How to Protect Your Camera in Extreme Weather

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If you love to photograph nature, you surely know how unpredictable, and often hostile the elements can be. While we may get a sniffle or a chill from bad weather, the electronics inside our cameras are much more sensitive.

A little water, some sand, or extreme temperatures can cause your camera to temporarily malfunction or even suffer permanent damage. When the storm clouds roll in, it’s important to know how to take good care of, and protect your camera gear.

Foggy trees by Anne McKinnell

Moisture

Whether it’s full-on rain or just intense humidity, moist conditions are your camera’s number one enemy. Not only can the wetness seep into the electronic elements of cameras, flashes, lenses, and other accessories and short them out, but it can get trapped inside the casing, causing condensation and eventually mold.

To prevent this, consider purchasing a protective rain cover for your camera. You can find these in both disposable and reusable versions. In a pinch, a non-biodegradable plastic shopping bag will do the trick. Make sure all the rubber doors covering your camera’s inputs are sealed, and keep a clean, dry cloth handy to wipe away any water that condenses on the outside of the camera.

Rain drops on flowers by Anne McKinnell

In the event that your camera does get wet inside, remove the lens and set all the affected pieces next to a warm (not too hot) radiator. Remove the battery and memory card, open all the doors and gaskets, and place the camera face up and the lens face down to allow water to evaporate through the openings. Less sensitive accessories can be placed in a bag of dry rice, which will absorb the excess moisture.

Tip: Throw some silica gel (the little packages in shoe boxes, etc., that read “DO NOT EAT”) in your camera bag to protect against humidification in storage.

Intense Heat or Cold

Most cameras are rated to work between -10 and +40 degrees Celsius (14-104 degrees Fahrenheit). This is generally not because of the camera itself, but because of the batteries – the chemicals inside of them cease to work properly when they get too cold, or too hot.

Palm Canyon Sunburst by Anne McKinnell

To avoid this problem, keep an extra battery in a temperature-controlled place. If you’re shooting in the cold, keep one in your pocket to be warmed by your body heat. In the heat, your camera bag should provide adequate shade to keep a battery cool enough to function.

Never place your camera face up in direct sunlight. The lens works both ways, and can act like a magnifying glass to focus the rays into your camera and burn a hole in your shutter, and eventually, your image sensor. Remember that even magnesium-alloy cameras contain plastic components, so if you shoot in really extreme places such as near volcanoes or among raging fires, use common sense and keep your camera well clear of the flames.

Frozen Fountain by Anne McKinnell

Sand

Other than moisture, this is probably the most common cause of equipment malfunction. Everyone wants to take their camera to the beach (or maybe to the desert), but as anyone who has ever tried to picnic in the surf knows, sand gets anywhere, and everywhere. At best, it can become stuck inside the lens and cause spotty pictures. At worst, it will get inside the gears and severely damage moving parts such as the shutter or auto focus motor, or scratch the lens or image sensor.

Ormond Beach by Anne McKinnell

This applies to compact cameras too – sand in the lens will cause it to grind and prevent it from extending, turning your little point-and-shoot into an expensive paper weight. Even tripods aren’t safe from this effect. Grains of sand inside the fastening screws can destroy the threading and keep them from tightening properly.

Again, make sure the rubber gaskets on your camera are tightly sealed and always tuck your equipment away inside a sealed camera bag when not in use. A protective rain cover can also help keep your camera clear of debris. If sand does get on or in your gear, don’t wipe it with a cloth which can embed it deeper, or worse, scratch the glass elements. Instead, get a hand-pumped air blower to puff the grains away. Avoid compressed air canisters, which are too strong and contain chemicals that can cause damage. If you have no other option you can use your lungs, but be very careful not to project little spit particles into your camera’s insides.

Mesquite Sand Dunes by Anne McKinnell

Wind

A stiff breeze won’t hurt much on its own, but it can easily blow over a tripod and send your camera crashing to the ground, causing untold damage. On a windy day, anchor your gear using sandbags, or simply hang your camera bag from the tripod’s centre column to weigh it down (a sack full of rocks will also work). Keep in mind that wind combined with sand creates a natural sandblaster which can scratch up your lens quite badly if you aren’t careful.

Stormy Day at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by Anne McKinnell

Bad weather can often make for good photographs, so get out there and make the most of it. Just make sure you are taking care of your equipment at the same time.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • Jonathan

    You missed a big one: After shooting in very cold temperatures, put
    your camera in a sealed plastic bag before going inside. Make sure your
    camera is warmed up to room temperature before taking it out of the
    bag. This prevents condensation from building up on your camera.

