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Monday, 23 December 2013


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I wish I lived in an umbrella culture. Even though Juneau, AK is located in a temperate rainforest the local fashion is distinctly anti-umbrella. Heavy raincoats and hoods are the norm. People who move here will use umbrellas for a while and then set them aside. High winds don't help, but I think it mostly has to do with local style (informal, rubber boots, good rain jacket). Even the girls often wear fishing boots to high school. So I use water resistant cameras outside, use lens hoods, and keep the camera pointed down when walking.

I lived in Portland, OR for a year, and the natives, much to my surprise, didn't use umbrellas (at least at the time). The reason was apparently that the rain never came down hard, and, as a native once put it to me, "If you try to keep yourself dry you'll just go crazy." So they walk around getting drizzled on.


Oh, and favorite accessories: Richard Avedon once said it was "a motorized assistant." (He had been asked, more or less, if his camera--an 8x10!--had a motor drive.) And I think Joel Meyerowitz has intimated that his essential accessory is a student to carry his 8x10 for him (I don't think he's alone in that either).


Umbrellas? Are those like the things we use in Arizona to provide shade on the golf course?

A Sherpa-type friend use to be my favorite accessory, but now days it is a custom made vest. This mid-life change has allowed my Sherpa the freedom to carry-on without needy me. I have finally achieved the independence I have craved for, and left the medium format behind for smaller and IMO, prettier tools: 2 Sigma Merrills and a Sony Nex-7. Now that I am living large as a dork in a olive green vest, I do not seem to miss my Sherpa at all.

My problem with umbrellas is the difficulty of juggling both the umbrella and camera simultaneously. In this photo, I was using an extremely compact Olympus XA film camera, but still couldn't hold steady enough with just one hand to properly frame it. I've always considered this photo "one that got away" because of the truncated foot.

Mike, you reminded me of a satirical story in a photo magazine many years ago (I seem to remember that it was the wonderful Camera 35 magazine). It was a Christmas season "top ten" list of photo equipment. One of the items was a motor drive for an 8x10 camera. The accompanying photo was of a small factory. One other item I remember was a "dark bulb." You could just put it in a standard light bulb socket and when you turned it on it would suck up all the light in the room, so you could do your darkroom work. It was a really funny article.

As to the weather...advice I often give other photographers is: "If you want to take photos that don't look like everyone else's photos, wait until everyone says the weather is too bad to go out and take photos...and go out and take photos."

I wish I could,.... but there is a certain art to walking gracefully with a brolly that I have never been able to master. I get it tangled in my feet, drop it noisily in quiet places, forget it in noisy places, Like wearing an ascot , I somehow don't qualify.
And it's obvious.
So I'm voting for the car, -not because I'm that good at stopping for decisive moments. but because I've always fancied doing This:

Seattlites do not usually use umbrellas much. Our rain, if hard enough to call for an umbrella, is usually accompanied by a stiff wind. Either the umbrella is immediately inverted or the user is transported up the street. I find the ultimate accessory is a grandchild who can be drafted to carry the extra gear.

(also) Mike

My essential photo accessory is a hat with a brim. I wear glasses, and all my cameras (except the iPhone) have viewfinders. A brim helps cut the sunlight, and if there is precipitation, water, from the viewfinder (I lived a dozen years in Seattle, and tend to wear a jacket with a hood, rather than carry an umbrella). The only time I've had trouble with this was an incredibly hot and humid morning near Angkor Wat. The brim of the hat decreased air circulation enough for my breath to fog the viewfinder, which otherwise managed to stay clear.

John's article does remind me that the umbrella is an essential and popular accessory for trekking in the Himalaya. I have seen many a buddhist monk take off on a journey with nothing but a little shoulder bag and an umbrella. An umbrella works well for any place where there is a developed trail system and not many trees or high winds. If trekking in the rain, it's best to accessorize the umbrella with a good backpack cover. That, and gaiters (or rain-pants, at most) will usually keep you dry and comfy on anything but the most violent downpour.

Gréât choice and wonderfully written. Thanks, John.


Yeah as a Seattleite I have to say umbrellas are hardly ever seen around here, and mostly useless.

Completely agree about cars and bicycles. I would have gone with shoes, but you've convoked me otherwise.

I'd probably go with time. That may seem far off the mark, but having enough time to slow down and wander aimlessly is the the most essential thing to me, and the one thing I rarely have when I need it.

John, you are reminding me of my favorite (made up) Mark Twain quotation: "Man is the only animal that accessorizes. Or needs to!"

I was going to suggest rain hood and water resistent camera, but you then gave me the idea of using an umbrella as a light modifier.
Not as a scrim or translucent or reflector, but a way to take a portrait outdoors when the light from above in the shade puts dark circles under eyes. Just have them hold a black umbrella and they should be perfectly lit. And it gives them something to do.

