How to Protect your Camera in Extreme Conditions

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Deidra-Wilson-Las-Vegas-Wedding-Photographer-DPS-WEB.jpgA Guest Post by Deidra Wilson.

A quick glance at the car thermometer lets you know that it is 115 degrees outside. You look to your left and outside the car window, the hot desert air is a swirling mess of blowing dust and sand. You’re in Death Valley and the light is epic. Every fiber of your creative being is yelling at you to get out and start snapping, to get that perfect shot! Hurry up; you have maybe 5 minutes left!

But there is another side to you, the side that made you research tirelessly to get the best price on the best gear. Your frugal side is holding your adventurous side back because the weather is downright nasty. Can you keep your gear safe and clean in extreme weather environments, and get your sensible side to let your wild side run free?

There are ways to protect your gear in nearly any scenario, which will make you more comfortable while shooting, and that typically translates to better images. My disclaimer is to always read your manual for basic camera care, such as how to keep it clean and functioning properly. However, for extreme conditions, the following tips may keep you out of trouble.

Hot Weather

You want to keep your gear as cool as possible in this scenario. You can cover your camera with a light hand towel, or work under an umbrella. The goal is to keep it out of direct sunlight if you can. A pair of walking/hiking poles can be used to make a makeshift sun shelter; simply attach a towel or shirt to the poles and position the resulting spot of shade in between your camera and the sun. I have also used people, cars, and even a friendly wild burro as sun blocks in extreme heat. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary on the availability of accommodating burros. Mine was so helpful I named him Tonto, so if you see him tell him I said hello.

If temperatures are soaring over 100°, you need to occasionally give your gear a break. Get it back into the car where there’s air conditioning. Let it cool down, even if only for five minutes. Its sensor can’t deal with constant extreme temperatures. On that note, don’t leave it in the trunk when it’s that hot out, either. That’s simply asking for trouble.

When dealing with extreme heat, you also run the risk of drying out the seals that keep your gear protected from other elements, such as moisture and dust. If you can’t avoid the heat because you have to get that shot, try to keep the time in the elements to a minimum, and cool the camera down when possible.

Do not, however, cool the gear down abruptly. You want to avoid extreme temperature swings, as they can damage computer and mechanical parts inside the body or lens.

Cold Weather

A major problem with cold weather shooting is battery life. I typically keep my batteries warm inside an interior jacket pocket, or by wrapping a chemical hand warmer around them and fastening it with a rubber band. Once your battery ‘dies’ from the cold, you can place it back into your pocket, or back into the hand warmer and it will likely come back for at least a few exposures if needed. Don’t let the battery get too warm, or it could cause condensation inside your equipment (see below). If it gets too hot from the handwarmer, let it cool down just a touch before you place it in the camera body. If it’s below zero outside, a few moments of the battery being exposed to the elements alone will ensure it is ready to go safely in your camera.

The biggest issue with cold weather for me seems to be condensation when you bring the camera back inside to room temperature. The rapid rise in temperature causes things to get foggy. Think about when you go from a cool air conditioned room out into the humid summer air – are your glasses or sunglasses fogged up? It’s the same principle at work – but it’s happening inside your camera body and lenses, which can be quite scary. Most professionals like to seal the camera in a bag with the cold outside air to gradually bring the gear back to room temperature. You can then use a Silica Packet or two inside your camera bag to ensure that any remaining moisture does not become a problem (see Wet Weather below).

Wet Weather

Usually if you are caught out in the elements and it starts to sprinkle, it’s not the end of the world. You throw your jacket over your gear, grab the shot and move to a drier location. However, there are times when you have no choice, and the client needs the shot. In that case, you have to find a workaround.

