Five Essential Tips for Protecting Your Camera in the Rain

Embracing inclement weather, such as rain, can help add interest to your landscape photographs. Rain can add richness to colors, atmospheric mist, or even dark, moody clouds for grand scenes. But how do you protect your camera gear in these conditions? Here are five tips to help keep your camera safe.

As a landscape photographer, I often look forward to less than ideal weather conditions. Conditions like rain can make familiar, frequently revisited locations look entirely different from normal, creating a sense of moodiness or uniqueness in the images. Photographing in these conditions requires additional care for your camera gear to protect it.

Over the years, I have come up with several tips to help protect your camera gear. From seasoned pro to new to the hobby to somewhere in between, these tips will help you keep your camera safe in conditions that can help you come home with interesting images.

Weather-Sealed Gear

If you find yourself wanting to be out in poor weather for your landscape photography frequently, weather-sealed or weather-resistant gear is an option. Camera bodies and lenses can be made to be weather-resistant or weather-sealed. They are designed and built to help keep water out of the sensitive electronics and internals of either the camera body or the camera lens.

This is a feature you should look for when selecting your camera gear. Not all camera bodies or lenses have this feature. But suppose you see landscape photography becoming a long-term activity for you, at some future upgrade. In that case, watching and selecting gear with that feature will help you embrace photographing scenes in inclement weather.

The majority of my photography gear is weather-resistant, from my Nikon Z7 II to the trio of lenses that are staples in my camera bag, the Nikon 14-30mm f/4, Nikon 24-120mm f/4, and the Nikon 100-400mm f/4-5.6. I can confidently head out into rainy and wet conditions and not worry too much about my camera gear becoming damaged.

Keep reading if you are just starting out or don’t have weather-resistant gear yet. The remaining tips are just for those types of situations. Even with weather-resistant camera gear, I still use many of these tips to help protect my cameras and lenses a little more.

Use Rainsleeves

A rainsleeve covers your camera and lens and helps protect them from heavier rains or even lighter rains if they aren’t built with weather-sealing. Rainsleeves can be lightweight, disposable plastic sleeves like the OP/Tech rainsleeves or ones designed for regular, repeated use like the ThinkTank Emergency Cover or ThinkTank Hydrophobia.

My preferred sleeves are the OP/Tech rainsleeves. They are lightweight, pack down very small, and are easy to keep in your camera bag or vehicle all the time. Since they are clear, it is easier to cover your camera and still easily see the screen, find the buttons, and make adjustments to the camera.

Even with my weather-resistant gear, I will use one of these if I am in the rain for a sustained period of time or if the rain is particularly heavy. When I use camera gear that is not weather-resistant, I will break out a rainsleeve for anything more than a sprinkle to help keep it safe.

If you find yourself heading out into the elements without either of the above options, a gallon-sized plastic freezer bag or even one of the plastic grocery store bags can work. Both are great low-budget options for protecting your camera against the elements.

Umbrellas and Makeshift Shelters

Beyond covers for your camera, the good old umbrella can make for a nice impromptu shelter. Especially if you are waiting for the light to hit a certain way or puzzling your way through a composition. With a large enough umbrella, even you, the photographer, get some benefit from being out of the rain.

Some people recommend umbrella attachments that fasten to a tripod. I typically avoid these as they can introduce too much camera shake during a long exposure or, worse, topple the whole camera and tripod over. While getting the camera set up with an umbrella in hand can be more difficult, I would usually set the tripod and camera up, but things will get a little wet. Then, I would use the umbrella in one hand, working camera controls in the other.

Don’t forget to use terrain features to your advantage as well. In one of my favorite areas to photograph in, there are often overhanging cliffs that can offer some shelter from the rain. Even heavy foliage from trees overhead can turn a heavy rain into a light shower as the leaves shelter and divert the rain.

Lens Hoods

A lens hood is helpful not only for reducing flare but also for helping minimize spots from the rain on your front lens element. This works better on telephoto lenses with deeper lens hoods, but the hoods on wide-angle lenses can help reduce the frequency of needing to clean the front of the lens.

Pack Dry Cloths

With or without a lens hood, you will still need to wipe the lens element free of water. Make sure to always have a dry microfiber cloth in your camera bag, more than one if you will be in the precipitation for an extended period. 

Make sure to wipe off the front lens element occasionally, especially after your composition is all set up and your camera settings are adjusted. You don’t want to get home and find blurry spots from water droplets in your images that might ruin an otherwise perfect photograph.

I also tend to carry a larger cloth to wipe down the camera body itself. When there is a break in the rain, or before I put my camera back in the camera bag, I like to wipe down the camera and lens to minimize how much water and dampness get into the camera bag. Weather-sealed or not, there isn’t a good reason not to at least try to keep it dry further, minimizing the risk of damage.

Don’t Let Wet Weather Stop You

Whether you have weather-resistant gear or not, these tips should help keep your camera gear safe when photographing landscapes in the rain. A little preparation and planning can help make your outing into the rain a nearly anxiety-free experience.

