Tips for Avoiding a Foggy Lens

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Foggy lens article - example of clear shot taken once lens cleared

Taken at sunrise in the Florida Keys. Although this shot was okay, see below to see the similar shot taken a few minutes before with a foggy lens. I’m lucky I didn’t miss it entirely.

Has this happened to you?

  • You are on vacation at the beach. You decide to photograph the sunrise or sunset, so you grab your camera from your hotel room and head out. You get to the perfect spot to shoot, and look through the viewfinder at the beautiful sunrise/sunset – only to find that the lens is completely fogged over. You wipe away the condensation from the front of the lens, but it instantly comes right back. Every time.
  • Or perhaps you’re in your car, and you spot something you want to photograph. You pull over, hop out and set up the shot – only to find the same thing. The lens is fogged over, and every time you wipe it away, it comes right back. You miss the shot.

This happens all the time in coastal and tropical environments. Transferring the camera and lens from a cool, low-humidity location like your car or hotel room directly into a warmer, high-humidity environment causes condensation to form on the lens (on the front and back elements).

Making the problem even worse is that these humid environments are likely where you like to go on vacation/holiday, and that is when you tend to take the most pictures. So that means this problem ruins a lot of shots. It has happened to me many, many times.

Dealing with a Foggy Lens

So how do you fix this problem? Well, once it happens, there is no fix. There are a few things you can try, which will be addressed at the end of the article, but you just have to keep wiping off your lens, and waiting for it to acclimate. This can take a while. Sometimes it just takes a few minutes for the lens to acclimatize and stop fogging over, but other times it can take half an hour.

Example of picture taken with lens fogged due to condensation

Here is a similar shot to the one above, but this one was taken before the lens had a chance to acclimate to the warm, humid air outside my hotel.

Since you cannot fix it once it happens, you have to avoid the problem in the first place. How do you do that? You have to let your camera or lens acclimate ahead of time.

Obviously, you cannot just leave your camera bag laying around outside. You will need to let everything acclimate while keeping it safe. Here are some tips for decreasing the time necessary for your camera and lens to acclimate to the outside temperature and humidity while keeping it safe:

1. Keep the camera outside (but in a safe place)

If you have a secure hotel balcony, you might put your camera and lens out there to let them acclimate. You probably don’t want to leave them out there overnight though. Even putting aside any security concerns, the coastal environment is not friendly to electronics, and prolonged exposure isn’t great for your camera. You can, however, place the camera and lens out on the balcony or other secure place for a while, as you are preparing to go out. Leaving them outside for a half-hour or so ought to be sufficient.

If you are getting up early to shoot a sunrise, for example, you might place your camera and primary lens out there immediately after you wake up, and let them acclimate while you are getting ready to go. That will give them some time to acclimate.

2. Keep the camera in the trunk

When you are driving around, or heading to a place you plan to photograph, keep your camera and lenses in the trunk of your car. That will keep them out of the air conditioning, and allow them to acclimate to the outside temperature and humidity.

Sometimes, however, you want to keep your camera handy in case you come across a great shot. In that case, keep the AC off and roll the windows down. All you are doing is keeping your camera and lens out of the air conditioning so that they acclimate to the temperature and humidity outside.

3. Get them out of the bag

If you leave your camera and lens in a zipped-up camera bag, then the acclimation process will take exponentially longer. The camera bag, while certainly not air-tight, will prevent air flow and keep your camera and lens surrounded by cool, dry air. You don’t want that.

Instead, when you are acclimatizing the camera and lens – whether that be on the hotel balcony, in the trunk of your car, or some other place – keep them outside the camera bag.

Example of picture taken with lens fogged due to condensation.

Here is another shot taken immediately upon exiting my cool, dry hotel and entering the warm, humid air along the coast in the Florida Keys.

4. Remove the caps and filters

The place where you are likely to have the biggest problem with condensation, is the front of your lens. Therefore, that is the part you should spend the most time and effort acclimating. In doing so, take off any filters or lens caps that are on your lenses. You don’t want a UV filter and a lens cap keeping the warmer, more humid air from getting to the front of your lens and acclimating it to the conditions outside.

5. Keep a micro-fibre cloth handy

Once the condensation happens, you just have to ride it out until your camera and lens acclimate. At the same time, you should periodically wipe off the front of the lens. That way you can see if the condensation is going to return. If you are not wiping it off periodically, you won’t know.

In addition, if the situation is not too severe, you can wipe off the lens and then quickly snap off a shot or two before the lens starts fogging up again. That usually works after the acclimation process has been going on for a while.

Keep a micro-fibre cloth handy for this process. If you don’t have one, you’re going to have to use whatever is available to wipe off your lens – like your shirt (and I’d like to scoff at this notion, but I’ve been forced to resort to that many times). Buy a couple of clip-on micro-fibre cloths that come in little pouches. You can just clip one to your camera strap and you’ll always have it handy. That will also keep you from having to dig through your bag to find one (they always go to the bottom in a hard-to-reach corner).

6. Fix it in post-production?

A picture with any significant fogginess due to condensation is a goner. You will not be able to save it.

If the picture only has a minor amount of fogginess, however, there are some things you can do to try to clear it up. These are by no means sure-fire cures, but they will help a minor case of fogginess. Your first thought will probably be to increase the contrast and clarity in Lightroom or ACR. Those will work a little bit. A slightly stronger move is to take the photo into the LAB colorspace and perform the basic LAB color enhancement move. A fortunate side-effect of the color enhancement move is to remove a haze from the picture. Again, none of these tactics is a magic wand, but they can help.

