Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

The advent of DSLR photography heralded the age of photographic equality, if not in terms of photographic abilities, at least in terms of availability and accessibility. There was a time when the term ‘wildlife photographer’ was reserved for those intrepid adventurers who immersed themselves in long weeks of toil, journeying to exotic destinations, battling the wind, mud, rain and snow, seeking to document a moment of natural history at its wildest. Today there are a gazillion people out there right now on safaris, nature walks, etc. with a DSLR in their hands taking pictures of wildlife and posting them on social media. While this is great, because there are more people enjoying the wonders of nature and sharing those wonders with others around the world; merely taking pictures of wildlife does not make one a wildlife photographer, any more than cooking in the kitchen makes one a chef. Too many people out there are fixated on buying the latest gear, the latest camera, the best weather-sealed lens, but when out in the field they baby their gear, always afraid of the dust and the rain. What is the big idea of buying a camera and lens that impressed you with a review of their durability in adverse conditions, their rugged weather sealing, only to have anxiety attacks at the first drop of rain, or the slightest gust of dust-laden wind?

 

Welcome to the Jungle

Wildlife photography is not just about photographing animals. It is about observing them in their environment, and photographing their behaviour in response to changes in the weather that shape their existence and capturing that context. If not, we could just take photographs of animals at the zoo, right? Safe, easy, saves a load of money! To many wildlife photographers, elements like dust, rain and snow are factors that interfere with their photography. They shut the windows, cover up their cameras and worry about how dust and dirt is going to get into their cameras, or how the rain is going to ruin their gear. To me, atmospheric changes like dust and rain are exactly what transforms the scene and make me want to pick up my camera. The same subject and setting are now infused with the theatre of dust or rain. Animals behave differently in these conditions and there is so much potential impact in the frame. This is what a wildlife photographer looks for, action, theatre, and drama.

Dust In The Wind

On my first ever visit to Ndutu, Tanzania in 2015, we were surrounded by nearly a thousand wildebeest and zebras that had come down to a shallow lake, to drink their fill before moving towards the Serengeti. The setting was incredible with the cacophony of hooves and calls, amid a swirling, dust filled, cauldron-like atmosphere. To my surprise, many photographers in other vehicles were more concerned about shutting the windows and zipping up their camera bags, protecting their gear, while a few of us were revelling in the magical atmosphere!

I Love a Rainy Night

Macro photography is a sub-genre of wildlife photography where the elements are just as important. My first visit to Amboli in the monsoon was such a magical experience. I came across this day gecko, a diurnal species, hiding away from the rain and from predators in a cleft in a tree. I wanted to capture the translucent nature of its skin and the rain as a backdrop, so a friend backlit it with a torch, the torchlight catch the rim of the cleft, lighting the gecko aglow from within and catching the swirling rain in the background. How better to convey the sense of the season and the conditions, than to incorporate the rain into my images?

Who’ll Stop the Rain

Fast-forward to 2018 in Ndutu, Tanzania, when we set out one morning, the heavens opened and some people were cursing the storm, but a couple of us were looking at each other like kids in a candy store. We found a trio of cheetahs, a mother and her sub-adult cubs hunkered down, with the rain streaking down. I waited for this moment when one cub decided to shake off the excess water weighing its coat down, unwittingly spraying its sibling in the process. With my lens pointed out of the window I got rain water on my lens, so did a few others, because of the driving wind. So what? I had rain protection and cleaning gear, so I just wiped it off and kept shooting. In 6 years of visiting Tanzania this was the only time I experienced cheetahs in the rain and this was not an opportunity to miss!

When people ask me why I keep going back to shoot the “same old lions, same old cheetahs”, I smile to myself because they will never understand how important the conditions are and what it means to a wildlife photographer. So, when you go out on safari next time, be prepared with rain gear, dust covers, on your camera and lens, keep a poncho and lens cloths ready and do not miss the opportunities that unfold before you. When everyone else is busy shutting the roof and closing the windows, you will be nailing those shots. If someone asks you what you were doing, you can ask them – Have you ever seen the rain?

