As a Florida local, I’m still amazed at all the hidden gems I find throughout this state. It’s a nature-lovers’ paradise! Birds galore, moody swamps, ancient trees adorned in Spanish moss, white-sand beaches, brilliant sunrises and sunsets, and weather that can change from sunny skies with a gentle breeze into a torrential lightning-filled downpour. It's not known as the lightning strike capital of the U.S. for nothing.  And on my escapades through the sunshine state, I became intimately familiar with this fact.

My camera and I were put to the test as I learned the hard way the best methods to waterproofing my gear.

Always Plan for the Unlikely Events

Florida summers to locals mean it’ll be nice, hot, and sunny for the morning and early afternoon, then when 2 or 3 o’clock comes around, the thunder will roll in and pour buckets for the next 5 minutes to an hour. This is usually how it happens, but it seems my luck woke up on the wrong side of the bed...every day that week.

I thought I was prepared. I bought a nice reliable rain jacket, a rain cover for my camera bag, a nice pair of hiking boots, and a few microfiber cloths to clean my lenses.

First stop is Itchetucknee Springs. A nice little spot northwest of Gainesville touting a beautiful swimming hole and a stream to float down on tubes. The intention was for my friend and I to location scout, set up camp, and go back to our marked photography spots for golden hour.

I spotted some nature trails and begin the hike. Early on, I walk up to some springs with brilliant coloring but the composition wasn’t there. Walking along the shore as long as possible, in hopes of finding another clearing with the stream in view, I spot some park rangers. I approach and ask about potential shooting locations. He directs us off to another trail, about 2.5 miles long, saying there’s a clearing where we might be able to find something. Since it wasn’t a long hike and still pretty early in the day, I wasn’t too worried.

A mile in, it starts to get dark! Like someone-just-turned-the-dial-on-the-clock-to-9pm, dark. It was only 11 in the morning…  I figure my guestimation on when the weather was set to pick up was wrong.  We stop to cover our gear before it the rain starts.  The cover I had was a little awkward-fitting as it wasn’t meant to cover the bag with the tripod in the side pocket. But I covered it the best I could since I didn’t want to bother carrying the tripod separately the rest of the way. I zipped up my rain jacket and braced myself.

The rain starts falling, but there was a lot of overhead tree coverage so not many drops make it to the ground.  Walking down the trail, all around us was imbued with vegetation and the trail was flush against the tree line on both sides.

While enjoying the lushness of the surrounding nature, I was reminded of these things we have in Florida called Banana Spiders. These guys like to build their web between two trees. The kind of trees lining the trail I was currently walking…at head height. Which my hiking buddy, unfortunately, finds out the hard way…

In mid-sentence, my friend lets an uncharacteristically girly scream and stumbles backward. Incredulously, I hang back and look on to find out what happened.  In a muffled voice as she’s clawing at her face to get the invisible strands off, explains that she walked into a spider web.  After clearing her face of the sticky fibers, we look to find the web.  We spot it, and to our horror, just inches to the right of where she made contact was this uncomfortably big yellow and black spider.

Banana Spider

To give a sense of scale, these suckers are about as big as a female adult’s (my) hand. Thinking cap time! We were both too chicken to just crouch under the web. Neither of us are experts in arachnid behavior, but in our minds, as soon as we got under it we were convinced it was going to jump at us. So we needed to get the web out of the way. Our solution was to scavenge sticks and unhinge the web so the spider would swing to one side of the tree line. Then we could cautiously cross through. Level cleared!

A few meters later, again, my friend almost runs right into another one! She spots it last minute and matrix-style, backbends before getting another spidey facial.  We put the same plan into action and clear the path, but I begin to notice the rain picking up more and more.

Then a lightning bolt strikes a few miles off to the right of us followed by a pounding thunder. And when it thunders here, you feel it throughout your whole body. Like someone-who-takes-the-pillow-fight-too-seriously-and-nails-you-in-the-chest, feel it.