Foggy lens article - example of clear shot taken once the lens had acclimated

So as to conclude on a positive note, here is a shot taken the same morning as the fogged picture above. The lens cleared in time to capture a great sunrise. Yet another reason to get there early!

Conclusion

Condensation is definitely a trap for the unwary. Light conditions change fast. Optimal conditions at sunrise and sunset are fleeting. You don’t want to be standing around waiting for the condensation on your lens to disappear and miss a shot.

Take steps to avoid the problem and acclimate your camera and lens ahead of time, while at the same time keeping everything safe. Do this either ahead of time, or while you are en route. Then make sure you are wiping off the front of your lens periodically, it will keep you from missing shots when the light is optimal.

Editor’s Note: I have encountered this situation many times. In Bangkok however I found that the image I took with the fog (below) had more feeling and impact than the ones I took after it cleared. So don’t stop shooting, you never know what you’ll get!

Darlene Hildebrandt

By Darlene Hildebrandt

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Jim Hamel

shows aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. Check out his free photography guides and photography tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. The free tips, explanations, and video tutorials he provides are sure to take your photography to the next level. In addition, check out his book Getting Started with Photography.

  • Tony

    Took this with a fogged lens. I went out to photograph Hummingbirds only to have my lens fog up. It was so fogged I had to manually focus.

    http://tonycarlson.zenfolio.com

  • Audrey Dugas Marks

    Or if you are in a secure floor balcony say after level 3 and you want to store your camera and lens on the balcony in a little hide away corner . Put them in ziplock bags . They will be safe from rain and moisture and you can also wrap them in a rain coat or rain poncho after you place them in the ziplock bags. Next day they will be at the right temp for your shoots .

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  • steve carne

    Try using a Ziploc bag it worked for me in Hong Kong

  • Good idea. I have a general unease about leaving my stuff outside, but I think that would work just fine. They would certainly be the right temp. Thanks!

  • I like it. The fog adds a nice mood to the shot. Cool!

  • Laurie Rogers Fausnaugh

    Last year I was out on a cool summer night trying to capture meteors when my lens kept fogging up. This year, I grabbed two of those little charcoal hand warmers and a hair tie. I put one on the top and bottom of the lens and never had a problem with fog at all.

  • fhayes

    A trick I learned with the windshield at the drive in was to take a paper towel and put tobacco in it and wipe the glass. Stayed fog free for hours. For the camera lens, same thing only in a piece of microfibre, make a bag and tie off with a rubber band or anything that will keep it closed.

  • Michael Preisman

    Before going outside, I heat up my lens with my wife’s hair dryer for a few minutes. It works like a charm and solves the fogging problem.

  • That’s awesome. I’m going to try that. Thanks!

  • The noise might be an issue in a hotel room though. I think my family would have something to say to me if I was using the hair dryer at 5 in the morning! You’re right though, that ought to work. Good tip.

  • Good idea! I might throw a few of those in my bag. Thanks.

  • fhayes

    Cigar or pipe tobacco work better than cigarette. Tobacco shops sell in loose quantity! I think cigarettes have too many additives.

  • Tim Lowe

    Yeah. You can’t fix a bad image “in post.” I’m careful in temps, either hot or cold, to keep lenses, camera (and film when applicable) away from my body. I used to keep the camera protected from the ambient temperature and that was almost always a mistake. I’ve never had a camera freeze. Just doesn’t happy. Although I sometimes slip the battery under my coat for longer walks.

  • Michael

    It has happened to me in Mexico Playa del Carmen resort last year while I was trying to photograph a beautiful sunrise over Caribbean sea. So I had to wait for at least a half an hour or even more until my camera fully acclimatized. Just wiping off the front of your lens and operating your camera while it is still fogged up inside is a very bad idea because beside the condensed moisture on the lens, your camera electronics and shutter mechanism are covered with moisture too. I think all this must be considered if you want to keep your camera working trouble-free for a long time. You better off come early and wait for at least 30 to 45 minutes before you can use your camera or just leave it outside on your balcony (personally I would not do that) in the Zip lock bag for some time.

  • Rob

    in the RCAF, we would often have to ‘cold soak’ the aircraft before towing them out of the hangar to reduce certain technical issues (Just during the extreme winters). Of course it chilled the whole hangar down and the pilots often complained. They complained more when there were problems with the aircraft though.

  • Richard

    Please stop misusing the word “exponentially”!

  • Mert LobitaƱa Docdor

    Hello… I need someone’s opinion particularly on this photo of mine. I used Nikon d610 with 14-24 mm lens. I don’t know what’s the problem maybe it is with my lens? Before I used Canon with 17-40mm lens but I never have this kind of problem where there is excessive and unpleasant light rays from a light source. I would really appreciate if someone can help me fix this problem or any tips for me to be able to get a perfect light rays using my nikon lens. Thank you in advance.

  • I had this happen to me most recently in Cartagena, Colombia. I swear every glass or mirror surface was fogged over. Since then I have started keeping a silica gel bag in my camera bag, which has helped tremendously.

  • Marcin Wa?ach

    I would add one more tip here. Put camera and lenses in thin plastic bag before leaving cold places.
    Wait till they heat-up (holding in hand speeds up process). Once you fill all elements are not cold take them out of plastic bag.

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