10 thoughts on “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

  1. So very much true. We all believe reviews while reading, but when faced with situations on the ground, we dont want to believe the same reviews, and hide our gear. I remember the 2018 Ndutu Cheetahs. That was a moment to capture, even if it meant losing some gear to the vagaries of nature. Very well written

      1. Well written, true, love the rains, diffused lighting gives a magical feeling, Rod Stewart the old rocker would be happy with the title

        1. Thank you very much for sharing your appreciation and sharing your thoughts on the subject Anand. Thank you for noticing the title! BTW did you notice that all the headers are rock song titles? 😉

  2. A very revealing article, and one with which I quite agree. Since having moved to digital in 2003, I have always had a pro body. From the Canon 1D (yep, the first), to my current 1DX, I have always found the build of the pro bodies to be a kind of requirement for me however much I didn’t use the benefits. Last year I was contemplating the purchase of a “new” body. I wanted the MkII version of the 1DX. Mind you, this was despite not really having a reason for the upgrade, but merely because it was out and I didn’t have it. Then I watched your video on should I upgrade my camera on Youtube. The basic question you asked us to ask ourselves was have I outgrown my camera. Has my skill level in photography surpassed the capabilities of my camera. These questions caused me to pause and rethink my otherwise undeterred decision. Then I went on my first African safari. I took my long in the tooth 1DX as my primary camera, and a rather unimpressive back up in the event of a 1DX failure. Basically, I place most of my eggs in the 1DX basket. To say I was not disappointed would misrepresent the performance of the 1DX (Shooter), and my reaction to it. I was so impressed by his performance, and I truly fell in love with my camera. Shooter was tossed on the seat, bounced around the inside of the truck, rained on, speckled with mud splats, and came back after a drive wearing quite the impressive dust coat. In all of that, he shined. He never blinked an eye. He took what I considered to be abuse, smiled, and looked out to the landscape for the next photographic ask. That safari showed me a few things. One, I had not outgrown my camera, two, there were still quite a few things in Shooter’s bag of tricks I had yet to learn about, and three, Shooter wasn’t going anywhere. IBIS, eye-autofocus, and EVF mean nothing to me. I don’t shoot much video, and what I do, the iPhone is more than capable. No, Shooter made more than a case for his continued residency far into the future for me.

  3. Hi Zhayynn,

    Read through your blog with great interest. In the past I also have chosen to use my camera, when it was dusty or drizzling. But when it starts to rain, worse pour, then I do hide away my equipment. The problem lies with the manufacturers warranty. They do not guarantee.

    On a different take, one of my friends, who had purchased a iPhone11, read the guidelines that it was waterproof upto 4 mts for 30 mins. He decided to take his phone under the swimming pool to take some photos, much less deep and for a much shorter period of time, based on what was promised. His mobile stopped working after a few minutes. When he took the phone to the Apple store, they told him that it was a warranty and not guarantee and the motherboard has got spoilt. The warranty was only against splash or brief rain and not for taking it inside the pool. You cannot rationalize with these guys!!!

    It is very difficult to enforce warranties particularly in India. The service centers invariably decline to accept any liability. Many products that we buy here, we do so on a “as is where is basis”. The employees working in these service stations have no, or very limited understanding between water-resistance and waterproof. The story goes on……..

    While it may be true that cameras probably may build a little more robustly, they all are classified as “electronics”, and are hidden away at the slightest prospect of rain. The manufacturers have to do a lot more of enlightenment as to the condition it can be used and not used….. and carry out their promises.

    1. Hi Venkat. Thank you for sharing the flip side of the coin. Yes, camera gear costs a bomb, especially high end equipment and its always scary when something fails or starts acting up. However, as mentioned, people can take adequate precautions with waterproof lens covers, etc. that would at least allow you to make some images before deciding that it’s too risky. That was more the spirit of the post, to encourage people to take images at a moment when everyone else is running for cover. 😉

  4. For a photograph to tell a story, the photographer needs to imagine the scene, play out possibilities and the final outcome so as to make the most of anything the situation in front of them offers. ‘Have you ever seen the rain’ is such a wonderful example of this. So beautifully captured Zhayynn – both in imagery and in words!

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