"Malacca Cane Flask Umbrella" - now that sounds like an umbrella for me. Not sure I'd fill it with a 18 year old Talisker. But give me an 12 yyear old Caol Ila, then we are talking ;)

The problem I have with umbrellas, is that it is usually windy around here, when it rains ...

A black Amex card?

And Speaking of umbrellas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO8G5zsQohg

A thing regrettable about the umbrella nowadays is that they choose to not use the hook anymore.

That hook is a great piece of design. It helps set the umbrella without worrying about it falling down and get stepped on. It can also be used to hang the umbrella from bag's strap, freeing both hands to use the camera when the rain stops.

My essential piece of equipment is a large trash can. A physical piece of equipment in the wet darkroom days, now it is a mindset that trashes the obviously trashy files and keeps them out of my future conciousness. Trashing the interference helps clarify my vision and keeps me from tiring too easily.
Jerry Kircus

Not great on windy, wet days though - hence my Pentax K-5 and a WR lens.

I've always wondered how to hold both camera and umbrella in a stable manner; I seem to need a third arm (I shoot using viewfinders).

Mentioning the umbrella as a weapon brought this to mind:


Born, raised, and currently in Seattle. Never once needed an umbrella, doesn't rain enough to warrant one. Tucson during monsoon season, there it would've been a good idea.

My ultimate photographic accessory is a chauffeur. When driving myself I just can't get myself to stop or go back when seeing a photo op. A few times I've had my wife drive me when looking for photo opportunities. I can say "stop, let me out" to get the shot. If it's not safe for the car to stay there, I can have the driver come back for me. Unfortunately, my wife doesn't enjoy this activity so I stopped asking years ago.

Umbrellas? What are they?

My trusty old Isuzu Trooper is the most useful photo accessory I've got. New Mexico is a big place, and I do a lot of driving and exploring to find new photo opportunities. Most of my day trips run 400 to 700 miles.

I suppose that if we had some truly urban environments here, I'd be doing more walking, but even Albuquerque, our largest city, is only about as urban as Paramus, NJ. Like many other small-to-medium size cities, it's turning into one big strip mall.

It would have to be, for me, a pen and notebook. This to note a picture you see in your head but, for whatever you need to return to make that picture. If I do not write it down then for sure I'll only think of it the next time I chance by that same location and /or view.

Ahhh, yes. Seattle, being very much like Portland, is all about the drizzle. Instead of an umbrella, my favorite accessory is a camera with good weather sealing.

Water. Dehydration does not improve my photography. Unfortunately many (if not most) camera bags lack provision for carrying water while minimizing the chance of leaks wetting photo gear.

As a parent of young children, I've found a stroller has it's uses as a photo accessory. A tripod rolls with me most weekends. Putting camera gear in the stroller allows my to get it into museums and other locations that bar backpacks and shoulder bags. And a stroller gives me a place to put a water bottle that the designers of my camera bag didn't see fit to provide.

As for umbrellas, after getting drenched a few too many times last spring, I jumped at the chance to pick up a high tech Blunt Classic at a substantial discount. It's by far the best umbrella I've ever used.

And they're not just for people: http://www.toxel.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/umbrella12.jpg

OK, OK, so I take it back about Seattle. Though if I ever get there I may try one myself, just to be different. I'll bet my Senz can take on even Seattle winds.

Benjamin, as far as the Leica of umbrellas, I think many (including Prince Charles) would say Brigg. The problem is that the Law of Umbrellas states that the more you pay for one, the sooner you are likely to lose it. That's why if you buy a cheap nasty one you'll have it around forever, or at least until it breaks. My compromise is to buy medium-priced ones. They usually last a couple years, good enough for me.

And without doubt the best selection of umbrellas on the planet has to be found in Tokyo, a city that takes its umbrellas very seriously indeed.

I've never owned an umbrella, despite my English-born father. They just don't work for me; too often they aren't effective in the weather where they're needed (winds too high), and they're too big and heavy to carry just on the off-chance. I'm a rain poncho man myself, from my bicycling (pre-car) days.

The essential accessory is the bean-bag (or "pillow pod").

For years, my favorite photographic accessory was my dog. He was willing to go shooting with me any day, any time.

For all the Seattle reasons previously referred to, no umbrella. A boonie hat, and a bar towel to wipe off the camera, generally suffice for everything short of the raging mists we had over the weekend.

