Tips to Protect your Gear in Harsh Weather Conditions

Tips to Protect your Gear in Harsh Weather Conditions

Do you live in a cold and snowy climate? Are you planning a trip to a desert or a tropical island? Although adverse weather or harsh environments can yield some of the best images, those situations can also play havoc with your camera gear if you don’t plan accordingly. Here are some simple steps to help you shoot without ruining your equipment.

Tips to Protect your Gear

Rain

I love photographing in the rain. Of all adverse weather conditions, rain is one of the easiest to deal with to protect your camera. ©Valérie Jardin

I love photographing in the rain. Of all adverse weather conditions, rain is one of the easiest to deal with in regards to protecting your camera. ©Valérie Jardin

Don’t let a rainy day stop you from making amazing photographs. Just protect your camera, and yourself, and get out there! Although some of the most expensive DSLRs and lenses are weather sealed and can be used in the rain without protection, most cannot. The good news is that they can easily be fitted inside a rain sleeve specifically designed to keep them dry on rainy days. Rain sleeves will cost from a few dollars for a clear plastic model, to $30+ for a more durable water proof material. The more expensive rain sleeves come is different sizes to fit your lens. Note that they work best when you use a lens hood.

It’s harder to find rain protection for smaller camera systems. A makeshift cover with a shower cap or a freezer bag will usually do the trick. Since I mostly shoot street photography with a mirrorless camera, I find that holding an umbrella is quite convenient if it’s not too windy. The camera is small and light, one hand to shoot is all you need!

Snow and cold

Again, what most would consider adverse weather makes for a photographer’s ideal playground. Heavy snow falls should be treated like rain and the same protection applies. Dealing with the cold, on the other hand, is a different story. When out in the cold, your camera doesn’t need any special protection as long as it stays dry. One of the biggest issues with shooting in cold weather is the moisture and condensation that can build up on your camera and lens when you go from cold, to the warmth of your home or car. Excessive moisture on your lenses can cause mold to form inside the lens, which will ruin it.

To prevent damage from condensation, here is what you need to do: Before you go back inside your house or car, make sure you seal your camera in an air-tight plastic bag. This will allow the camera to reach room temperature while the condensation builds on the outside of the bag, not on your precious gear.

Mirror lock-up can also happen in very cold temperatures when the lubricant that helps activate the moving parts freezes. Cameras can usually handle colder temperatures than stated in the manual, but be aware that this type of lock-up could happen if you end up in the arctic circle.

Another thing to worry about when the temperature dips, the battery will drain much faster. So, make sure you carry a spare or two that you keep in a pocket, as close to your body heat as possible. Smaller cameras don’t have as many moving parts, and no mirror freeze up to worry about, but their batteries will drain even faster, so be prepared for that.

Your camera needs some special attention in cold and wet conditions. ©Valérie Jardin

Don’t hibernate with your camera in cold weather. Just take some special steps to protect it and yourself! ©Valérie Jardin

Extreme humidity

Besides the obvious inconvenience of your lens fogging up as soon as you leave your air conditioned room and step into the hot and humid environment, humidity can also lead to mold. You can alleviate the fogging up of the lens by placing your gear in a sealed plastic bag and letting it slowly adjust to the change of temperature. Avoid changing lenses as much as possible and remember that zooming in and out will pump humidity inside. Favor prime lenses!

Keep sensitive equipment in sealed bags and keep small silica desiccant packets in your camera bag to absorb some of the moisture. Dry your hands before you change batteries or memory cards to prevent trapping moisture in the compartment.

Tropical environments bring a lot of great photo opportunities, just make sure the moisture doesn't get inside your camera! ©Valérie Jardin

Tropical environments bring a lot of great photo opportunities. Just make sure the moisture doesn’t get inside your camera! ©Valérie Jardin

Heat

Just like extreme cold, the opposite can also give you some gear trouble. Use common sense and avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. Keep your camera cool, and in the shade when not in use. Cameras can overheat and this can cause damage to the internal components. You can use an empty cooler which will help keep your camera cool when you’re not using it. It’s also a good idea to carry one of those space blankets when you are out in the wild or extreme weather. You can use it to protect your camera from the sun as well.

