hand Warmers – As mentioned once your hands get cold it is very difficult to recover without getting inside.  I have always found it difficult to shoot with gloves on no matter how thin.  I have tried finger less gloves and they help but again once the fingers get cold its tough to continue.  I keep a couple of handwarmers in my jacket pocket and every time I get a break in the action I put one hand in a pocket to keep it warm.
  • Towels – I usually have a hand towel in my camera bag to dry off my hands and face as needed.  In the car I keep full sized bath towels to dry myself off quickly and to sit on during the car ride home.  Nothing is worse than being soaking wet and sitting on the car seat and getting that all wet.  The next morning the car is full of moisture on the inside and the seat is still wet when you sit down.

A few relatively inexpensive items that can be kept in your car will go a long ways in allowing you to shoot through the rain.

After the Shoot

Probably the most important thing you can do when shooting in the rain is what you do after the shoot is over.  If you have a relatively short car ride home then you can keep your gear assembled in the car but if you have a long (45 min or more) car ride then I recommend you detach the lens and remove the battery.  Wipe down the outside of your gear and place it on a towel or someplace safe on the car ride home.

When you get home if you have not done so already take the camera apart and give it a full wipe down.  Use some micro-fiber cloth to dry and clean the lens elements.  Fully extend the telephoto lens if it has a body that grows and shrinks as you zoom in and out.  Then place all your gear on a towel in a dry warm place in your home.  Do not place it near a fireplace or directly on a heat vent as these could cause other types of damage to your gear.  A warm dry place in your home will be sufficient to allow the gear to dry out completely.  I usually place it here for at least 24 hours.

As the weather turns and the rains arrive don’t let that deter you from getting out and taking those action photos.  Just be sure to take the proper precautions to protect your gear and yourself and the rains won’t end your shooting season.


About the Author

Dave Miller

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By day I am an Electronics Engineer by night I am owner of Golazo Photography, LLC based in Gig Harbor, WA. I have a passion for Sports photography and enjoy a great Senior, family or Team and Individual sessions.

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