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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.