  • I am using the tightly sealed Pentax K-3 DSLR and often with their sturdy weather sealed lenses, when out in the wild. With this combination many of the advice above can be taken lightly. The remaining problem though is how to best keep the front surface of the lens (or rather the UV-filter) clean from water and condensation when shooting in pouring rain? Any innovative tips are welcomed.

  • Tittan Dropkick Kittelsaa

    I’ve got the same camera, and my “tip” must be to keep it pointing down between the shots? And bring something to wipe the lens/filter with?

    It’s quite fun actually, to see all the other guys run for cover when it starts raining, while you just keep on shooting (and get the awesome shots).

  • Yes pointing down and tissue is used frequently, but sometimes e g for longer exposure times or on a tripod it is a struggle. E g this shot with self-timer on Halde fjell (a summit in Norway) http://contextphoto.com/albums/2014-halti-finland/content/the-peak-of-halde-fjell-1-360-m/lightbox/ in the clouds with strong side wind and rain.

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  • Tittan Dropkick Kittelsaa

    I haven’t had much problems with that, but I haven’t really done long exposures except when it’s cold and dry.

    I’ll do a field test for you, as I’m living in Norway, and see if I can find anything that will help.

  • Thanks for the tips! I’m only just getting into photography so it’s very handy to know!
    The beach has ruined one of my compact cameras before!

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  • Ibrahim Hossen Tareq

    Photography is an art and glorious as a profession. Camera is the main instrument in focusing this art or profession. So we should obviously take care of camera so that it can serve us nicely.
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  • Tonima Akter

    Thank you, I enjoy your easy to understand information,Iit helps a lot

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    I have plenty of experience shooting in extreme weather. The shot with the horses was a cold day around -25 or -30 degrees. I didn’t stay out long shooting and kept my car cool, I also placed a small towel over the camera before going inside to slow the warm up time and left it aclimate over night before taking it out. The other shot was a snowy day with wet heavy snow that just clinged to whatever it touched. Here I had a towel that I put over my head and camera to keep the snow off.

  • Ranjit Kumar Sen

    On a friends suggestions I had some (30/40) snaps facing my camera (Canon EOS 600D) towards the Sun to minimise some fungas accumulated in my lense (18-55). Now I want to know had it affected the lens? How do I able to know?

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    With regard moisture, why the stricture to use ‘non-biodegradable’ plastic? The emphasis should surely be on the waterproof & sturdiness qualities of the material. Incidentally, at a pinch, try shooting through some cling-wrap stretched over the lens if the rain is coming at you like “cats & dogs.”

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    I doubt that pointing the lens at the sun would have any effect on fungus, just the humidity which caused it. There would be more danger to your camera sensor than to the lens.
    Remove the lens from the camera before pointing the lens at the sun!
    Fungus will degrade the picture contrast and sharpness. See if you can borrow a test target pattern (typically a large sheet of paper covered with closely-spaced fine lines) and take some shots, then blow them up life-size to see how the lens performs.
    You could take the lens to a camera repair shop to have it cleaned if the fungus causes too much degradation.

  • I just returned from a great trip to Iceland, climbing the highest peak Hvannadalshnjúkur 2110 m, partly in hard conditions (-10 deg C, snow and very strong winds) and with my trusted companions the Pentax K-3 and the weather sealed Pentax 18-135mm/3,5-5,6. To keep the front lens clear from the harsh weather I frequently used the lens cap and for security attached to the lens hood by a DIY string. That together with the great Peak Design Capture Pro camera clip did the job: http://contextphoto.com/albums/2015-hvannadalshnjukur-iceland/

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  • K.G.W.Abeytunge

    Under tropical and humid conditions, camera gear when not in use must be kept in a desiccator over silica gel, which is regularly dehydrated in an oven or else fungi will develop in between lens elements and other parts of the camera.

  • Yvonne

    Those are amazing and beautiful photos! Your bright and colorful clothing against the landscape scenery just enhances them! Awesome job!

  • Thanks Yvonne. We have done several peaks together and as a photographer I have convinced the team to use colors rather than dull gray and black garment 😉 The climb on Iceland got a bit more dramatic than we had anticipated: On our way back both the guide and one of the team members fell down in glacier cravasses. All went well and we decided to learn more. In July we completed great glacier training in Norway. Even more colorful there, the blue ice was fantastic: http://contextphoto.com/albums/2015-glacier-training-in-norway/

  • Yvonne

    These photos are just as spectacular! I was getting cold just looking at them! Again, the beautiful colors in your photos really takes them to a higher level. I am not a fan of cold weather, but have become a fan of your work!

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