So don’t let a little rain keep you from getting out, and take advantage of the conditions to capture some captivating and unique landscape photography images!

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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Does weather-sealed have a real meaning? does it say how much rain can a camera take. is there a measurement? I hope you understand my question. Sorry, my English is not great.

Great question. Unfortunately, weather-sealing and/or weather-resistance can vary in just how sealed or resistant they are. So one camera brand might be more resistant than another.

There is the 'ingress protection code' or IP code that is a standard to help know how water-resistant things are, but I don't think all camera brands submit their equipment for this level of testing. Which is unfortunate as it would let people make better comparisons.

My rule of thumb is that I seek out weather-resistant and/or sealed gear. Then I assume the camera or gear will be okay in the rain or snow. If I am going to be in a really heavy rain or out in the rain for a long time, then I will start using some of the tips in the article to help provide some additional protection. Really - a rain sleeve is my favorite, lightweight option to provide any extra protection from the weather for the camera.

Hope that helps!

Thank you.

It's absolutely true that "weather sealed" or more properly, " weather resistant" means different things to different manufacturers and even different models. The IP (ingress protection) numbers are a cross industry standard for rating resistance to ingress. I have a camera and lenses rated IP53, where the first number represents the strength of resistance to dust and dirt, the second to water... It's easy to find charts on this. Sadly, however, it's unusual at best these days for camera gear to receive official manufacturer's IP ratings.

It's also important to know you get only the worst case rating between camera and lens, and the ratings only apply to lenses on the camera. I had a lens damaged in-the-bag once, as it didn't seal to the end cap. After that I bought end caps with integrated O-rings. A more water resistant bag is also a good idea.

You'll also find that, regardless of rating, manufacturers generally do not warrant wet performance. That's true of both weather and immersion resistance -- what manufacturers often call "waterproof" though even that is "by how much." And in all cases, this is the resistance you get from a new camera and lens. Your actual results depend on proper maintained of your gear!

All excellent points! Thank you!

I do wish manufacturers got the official IP ratings - it would make comparing levels of resistance so much easier. Also a good point on the caps - I hadn't really considered that one before!

Roger Cicala of Lensrentals says, "Weather sealed" still means if it gets wet inside it isn't covered under warranty." Or something similar to that effect.

While walking to a location in heavy rain, I'll keep my camera in my backpack. I really don't shoot in heavy rain anyway but I will shoot in light rain. I don't mind carrying it next to my body (with a strap) if it is raining lightly. If my camera is on my tripod, I'll place a wash rag or shop towel over the camera and lens. I never take the lens hood off any of my lenses so that's not an issue.

The towel over the camera is always nice to give it a bit of protection as well! I'll use my hat sometimes in that scenario as well.

How well does your bag handle the weather? What brand/model is it?

I use either a Shimoda Designs Explore 35L v2 or an Action 50L v2. They both do well in the weather I've had them in - which is rain, snow, etc.

In a drizzle or light rain, I don't do anything special and have not had any issues. If it is a heavier rain, they do come with a rain cover and I will use that to help protect the bag a little more.

Best way to protect your camera from rain is to drive a gas guzzling SUV, take frequent airline trips and live in a huge house. That will keep the globe toasty warm and dry.

Unfortunately, human induced climate change is making the planet warmer, not drier. And it is possible to enjoy some of life's luxuries and still have a reasonably small carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, only Olympus and Leica bother with IP ratings for their mirrorless cameras. The rest of the brands is just a crap shoot. Weather sealing means nothing. As useful as the special compounds in face creams.

It would definitely be nice if all camera manufacturers submitted to the standard for some form of verification and ability to compare apples to apples across brands.

Almost all of my gear these days is weather-sealed or weather-resistant and I’ve never had any issues despite being out in all sorts of weather. With that said, I’ve also had plenty of non-weather-sealed or resistant camera gear out in the rain and also not had any real trouble with them. (I do tend to take additional precautions no matter what the advertises weather robustness is though - usually by using a rainsleeve or covering the camera in some other way during heavy downpours or if out in the rain for an extended period of time.

Great Article! Having a weather sealed camera that I trust and a rain sleeve has served me well on many of my travels. A couple of small micro fiber cloths in a zip lock bag is additional insurance. Another thing is to make sure your own wet weather gear is up to the task as well. Wet feet or a rain jacket that wets through can dampen (pun intended) your enthusiasm.

Glad you enjoyed the article!

I should start double-purposing my zip lock bags and store some extra microfiber cloths in there!

And agreed, taking care of yourself, the photographer is every bit as important! A wet or cold photographer doesn't do any good for your creativity out in the field!

OP/Tech rainsleeves may be considered "disposable", but I've been using the same two since around 2010. They're still as good as when new, other than the holes I cut for the viewfinder are starting to look a bit ragged. They still protect my gear as well as they always have.

Yes - they do last a good long time! I pretty much just use the same ones over and over!