In a pinch, you can always toss the whole setup in a large Ziploc or grocery bag. Then, cut a hole out for the lens and rubber band the bag around the lens to keep the majority of the water out of the actual camera body and lens, minus the front element. This is not necessarily the most effective or fun way to prevent wet weather damage, but it could keep you out of the repair shop. For these pesky ‘it’s sprinkling but not quite raining’ moments I use a $5 neoprene water shoe that I modified to make a blanket that can go over the top of my body and lens. Essentially, I sliced it open down the top of the shoe, creating more of a flat piece of rubber and neoprene. I flip that upside down so it hugs my body and lens a bit tighter. That gets me through most light rain perfectly as long as I don’t allow the material to saturate with water.

I also own a very solid and expensive waterproof jacket made by a company called ArcTeryx and it’s always with me if I think there’s even the slightest chance of rain or moisture. This particular jacket packs down very small. I simply drape the jacket over my head and camera, being careful to always ‘slide’ out the back of the jacket when I am done to minimize the chance of accumulated water droplets from soaking my camera. This trick was invented long ago by someone smarter than me, but it’s a great way to protect your gear not only in rain, but also at the beach and around waterfalls. I was recently on a shoot at the Oregon coast in the rain forests and it’s an anomaly if some level of rain isn’t falling from the sky. I took several pairs of gloves to always ensure my hands were dry, every lens cloth I own and a simple and inexpensive car wash chamois to place on top of my camera. I then placed my waterproof jacket over my camera and myself – it worked perfectly.

After any exposure to high humidity or direct rain/snow, you can always try using a few Silica Gel Desiccant Dehumidifiers in your camera bag. These are the strange packets you find in electronics packaging that keep things from being damaged by moisture (again, please resist the urge to put the packets in your mouth – follow the instructions).

Of course, if you must work in extremely wet conditions, you may want to consider using an underwater housing. This is the most effective way to keep water out of your gear. It is not inexpensive, and usually isn’t necessary for the average photographer, but some pros may require the ability to endure this type of weather to get the perfect shot.

Sand or Dust

I live in the desert. It is always windy and there is almost always some type of suspended material in that wind – sand, dust, UFO’s, you name it. First, you’ll likely want to protect the front element of the lens with a UV filter (at a minimum). This will prevent any tiny pockmarks (sandblasting) to the actual lens. A good UV filter can run you as little as $20. While replacing the front element is the cheapest fix for most lenses, why would you run the risk if you can prevent the problems in the first place?

One of my best tips for sandy or dusty conditions is, perhaps surprisingly, to use an underwater housing. This may not be the least expensive fix, but it is certainly one of the best. Since you’re essentially waterproofing your camera equipment, you can be sure that fine grit, dust and sand won’t be able to get to your precious gear, either. It is definitely not as user friendly to use an underwater housing on land but you will have the ability to walk into some pretty gnarly weather and get some shots that few others could ever capture.

You’ll definitely want to do any type of gear change, such as lens swap or a memory card change, in a protected area. You wouldn’t believe the amount of damage a few grains of sand can do the delicate interiors of today’s DSLRs.

In general, you want to use ingenuity when it comes to shooting in any type of weather. Hopefully these few simple tips will help you battle the most common issues when it comes to shooting in extremes and you come back with epic shots.

Deidra Wilson is a Las Vegas Wedding Photographer who has a fiendish passion for shooting in conditions that are less than favorable.

Check out more of Deidra Wilsons work on her site at http://www.deidrawilson.com/ and follow her on Twitter

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  • Hi

    I always try to be prepared but more often then not I just go for it. For example, when I was setting up this shot it was sunny, 2 minutes later it was raining like mad. I could have cared less! I did protect my Nikon D7000…afterwards

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/highway-13/

  • Fantastic article! I’ve toyed with getting an underwater housing for a while, but it’s never crossed my mind as having this dual purpose. I do loads of beach photography as well, so it’s now officially on my wish list!

  • gradyphilpott

    Excellent advice!

