Some days there are just too many things happening in London. Well all days there are, but I mean too many things that I have access to and am trying to photograph, and June 28th last year was one of them. And in the early evening there were three protests occurring simultaneously in the same area of Trafalgar Square and to make things worse it was raining steadily and fairly intensively.
Rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing for photographers, and umbrellas can offer some visual interest – I once published an article ‘The umbrella in photography’ looking at examples by a number of photographers including Kertesz, though I have to admit I’ve probably seen more than enough pictures made through rain-drenched windows to last several lifetimes.
But umbrellas in crowds are something of a problem. Unless you have an assistant holding a large one over your head, they become pretty impossible to use when using a camera. If you are alone in plenty of space and there is little wind it can be manageable to hold one tucked under your left arm and held up by your wrist as you hold a camera to your eye, but this becomes untenable in crowds, as you get buffeted by other brollies and yours will uncontrollably poke other people in their eyes.
Working without one, you get wet. Wetter than just the rain would make you, as those other umbrellas around direct the rain they protect the holders from onto you, and unless you are wearing a hood, unerringly down the back of your neck, making you sodden from inside your clothing. In winter I wear a good waterproof jacket with an integral hood, but even an expensive ‘breathable’ coat becomes unbearably hot in summer.
Cameras too suffer from water. Even those that are ‘weather-sealed’ will slowly drown, but lenses generally go first. You can keep wiping the front surface with a chamois or microfibre cloth (and I often walk around holding one in front of the lens), but you do have to remove it to make the exposure. Zoom lenses which alter their length pump moisture into their interior as you alter the zoom, and even those that only move internal elements had something of the same tendency. Something that seldom gets a mention in the manuals is that lens hoods, at least with telephoto lenses, are at their most useful in keeping the rain off.
I do have a kind of plastic raincoat for my camera, but its a real pain to use, and though it diverts the rain (except from the front lens surface) it doesn’t stop the moisture. Usually I put one camera away in my bag to keep dry, and keep the other under my jacket as much as possible – though that does mean leaving my jacket rather open so the rain (and those brolly drips) can enter too.
And when the lens clouds over due to condensation on its inner elements, I take the other camera out of the bag and work with that. Until it goes too. Usually I’ve at least one more dry lens in the bag to change to, though that may mean I end up taking far more pictures than I really should on the 16mm fisheye.
When all my cameras, lenses and clothes are sodden, its time to give up and go home. Though at such times I always remember what my father used to tell us kids when we complained about getting wet, ‘You’ve got a waterproof skin’.
You can read what the protests were about and see more pictures on ‘My London Diary’:
The third protest was a group of four women protesting over the agreement between the South Korean and Japanese government over ‘comfort women’, the Koreans used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers in the second Worlad War – and I only used the one picture above.
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All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.