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Don't Forget Your Towel!

According to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is "about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." Over the years, I've also found one quite handy when photographing outdoors.

There are obvious uses for a towel. The Pacific Northwest is known for getting a fair bit of precipitation. The truth is, many parts of the country receive greater rainfall totals than we get here, but we can experience protracted periods of drizzle and light rain that amount to more hours of rain than elsewhere. Indeed, the "Pacific North Wet" is home to the largest temperate rain forest on earth, made famous by the Olympic National Park's Hoh Rainforest. It rarely rains enough to prevent outdoor activities, and most of us ignore it unless it really starts coming down. Modern cameras are water-resistant but generally not waterproof. A lens hood helps keep water droplets off the lens front element, but everything else can benefit from an occasional wipe with a towel. I prefer microfiber towels over the traditional terrycloth. They dry faster and are softer on whatever I use them on.

The same is true when shooting near the beach. A splash from a wave crashing against the rocks isn't a problem if you can wipe it away with a good microfiber towel. After finishing a session of exploring tidepools, I thoroughly clean everything to avoid salt corrosion, but a towel serves as a good temporary remedy in the field.

When temperatures plummet during winter, rain turns to snow. And snow can create complications of its own. A towel can prove useful to brush off snow grains before they melt. But when it gets cold still, snow can become an even more significant problem. Those tiny grains can work their way into all sorts of places, like into your camera when you change lenses. A handy towel keeps things tidy before problems develop.

But even when not needed to wipe water or snow off my camera gear, a towel can prove useful.

I've used a towel to wet down rocks near a stream to make them look more photogenic. Dull, gray rocks look, well, dull. Stream rocks that are only partly wet can be distracting, creating a jumble that competes with the stream itself for attention. But when thoroughly wet down, the natural color of the rocks becomes more pronounced, and the even, darker color contrasts nicely with the white of the water flowing over and around them.

Sometimes, the problem is the reverse. A depression in the rocks can form a pool that reflects glare like a mirror. A convenient towel can mitigate the problem. A good microfiber towel can absorb a lot of water.

A towel can be useful for cleaning up mud on my hands or gear. Or if I get sunscreen or bug repellent in the wrong place, a wet towel can help resolve matters.

I've used a dry towel to soften the pain of sitting on sharp rocks. I have a thing for shooting low to the ground, but the ground doesn't always have a thing for being very comfortable. A bit of padding can improve matters tremendously.

A towel can prove its use, even when standing upright on a bright, sunny day. Sometimes, I wish for a bit of cloud cover so that the camera LCD back doesn't become so washed out in the bright light. And it can be challenging to see clearly through the viewfinder when the sun is at the wrong angle. Glare can be a nuisance. But it can be mitigated easily by throwing a towel over my head and camera as I compose. If this sort of solution was good enough for Ansel Adams and other photographers of that era, it's good enough for me, even if it does make me look a bit odd to any bystanders.

And even if none of these situations come up, a towel can provide a bit of extra padding around gear in my pack. I'm not too fond of the overly thick foam inserts that come in most camera backpacks. One of the first things I do when I get a new bag is to pull out half of the foam blocks to make more room for gear. You may need this much padding if you plan to throw your camera bag around to see if it bounces, but with even a modest amount of care and attention, I know from experience I can get by with somewhat less. Still, a towel wedged in just the right place can stop to lenses from potentially rubbing up against each other as I hike.

Now, some of these uses for a towel obviously conflict with others. For example, I wouldn't put a wet towel inside my camera pack as padding on the hike back to my car. Accommodations have to be made sometimes. But fortunately, microfiber material dries quickly and can be returned to service in no time.

No doubt about it, microfiber towels are massively useful. Don't forget yours.

Date posted: October 18, 2020


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