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Tips for Using Your Camera in a Hostile Environment

extreme-conditions-cameras.pngA Guest post by Saul Molloy from Shotslot.

I recently took my DSLR sailing for a week on a yacht off the West Coast of Scotland. Now my camera, though heavy and rugged-feeling, is not the most waterproof of objects, in fact there’s no real weather sealing at all and the combination of salt-water, rain, repeated physical bumps (from the waves) and the general chaos generated by having five people in an enclosed space for a week is about the worst thing I can imagine doing to my precious camera, short of introducing it repeatedly to a lump-hammer.

I know that some people are really, really careful with their cameras and I can’t blame them for being precious over such an expensive piece of kit, but I feel I need to be a bit more daring with mine – sometimes you’ve got to be somewhere fairly extreme in order to ‘get the shot’. Because of that I sat down and prepared a plan as I packed my travelling kit in order to try and minimise the chances of my precious camera’s internals becoming a useless hunk of silicone, solder and gold.

1. Get some specific camera insurance. Your standard travel insurance policy is probably no good – it usually has a clause limiting loss associated with a single item and the chances are that if your a semi-serious photographer this amount is a lot less than your kit is worth. It’s probably good practice to have insurance even on a day to day basis anyway, because it has the added advantage of giving you the confidence to take occasional calculated risks with your camera.

2. Make sure you’ve got a good camera bag to keep all your kit in one place, dry and secure. You don’t need to spend a fortune on the latest poser-pouch but you need to get something that’s specifically designed for DSLRs – shoving all your kit in any old bag isn’t so wise. Things get lost, or broken.

3. Wear your camera around your neck. I know this seems obvious but I don’t think it should be overlooked. On the boat, I often found myself shooting from a moving deck at a moving object in a light drizzle and occasional spray, whilst trying to hold my camera with one hand so I could use the other to stop myself falling into the sea. Drop your camera in 50 meters of water and it’s gone. Of course, the same is true if you drop yourself in the sea with your DSLR round your neck, but if that happens you probably have more to worry about than your camera!

tips for using camera in hostile environment4. Try and limit your camera’s exposure to risk as much as possible – whether that’s stowing it securely in an identified place when not in use, using a rain cover to minimise exposure to moisture/dust/salt etc., or even fitting a proper waterproof (and thus everything-else-proof) case, remember that careless treatment costs cameras. One note about the rain covers though, some say that there can to be issues with condensation, so if you’re repeatedly moving from a cold to warm environment you need to take extra care…personally I’m more of a plastic bag and lots of air kind of person.

5. Make sure that anybody with you understands that your camera is a precious object. Assuming you trust them not to run off with it, some people just don’t understand that they need to be careful with your stuff. Anybody who doesn’t know about cameras probably wont think that your shiny 7D (or whatever) is anything special, is fragile, or that it needs treating with care. Make sure they understand, assume nothing.

6. Don’t put your camera down there! You know where I mean – anywhere that it is at risk of being sat on, soaked, covered in noxious substances, falling off, being stolen or anything else…put it back in your bag, I appreciate that this is a pain and that you’ll miss shots, but you’ll miss many more when your camera is dead or gone. I also know that there are bags which purport to offer quick-access opportunities…great, so long as they allow you to keep your stuff all together and that they really work, and you’re willing and able to carry them around all the time.

7. Wipe your camera free of potential contaminants as soon as you can, if it’s light moisture from drizzle you need to do that with something absorbent that itsn’t just going to push moisture into the area around the buttons. I use a special, clean, monofibre cloth that I also use for cleaning my lenses. If it’s dust or anything else that might find its way onto the sensor of your camera you need to clean it especially carefully. Pay attention to the seal around the lens. Get some cotton buds or similar.

So, that’s my tips, I’d be interested in hearing yours, especially from those who have subjected their kit to extreme environments.

See more of Saul Molloy’s work at Shotslot.

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