  • dazay

    For rain protection I use a polyester/cotton waterproof snowshoeing gaiter. Essentially a zippered tube elasticized at one end and also about a third of the way along. There are several manufacturers, but for my 60D (without battery grip) a Brador 501 snugly hugs the body and at 15” is long enough for most telephotos. Weighs nothing and easily slips into a back pocket.

  • great title picture! 🙂 thanks for the tips

  • Paul Parkinson

    Great article and several good ideas there! One area has been missed though and I would appreciate any advice and guidance people might have.

    I travel a fair bit in the Middle East and, contrary to common sense, it’s not desert dry out there. The humidity in places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait City can be extraordinary. Going from air conditioned hotel to air conditioned car to 80% humidity and 40degC heat plays havoc with cold glass. Does anyone have any top tips on how to deal with humid conditions – any fast track methods of stopping the glass from misting?

    Thanks.

  • armis

    I’ve taken my camera (an EOS 20D) to Icelandic glaciers, the sands of Jordan, and the tropical forests in Vietnam during monsoon season. No housing, no protection except a clean garbage bag for when it’s raining. The camera still works.

    Not saying you shouldn’t protect your camera at all; I just want to provide a little perspective to those this article made paranoid :p.

  • The only grief I came to was shooting a Canon 450D. I was shooting 40ft waves off a sea wall and salt-water got in the casing an fried the power supply. $110 later it was fixed by Canon. My own stupid fault. I since learned the trick with the plastic bag and elastic band.

    I always, always, always shoot with a UV on the front. I cannot understand anyone, unless you have unlimited wealth, buying a $1200 lens and then just shooting the raw glass, you must be mad or stupid. The UV has saved two lenses. Once I dropped my wife’s 450D onto the gear stick in my car and smashed the UV! The other, my tripod tipped over and smashed my Lee Filters kit off and ripped the thread off the UV ( and the Lee adapter ring, a $30 ring on it’s own! ) and chipped the UV glass as the UV ring got bent inwards, had that been my lens my 70-200 f/4 L-series lens would have been toasted.

    The biggest wince was watching a guy who had just bought a new 70-200 Nikkor that morning, take shots out near a lake I went to. The tripod went off balance and the lens managed to find the sharpest stone in the lake shore and smash! This guy was on the brink of crying as he pulled this very soggy camera kit out of the water and I watched in horror as loads of water poured out of the front of the lens barrel!

  • tim gray

    “If temperatures are soaring over 100°, you need to occasionally give your gear a break. Get it back into the car where there’s air conditioning. Let it cool down, even if only for five minutes. Its sensor can’t deal with constant extreme temperatures. On that note, don’t leave it in the trunk when it’s that hot out, either. That’s simply asking for trouble.”

    So exposing it to temperature changes is a good idea?? If it’s 102 degrees out, just keep it out of the sun and you will be fine, I would recommend you pay more attention to the condition of the photographer than the camera at this point.

  • I’ve been successfully using a “camera raincoat”, from OP/TECH USA (http://optechusa.com/rainsleeve.html)
    I’ve bought it from ebay at 10 euros and it worked flawlessly under the rain on the beach protecting the body from the water and the sand.
    To protect my lenses I ALWAYS use a 10 euros UV-Filter, i prefer to trash it than to clean the real lens.

    After shooting at a beach, in a windy day with lot of seawaves, i saw lot of water sparkles on my filter, i was really happy I haven’t left it at home 🙂

  • Marco

    Buy an OLYMPUS E5 and forget about weather

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxoYP749CzQ&

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI3EjMQ7t4I&

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfxUHGziwgg&

    even the e-XXX and the e-XX series are very strong cameras….

  • I shoot a lot of western horse events such as barrel racing and pole bending. Even though I use gear that has been “sealed” arena dirt still manages to get in places such as focus rings and dials. UV Filters and Lens Hoods are a must. The most inexpensive solutions I have found are gaffers tape (which doesn’t leave any residue) and the OP/Tech Rain sleeve. After going several rain selves though I eventually broke down and got a Think Tank Hydrophobia which can be found here: http://www.thinktankphoto.com/products/hydrophobia-70-200-rain-cover.aspx .

