What Makes The Perfect Photographer’s Jacket?

When you're standing on the ice, waiting for the snow mobile......

I glanced in the mirror as I left home the other day and remarked to myself, “You really need to get a new jacket for work, Dude”. Location photographer’s clothing that works well is hard to find and everyone will have their own preference. I’ve had a combination of two jackets that I’ve used for quite a while now. For ultra low temperatures and high winds, my six year old Rab Extreme has been superb. -25c, standing on a frozen lake on Sweden while rally cars blast by is no problem for it. The reinforced edge to the removable hood is particularly welcome in that environment.

However, that’s a relatively rare set of conditions and this Rab’s drawbacks are significant. First off, it’s not waterproof. Back to damp UK weather and it turns into a soggy sponge in a significant downpour. Also, the feather down filling across the shoulders sags down over time, leaving you with cold points on the tops of your shoulders. This is something that I believe has now been rectified. Secondly, the outer shell is relatively fragile. I caught it on a hedgerow and it tore open. It repaired quite well and still serves as my cold temparature weapon of choice. Overall, the Rab is incredibly warm, very light and the hood is excellent. I can wear just a light polo shirt underneath it in sub-zero temparatures and be perfectly warm.

My other jacket was a bargain in comparison. Bought in a motorcycle discount store for less than £70, around eight years ago. It’s not a cool Hein Gericke or Alpinestars, just some generic jacket. But it works on several counts for photography work.

First off, the body armour part was removable, so that came out. That left a jacket with more flexibility in the Barbour blouson style. The adjustable waist keeps the cold wind out. There are more pockets than you can shake a stick at, the perfect size for Lee filters, San Disk cards and all the other clutter that you need to have at hand on location. And of course, being a motorcycle jacket, it’s waterproof and tough. I can lie down on cold tarmac, climb through bushes and it doesn’t get damaged.

Downsides are that you look like you’ve left your BMW GS1200 parked somewhere. Also, while it’s waterproof and fairly windproof, it has a low neck line and no hood for obvious reasons, plus it’s insulation is quite thin, nothing like as good or as breathable as the Rab.

So I need a new jacket and I’m struggling. Making a wish list kind of helps but I’m still struggling. Due to the relatively specific nature of what I need it to do, there seems to be no one, single, perfect choice. Here’s the wish list and the front runners:

1. Must be waterproof and breathable
2. Must be as warm and light as the Rab, with a removable hood
3. Must have decent pockets, inside and out, though it doesn’t need to look like a gadget freaks parka
4. Must be reasonably smart and presentable. I know some photographers go for the war torn grunge look on location, but in my view gaffer tape isn’t meant to be worn as a fashion statement. I need to be able to meet the client in this.
5. Must be able to drive in it, at least for a short distance and be able to wear it while shooting from the open door of a helicopter.
6. Must have a durable outer shell, so that if I wall past a torn bush, it may pick up nicks, but won’t give it and tear open like a soggy bag.

So who are the front runners?

I’ve spent so long looking in outdoor shops, they probably have me listed as a shop lifter by now. But here are the top candidates I’ve found so far:

1. Rab. It has an edge, as I own one already. The shoulder insulation issue has been resolved, I believe, plus the latest ones are claiming 1,000mm Hydrostatic head, which apparently means that it’s waterproof.
2. Paramo. I’d not heard of them before, but they seem highly rated by the fell walking and hiking community. The models I’ve seen have very light material, make big claims on being waterproof and seem to have good pockets.
3. Canada Goose. Looks to be the ultimate, especially the Bomber range, which may be a little short, but look to be practical for everyday use in less than extreme weather. Downside seems to be that they’re quite expensive and I can’t find a UK dealer.
4. North Face. They seem to have a bewildering range of gear and while I found a jacket that ticked all the boxes, boy was it heavy. Plus, pretty much everyone in the world seems to own a black North Face jacket these days…

Further down a list might be something by Hein Gericke or Alpinestars, but I think another motorcycle jacket would probably be a compromise too far, though I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

So that’s what I’ve found so far. I know that several grip manufacturers such as Gitzo make photographer’s vests, but that’s not for me. I don’t want to wear the contents of my camera bag around my body. Put a Pocket Wizard in the breast pocket and it would pass for a suicide bomb vest. Plus, I need to meet The Client in this, remember. This list of mine isn’t unique. The first manufacturer that can provide something that fits those criteria will have a market of professional and enthusiast photographers ready to buy. It doesn’t even need to be bespoke, they probably have a model in thier range already, I just can’t seem to find it!

It’s probably going to filter down to getting two jackets. One lightweight, fleece type thing for driving about, milder days and shooting aerial photography from the open doorways of helicopters, plus one big hitter for all the other weather that gets thrown at me.

If you have any suggestions, experiences or advice, I’m all ears. Just like workflows, every photographer seems to have their own favourite. What’s yours?



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