We’ve gone about halfway into the trail, and after going through web 1 and 2, it was too late to turn back now. Except now we are dealing with much more than spider webs.  NOW, It’s torrentially down pouring, lightning strikes flashing all around us, we’re dodging banana spider webs, our boots now have a pool of water sloshing around inside them, and we’re desperately covering our camera gear as best we can to keep it dry. For the next 20 minutes, I’m second guessing every turn as I can recognize nothing familiar about the trail. Finally, I see a marker I passed earlier and a wave of relief briefly washes over me. It takes another 20 minutes through a whirlwind of weather and emotions to arrive at the public bathrooms for shelter.

Sweet, sweet relief.

When Your Gear Does Get Wet, Dry it A.S.A.P.

Never been so happy to see public park bathrooms in my life! First thing’s first. I remove the foot-shaped fish bowls from my feet and peel my socks off. Next, I check my camera bag, thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad, considering I have a rain cover.

E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. is wet.

How?!?!

Remember how I couldn’t fit the cover over my entire bag because of my tripod? That’s how!

I immediately remove all my gear to let it start air drying and reach for my microfiber cloths.  Unfortunately, they also got wet and were now useless. Luckily, I had these Kimtech science wipes that turned out to be a lifesaver. They’re basically tissues for sensitive glass. Mostly used for science-y stuff, but also VERY useful for camera lenses. I kept those in the inside pocket of my rain jacket, which did its job, so they managed to remain dry.  The rain finally stops and I pack up the gear to head back to the car.

Since the plan was to go camping, before all the craziness happened, I had a spare change of clothes and sandals. What a warm and dry welcome it was.

After going to the campsite and seeing the lots under a few inches of water, I put the kibosh on camping and make the decision to drive back home.

I didn’t want the rain to put an end to our plans for the rest of the week.  I had to figure out a way to get around it.

How to Work Around the Rain

After that “experience,” I look at the weather app on my phone religiously.  We didn’t want to let rain ruin our shooting plans, so I want to find a way to work around it.

We were a little more apprehensive about taking long hikes, though…

I was determined to be super-duper prepared this time! Time to get a “rain jacket” for my camera. There are rain covers you can buy but unfortunately for us, no camera stores had what we wanted. The rain covers available were these bizarre plastic helmets that looked like the top section to a hazmat suit. No thanks! I want something more compact. I have enough in my car to keep track of.  Instead, my friend and I “macgyvered” some solutions.  Not as much macgyvered as it was scrounging the house for things to use. Our solution: umbrellas, our own rain jackets, and plastic shopping bags.  It did the job, but I will be investing in a proper rain cover for the future.

Protected by umbrella and plastic bagProtected by plastic bag and 2 rain jackets

Next stop: Bok Tower Gardens.

I was keeping an eye on the weather app, but I was still driving through the rain that wasn’t showing on the map.  I’m prepared for anything now, though.  The Bok Tower Gardens are a European-style garden with topiary, ponds, a central musical tower, and a brilliant array of flowers.  I was looking forward to being in nature without hiking the in the backwoods.

We arrived about two hours before closing, but luckily for us, the weather was holding the crowds away. We have the whole place to ourselves. Walking along the landscaped paths, I look around to scout images. I had one in mind that I wanted, but I was looking to see what else I could capture while I was there.  The rain stopped and I set up my camera to get the target composition. The iconic tower standing behind a reflection pond.  The clouds broke and the sun began painting the scene in warm tones. I snap the shutter to get the image before the light disappears and the rain made its appearance once more.

It was worth it. 

The Take-Away

  1. Be prepared. Even if you’ve planned everything out and there’s one iota of something happening, prepare for it.
  2. Your gear can claim to be as watertight as it wants, have a microfiber cloth, tissues, etc. JUST. IN. CASE. Also, keep a change of clothes in your car and some sandals. It’s nice not being soaked even if it IS scorching outside.
  3. Don’t let the rain scare you away! If rain is going to show up, plan an image to work with the rain.

My results…

Click to see image in Gallery