  • Jeff

    Great tips, especially the underwater housing for the desert. I have done that on several occasions, too.

    One tip you left out is the aluminum beanie to prevent brain damage from those less-than-benevolent aliens from UFO’s….I’m just sayin’!

  • I always have a supply of shower caps – you know those ones that you find in hotels – they are small have elastic around the edge and are just the right size to slip over my Canon 30D. They also work well in the hot, dry dusty deserts of Arizona.

  • Joe Bloe

    I have been at rodeos in Australia & all the Asians that go to one particular rodeo where there is a photography competition on, all have long socks pulled over their lenses to keep the dust at bay. Looks funny but I guess it works.

  • Nabendu Chakraborty

    How do I protect my lens during monsoon?

  • Gisela Heddins

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. appreciate it

  • Nice and logical tips. Thanks!

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  • auroraborealishunter

    I use a Camera Parka from AT Frosted Lens for cold weather photography when doing landscape, night photography, northern lights… Blocks wind, water repellent and fleece inside for insulation. Improves battery life. Camera settings are easy to access. Love it!

  • Ashrae04

    Great article, very informative and adorably humorous. Tonto, UFO’s. Thanks for the knowledge and the smile.

  • Marian Murdoch

    A cooperative wild burro named Tonto? Are you sure you didn’t have heat stroke??? 😉 I live about an hour away from Death Valley, so the recent article about the effects of heat on a camera for astrophotography and now this are very much in my wheelhouse, so thank you!. 🙂

Some Older Comments

  • Gisela Heddins August 27, 2013 07:21 am

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I'm looking to construct my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. appreciate it

  • Nabendu Chakraborty June 15, 2013 03:56 am

    How do I protect my lens during monsoon?

  • Joe Bloe October 7, 2011 09:13 pm

    I have been at rodeos in Australia & all the Asians that go to one particular rodeo where there is a photography competition on, all have long socks pulled over their lenses to keep the dust at bay. Looks funny but I guess it works.

  • Vanda Gerhart October 7, 2011 09:59 am

    I always have a supply of shower caps - you know those ones that you find in hotels - they are small have elastic around the edge and are just the right size to slip over my Canon 30D. They also work well in the hot, dry dusty deserts of Arizona.

  • Jeff October 7, 2011 07:10 am

    Great tips, especially the underwater housing for the desert. I have done that on several occasions, too.

    One tip you left out is the aluminum beanie to prevent brain damage from those less-than-benevolent aliens from UFO's....I'm just sayin'!

  • Matt rondel October 6, 2011 03:16 am

    I shoot a lot of western horse events such as barrel racing and pole bending. Even though I use gear that has been "sealed" arena dirt still manages to get in places such as focus rings and dials. UV Filters and Lens Hoods are a must. The most inexpensive solutions I have found are gaffers tape (which doesn't leave any residue) and the OP/Tech Rain sleeve. After going several rain selves though I eventually broke down and got a Think Tank Hydrophobia which can be found here: http://www.thinktankphoto.com/products/hydrophobia-70-200-rain-cover.aspx .

  • Marco October 4, 2011 03:44 am

    Buy an OLYMPUS E5 and forget about weather

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxoYP749CzQ&

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI3EjMQ7t4I&

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfxUHGziwgg&

    even the e-XXX and the e-XX series are very strong cameras....

  • Marco Rossi October 4, 2011 12:49 am

    I've been successfully using a "camera raincoat", from OP/TECH USA (http://optechusa.com/rainsleeve.html)
    I've bought it from ebay at 10 euros and it worked flawlessly under the rain on the beach protecting the body from the water and the sand.
    To protect my lenses I ALWAYS use a 10 euros UV-Filter, i prefer to trash it than to clean the real lens.