A long time ago when I was an impecunious student on a rock climbing holiday in Glencoe, Scotland, I watched in awe as a Rolls Royce pulled up nearby. A chauffeur got out, opened a rear door and a tweed clad figure alighted. The gentleman was handed a small knapsack and a Leica M (but no umbrella, even though it is one of the wettest places in Britain) and then he set off across the heather towards Buachaille Etive Mor, a mountain much loved by climbers and photographers alike. The chauffeur returned to the car and drove off. Since then I have always considered these - Rolls Royce, chauffeur, Leica - to be the ultimate photographic accessories.

120 aluminum film canisters.

If it's raining, then my favourite accessory is a rain jacket, not an umbrella -- because that leaves my 2 hands free. I've got a montane super-fly but any other lightweight compressible shell will do the trick.


For Benjamin Marks: John Smith & Sons, New Oxford Street, London (they have a web site) has always looked like a serious umbrella shop to me, though I have never actually been inside the shop. A brief look at their web site suggests there's little they don't know about umbrellas etc!

I have a small wind-up torch that is very useful for setting up a camera, or finding things in my camera bag, at night. Being mechanically charged I never need to remember to bring fresh batteries, and being LED a few vigorous windings will give about five minutes of useful light.

My other useful winter accessory is a pair of gloves with removable finger-tip covers which fold back when I want to make adjustments or shoot.

I'm with Oskar Ojala. Being the average kind of human being who has only two arms, I still haven't figured out how to hold an umbrella whilst fiddling with the camera's controls. To make matters worse, here at my hometown the rain is usually accompanied by wind.
As a result, I usually don't photograph when it rains. Of course there are always exceptions, like this rather old-styled picture I took while I was sheltering from an unexpected fall of rain:
So yes, photographing in the rain does provide nice pictures. Until I manage my clumsiness with umbrellas and cameras, however, my favourite accessory will still be the lens hood. And it can be useful under light rain, too...
Merry Xmas for everyone! :)

Well, an umbrella is a necessity in Japan, even for American men who would not be caught dead with one of them thar sissy-looking things. You need an umbrella in the rain, you definitely need one in the wet heavy snow in central Honshuu (unless you like being soaked and frozen), and if you are a woman, you need one to protect yourself from UV light at about any other time. Men are increasingly using umbrellas for protection from the sun too. So for most folks, if you are gonna photograph outside, you're going to need an umbrella.

I've never had a good one, except for my wife's which I soon lost. After that, she took to buying bright pink and purple ones to attempt to discourage me from using hers. I generally do like many do and get the $6 vinyl junkers at 7-11 or splurge for a $10 cloth collapsible model. With one of these and a plastic bag to put my camera in when the umbrella is destroyed by a puff of wind, I am reasonably prepared for photography in the city.

A real man, though, would just slap on his baseball cap.

My favorite photographic accessory is a good friend.
There are a couple of people with whom I go on very nice walks, and on these walks I've taken some of my favorite pictures. Perhaps it's the places, perhaps the conversations, perhaps just the simple relaxation of a long walk with a friend...

I don't own an umbrella because I don't mind getting wet. I do own a weather resistant camera and it doesn't mind getting wet. I fully agree about pretty blue skies with fluffy clouds. Those are for postcards.

the wirecutter site has a pretty good review of compact umbrellas, at least in the USA.


Most people I know use a lightstand to hold the umbrella while they shoot.

i remember flying to Chicagoon layovers as a crew and the quick visits to the art institute to spend a few minutes looking at this painting.

Even better than an umbrella alone is having someone to hold it over you while you take pictures in the rain.

"What is the Leica of anti-rain gear, and where can I find one?"

James Smith & Sons in New Oxford Street, London. The umbrella is unfinished; it is measured in your hand in the shop, and then the end cut and capped to suit your height, allowing you to swing the umbrella as you walk without it being so long that it hits the ground.

Meant to last a lifetime. They will replace a band or even re-cover the umbrella. Mine is approaching 30 years old.

I used to have two. But my son, when he was a little boy, took one into the garden, opened it, turned it over, filled it with rocks, and proceeded to drag it about. He was too little to understand why I was upset at that.

Nice article. I'm just starting to appreciate the possibilities of urban bad weather photography, so it's a good time to read this.

Like the Umbrella as a weapon. The inclusion of a sharp point with a was capsule enclosing Ricin poison has been used successfully for assasinations through the years. One with a firearm barrel built in is useful for shooting folks when they don't think you can. As a carry case for a sword or blade.

These have all been successfully used.

Geoff Morgan: I think you may mean james-smith.co.uk/. I have tried and failed to take a decent picture of the amazing shop frontage, almost unchanged since Victorian times.

Wow! Great pics (and interesting avatar) on 500px.com. I'm curious as to what camera and lens was used for those street shots.

If my camera is weather resistant enough to suffer rain, then so am I.

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