Protesting in the rain

Protests, particularly those over climate change, seem to rather often take place in the rain, and it causes problems both for protesters and photographers. Bad weather cuts down the number of people who come out to protest, leaving only the hard core; few of us like getting wet or cold or both and those who are wondering whether they should make the effort to take part are likely to take a look out of the window and think to themselves that perhaps they will go on the next protest and give this one a miss.

And of course photographers like myself do sometimes check the weather forecast and if its an event I’m wondering whether or not to cover it can be the deciding factor. I don’t like the cold or the wet, and I don’t really like working in the dark either, though I’m prepared to go out and do my best if I think it is really important.

Protesters can sometimes shelter under umbrellas, though it can be hard to carry a placard or poster as well as a brolly. It has to be pretty extreme before I’ll try to hold one while I’m taking photographs; really I need both hands for the cameras and an umbrella just gets in the way too much. It’s an accessory that really needs to come with an assistant to hold it.

While printed placards normally stand up to the rain, hand-made ones, usually of more interest, often have images or messages that run, or glued on letters or pictures that fall off. Most of the cameras I use are reasonably weatherproof, and some of the lenses are also said to be so.

I’ve tried using various kinds of plastic bags to keep cameras dry, including those manufactured and sold for the purpose, but have never found them much use. And of course you can’t put them over the part that really matters, the front surface of the lens.

I generally now work holding a chamois leather (vegans could try a microfibre cloth but they don’t work as well) balled up in my hand pressed against the front surface, taking it out immediately before I want to take a picture, and replacing it after I’ve pressed the shutter. But it’s surprising how often a rain drop can fall while you are focussing and composing the image.

When I know there is to be prolonged heavy rain I’ll think about wearing a poncho and then it’s easy to simply lift out the camera and take a picture then put it back in the dry. But my bag isn’t big enough to hold the poncho and I don’t like having it hanging around my waist. Usually I have a jacket and can put one camera inside on my chest, though it does mean opening the zip enough so I get a bit wet.

Lens hoods help too, at least with long lenses, but those on wideangles and most zooms give little protection against rain falling on the front element.

Something I’ve not heard much talk about, but has often been a real problem for me in wet weather is condensation on the inside of the lens. I can’t really understand why this is such a great problem for me, as I would only expect it to happen when warmer air saturated with moisture meets a cold glass surface. But it seems to happen whenever I’m working for a long period in wet conditions, at first simply giving flare and reducing contrast in all or part of the image and then when it gets worse making the lens unusable until I spend some time in a warmer place and it evaporates.

By the time we had got from Parliament Square to Piccadilly Circus, both the lenses I was using were beginning to steam up, and I decided it was time to get somewhere warmer and dry if I was going to cover the second event in my diary. This was in Kensington and fortunately my the time I had travelled there with a little help the lenses were clear again. One of the lenses changed its length when it zoomed, and so pulled air in an out helping the drying – and I also wiped any moisture off the lens barrel that became exposed when zooming out.

Students march for climate


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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