Camera care in adverse conditions part 1: How to avoid cameras sticking to your face
- words and pics by Richard I’Anson
Things can go wrong. Problems are magnified in remote areas because camera repair shops often don’t exist. Equipment problems can occur in all sorts of ways: cameras can get lost, dropped, stolen or stop working. Regular checks and cleaning help prevent some problems, but others have to be dealt with along the way. Do the basic check and clean at least once a week while you’re travelling. Check lenses and filters daily to prevent a build-up of dirt and fingerprints. These should be removed immediately, as they can cause flare and loss of definition, resulting in soft images. This is equally true for compact cameras as for DSLRs.
The plastic bag technique
One quick and easy solution to protect your gear from most airborne problems is the old ‘plastic bag and rubber band’ trick. Cut a hole in the bottom of a plastic bag just big enough for the lens to fit through and use a rubber band to secure it in place on or just behind the lens hood. You then access the viewfinder and shutter release through the bag’s original opening. The lens hood will help protect the filter on the front of the lens from rain, snow or dust, but keep checking it and wiping it as necessary.
Weather conditions can change rapidly, so you have to be prepared. Just because it’s a perfectly still, sunny day when you leave your hotel doesn’t mean that a dust storm won’t engulf you an hour later. Unsettled or unusual weather often brings with it moments of spectacular light and a change in the daily activity of the locals. Get out there and you can be rewarded with fantastic photographic opportunities. To take advantage of changing, unusual or difficult situations without putting your gear at risk, additional protection is needed.
Most cameras can take a fair bit of rain; just wipe it dry as soon as you get inside. The camera-in-the-plastic-bag technique works well if the downpour isn’t too heavy. Some camera bags are waterproof. If yours isn’t, a large plastic bag will do the job.
Extreme cold weather
Most modern cameras will function properly down to 0°C. Professional DSLRs will operate adequately around –10°C to –15°C. The biggest problem in very cold temperatures is that batteries will fail.You can often solve this by removing the batteries from the camera and warming them in your hands. To minimise battery problems, keep your camera and its batteries warm until you start shooting. If you’re not in a comfortable, warm hotel and intend going out at first light, sleep with your camera, ie keep it under the blankets or in your sleeping bag during the night. When you head out into the cold morning have the camera under your jacket until you need it; shoot quickly, then tuck it back into your jacket as soon as you’ve taken your shots.
Condensation can also be a problem. When changing lenses outdoors don’t breathe into the camera or onto the lens, and ensure snow doesn’t get into the camera. Entering a warm room causes the water vapour on the cold metal and glass surfaces to condense rapidly and mist up with tiny water droplets. When you go out again this water will freeze. To prevent this, wipe off as much moisture as possible, and don’t change lenses until the camera has warmed up.
In extreme cold, don’t touch the camera’s metal parts with bare skin because it will stick. These problems don’t usually arise above –10°C. Make sure you’ve got a large eyecup on and tape over the metal parts to help prevent your face coming into contact with them. Otherwise you could find your camera stuck to your face (which would be rather unpleasant, but could make a great shot for some other photographer).
- Compiled by Kylie McLaughlin