Sand and dust

Have you ever been on a beach during a sand storm? I have! No matter what you do, sand will get everywhere! If you are going to be in an extremely dusty environment, I would highly recommend protecting the front element of your lens with a good quality filter. An occasional scratch from wiping some of the dust or sand off the front of your lens won’t hurt as much if it happens on the filter rather than the lens itself. Also, don’t set your camera bag on the sand! Camera bags are perfect sand traps.

Salt

If you shoot near the sea on a windy day, there will surely be some spray of salty water on your gear. Again, a UV filter will help protect the front element of your lens. Make sure your battery is full and your memory card is empty before you head out so that you avoid opening the battery or memory card compartment at all costs to prevent corrosion to form inside. It may not be a good time to change lens on the beach either.

Never leave home without them

A blower such as the Giottos Rocket blower. It’s such a small investment and one of the best accessories you can have in your camera bag at all times. I not only use it to blow any dust from the lens before I wipe it with a lens cloth. But I also blow the back of the lens before I put it on the camera to prevent dust from reaching the sensor. I also use it to blow air on the lens and camera before I wipe them clean.

Microfiber cloths. Keep one separate that you will use for the front of your lens only. Carry extras to wipe the dust or water from your lens and camera body. The key is to remove as must moisture or dust as quickly as possible.

Common sense when changing lenses

Avoid changing lenses in adverse weather. If you absolutely have to, follow these simple steps: Do it in your car if you can. If not, turn your back to the wind and be ready to do it quickly. Place the new lens on a clean, flat surface. Unscrew the back cover but leave it on. While shielding your camera from the elements with your body, put the camera upside down and quickly switch lenses. This should only take a second or two to minimize the amount of dust that will get to your sensor.

Protect yourself

Protecting your gear from extreme weather won’t do much good if you don’t make it back alive! Whether you are dealing with extreme cold or heat, don’t mess with extreme weather if you’re not prepared. No picture is worth risking your life for!

I hope you found some of those tips useful. Please share your own with the community in the comment section below.

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. I am pleased to be a new master of street photography at The Arcanum. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Google+.

  • Johan Bauwens

    Very good tip about using different cloths for your lens and your camera. The lcd-screen gets greasy because of the fat on your nose. You don’t want that dirt to get on your lens !

  • smcilree

    I carry a small film changing bag to switch lenses in windy/dusty/sandy conditions.

  • kenyee

    Or just simplify and get weathersealed DSLRs/lenses from Olympus/Pentax :-)
    The higher end Canikon ones are also weathersealed…

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/abhijitsarkarphotography Abhijit Sarkar

    One of the biggest problems I face in snow or extreme cold is my gloves. Operating the camera with a thick gloves on is frustrating and taking them off is brutal. What’s your recommended clothing for extreme cold (< 32° F) photography?

  • Valerie Jardin

    I recently wrote a blog post regarding cold weather shooting and included recommendations about gloves. I shoot at 0°F and even lower temps so I wear thin gloves under heavy mittens that way I avoid frostbites.

    http://valeriejardinphotography.com/blog/2013/12/6/question-26-about-the-cold-and-your-camera

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/abhijitsarkarphotography Abhijit Sarkar

    Thanks, that was helpful. However, it’s also a little generic. I’ve looked all over the web but didn’t find a specific inventory, something like the following, that a photog used and might recommend:
    1) Brand X, type A cold weather boots.
    2) Brand Y, type B cold weather jacket.
    3) Brand Z, type C touchscreen gloves.

  • Chive Awesomeness

    Or you could just shoot Pentax (it’s APS-C) but the weather-sealing for the price is nearly unmatched!

    The camera can be taken through waterfalls, hours in the rain, and sea world splash zones. So a bit of snow and sleet? That’s nothing!

  • Lora

    I was on vacation in Washington and had my camera (canon 5d mark ii) and lens in my bag. It had been raining and very humid. I took it out to use and is got super foggy. The lens cleared up but the camera never did. The pictures look distorted and purple. I had to have it repaired. Why did that happen and could I have avoided it?

  • Valerie Jardin

    Wow, I’ve never heard of such an extreme problem before. Did you change lenses while in that very humid environment?

  • Lora

    Nope..took it out of my bag to shoot and it all when foggy. The camera never recovered and I had to send it to get fixed. I’ve always thought it was something I did or didn’t do..

  • http://studiodumit.wordpress.com Dumitru D. Mititelu

    Very useful tips. Thank you.

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