I took a group of keen photographers to Iceland as part of my role with Leica Akademie Australia. I’d not been before and was expecting to be working in less than ideal conditions – ie rain, wind and relatively low temperatures. I did some research, made some plans, bought some new gear and I thought it might be interesting to readers of this Blog to take a look at what worked and what didn’t. I should also point out that this advice applies to ‘inclement weather’ rather than extreme adventuring conditions like snow and ice, or high altitude mountaineering.

Staying Comfortable

This is critical. If you are soggy and cold it’s really hard to be creative. It’s all very well being stoic but everything becomes that much harder, and deep down you end up wishing you were back at the hotel rather than shooting photos in the rain. Invest in good outdoor gear and err on the side of the better brands rather than being a bit hesitant with the budget.

Cold and wet in Iceland.

A good jacket is a must. It needs to be *genuinely* waterproof, not just showerproof, and should have a rating for millimetres of water pressure head. If it has no quoted rating it’s probably not waterproof and the rain will end up soaking through. A waterproof rating of 2000mm should be considered a minimum and over 5000mm is considered good.

A jacket with lots of pockets is really handy. In the rain you don’t want to be accessing your bag much, better to gear in your pockets as much as possible – filters, batteries, memory cards etc are much better off being within your waterproof shell.

I prefer a shell jacket to a big padded coat. Many brands offer zip-in fleecy liners and it’s the layering that does the trick in cold climes. Five thin layers with a waterproof shell will be much better than a couple of laters under a big heavy coat.

Shell over-trousers are an excellent option. Rain jackets shed the water as designed but where does it go? Down of course. Soon your trousers are soaked and, shortly after, your boots will start to fill from the top with cold water.

Choose over-trousers that are (obviously) properly waterproof and that have wide, zippered lower sections so you can put then on over boots and trousers. Lightweight ones are best as they can be worn over light trousers and thermals.

Shell layers, being waterproof, also keep out the wind, and in fact it’s this factor that affects how warm you feel rather than the actual temperature. You can be toasty warm on a still but freezing day, or shivering on a windy day at 10 degrees C.

I also find that top quality thermal leggings and undershirts work very well. The merino ones are great – Icebreaker from NZ is probably the best on the market and whilst is a bit costly, you won’t regret the cost when you are out in the elements and feeling all warm!

Keep dry at all costs!

Boots

Very few of the lightweight boots we tend to wear in the tropics are genuinely waterproof. I’m a bit of a Merrill affectionado. There’s no denying their comfort but many supposedly waterproof boots actually aren’t. Rather than buy special boots I chose to get a set of overshoes which go over your boots – like galoshes or gaiters with a built in sole. Lighter than a second pair of boots, and much better value. I’d not go off walking any great distance in them but in Iceland they were more than capable of keeping out the wet grasses and the occasional errant wave on the shore.

A word of advice – it’s tempting to wear your shell trousers inside the overshoes. Don’t: roll the trousers down *outside* the overshoes and strap them up tight. Water flows down not up, and properly overlapping layers can keep out a wave splashing right up to your thighs.

Gloves

Fingers get cold quickly, especially when they are wet. I use fingerless mitts from Katmandu that have a mitt flap that can be peeled back to access your fingers. Great for fiddly camera gear and warmer than normal gloves.

Well equipped and comfortable leads to good photos.

Cameras.

Keeping your camera gear safe and functional is, of course, critical . You could sit inside and watch the rain come down but you’d miss out on some awesome opportunities if you are too worried about getting your camera wet.

Shooting in heavy rain is almost impossible. If you absolutely have to, it’s certainly do-able but just not advisable. Shooting comfortably in light rain is a much better prospect but even light rain accumulates quite quickly so you need to keep as much off the camera as possible.

I shoot with a Leica SL which is almost impervious to light rain due to its excellent weather sealing but there is a bit of a gotcha with ‘rainproof’ cameras. They are rainproof but not airtight. This means you can shoot with them covered in raindrops but they must be dried off before putting them back in their cases or bags. The humid air inside a wet bag will gradually penetrate the camera and lens, leading to condensation issues later on. It’s not a big deal but do dry off your camera before packing away.

if your camera does get wet or if you see internal condensation on the lens, don’t panic. Put the lens along with some uncooked rice in a plastic bag and let it sit for 24 hours or so. The rice will desiccate the air in the bag, gradually pulling out the moist air inside the camera. You can ask the hotel restaurant for some or get it from a supermarket.

Simple bags like this can save the day.

For non weather sealed cameras and for those who, like me, are a bit paranoid about such things even with sealed cameras, I have found the Op/Tech range of camera rain-capes to be superb. They are cheap and light – almost disposable – with a simple and effective design. Just drag the bag over the camera, pull the drawstring tight around the lens hood and line up a small hole with the viewfinder window. That’s it.

Capes like this show up a value of using mirrorless cameras. You simply do not need to use the rear LCD screen at all – menus access, image previews and focussing can be all be done in the EVF window so a wet, steamy plastic cape obscuring the rear screen becomes no problem whatsoever.

Carry a microfibre cloth as well as a small chamois. Microfibre is not that good at collecting moisture and you can bet good money that your front lens element will get wet at some point. The chamois removes the worst of the water, then use the micro fibre to clean it thoroughly. Keep a close eye on the front of the lens – it’s very easy to forget and only find out too late that the perfect shot has been marred by drops of water on the lens (and it’s really hard to retouch out later!).

Don't get too close!

Bags

This is a tricky one but obviously you need some sort of bag that is either waterproof or, more usually, has a waterproof cover. Most bags are only really showerproof so the extra cover is essential if you know you’ll be out in the rain. The downside is that it’s then hard to get into the bag, which is where having pockets in your jacket comes in. Changing lenses is not an option in the rain unless you are extremely careful so having SD cards and filters in you pockets and working with one protected zoom lens is a sensible way to work.

I have a lot of bags and usually use a Tamrac wheeled backpack because it’s great in airports. However it’s not really much good for harsh conditions so I ended up with a Think Tank Airport Essentials which is lightweight and has a good rain cover tucked away inside. This bag performed very well in Iceland and my gear never got wet.

Iceland is a challenge for photographers.