    After shooting at a beach, in a windy day with lot of seawaves, i saw lot of water sparkles on my filter, i was really happy I haven't left it at home :)

  • tim gray October 3, 2011 11:44 pm

    "If temperatures are soaring over 100°, you need to occasionally give your gear a break. Get it back into the car where there’s air conditioning. Let it cool down, even if only for five minutes. Its sensor can’t deal with constant extreme temperatures. On that note, don’t leave it in the trunk when it’s that hot out, either. That’s simply asking for trouble."

    So exposing it to temperature changes is a good idea?? If it's 102 degrees out, just keep it out of the sun and you will be fine, I would recommend you pay more attention to the condition of the photographer than the camera at this point.

  • Fuzzypiggy October 3, 2011 11:08 pm

    The only grief I came to was shooting a Canon 450D. I was shooting 40ft waves off a sea wall and salt-water got in the casing an fried the power supply. $110 later it was fixed by Canon. My own stupid fault. I since learned the trick with the plastic bag and elastic band.

    I always, always, always shoot with a UV on the front. I cannot understand anyone, unless you have unlimited wealth, buying a $1200 lens and then just shooting the raw glass, you must be mad or stupid. The UV has saved two lenses. Once I dropped my wife's 450D onto the gear stick in my car and smashed the UV! The other, my tripod tipped over and smashed my Lee Filters kit off and ripped the thread off the UV ( and the Lee adapter ring, a $30 ring on it's own! ) and chipped the UV glass as the UV ring got bent inwards, had that been my lens my 70-200 f/4 L-series lens would have been toasted.

    The biggest wince was watching a guy who had just bought a new 70-200 Nikkor that morning, take shots out near a lake I went to. The tripod went off balance and the lens managed to find the sharpest stone in the lake shore and smash! This guy was on the brink of crying as he pulled this very soggy camera kit out of the water and I watched in horror as loads of water poured out of the front of the lens barrel!

  • armis October 3, 2011 09:08 pm

    I've taken my camera (an EOS 20D) to Icelandic glaciers, the sands of Jordan, and the tropical forests in Vietnam during monsoon season. No housing, no protection except a clean garbage bag for when it's raining. The camera still works.

    Not saying you shouldn't protect your camera at all; I just want to provide a little perspective to those this article made paranoid :p.

  • Paul Parkinson October 3, 2011 09:00 pm

    Great article and several good ideas there! One area has been missed though and I would appreciate any advice and guidance people might have.

    I travel a fair bit in the Middle East and, contrary to common sense, it's not desert dry out there. The humidity in places like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait City can be extraordinary. Going from air conditioned hotel to air conditioned car to 80% humidity and 40degC heat plays havoc with cold glass. Does anyone have any top tips on how to deal with humid conditions - any fast track methods of stopping the glass from misting?

    Thanks.

  • Steven October 3, 2011 05:50 pm

    great title picture! :) thanks for the tips

  • dazay October 3, 2011 03:44 am

    For rain protection I use a polyester/cotton waterproof snowshoeing gaiter. Essentially a zippered tube elasticized at one end and also about a third of the way along. There are several manufacturers, but for my 60D (without battery grip) a Brador 501 snugly hugs the body and at 15'' is long enough for most telephotos. Weighs nothing and easily slips into a back pocket.

  • gradyphilpott October 3, 2011 03:02 am

    Excellent advice!

  • Photography Art Cafe October 3, 2011 02:36 am

    Fantastic article! I've toyed with getting an underwater housing for a while, but it's never crossed my mind as having this dual purpose. I do loads of beach photography as well, so it's now officially on my wish list!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 3, 2011 01:47 am

    Hi

    I always try to be prepared but more often then not I just go for it. For example, when I was setting up this shot it was sunny, 2 minutes later it was raining like mad. I could have cared less! I did protect my Nikon D7000...afterwards

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/highway-13/

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