Photography Tips 40 - The Little Things in Life - Dust protection for your Camera Gear.

The cormorants in this image were captured during a dust storm at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of the Salton Sea, CA. The sun is shrouded by the blowing dust as it attempts to break through the thick layer of blowing particles.

Sitting on a cot in my tent, I listened to the wind blowing from the south. With the constant sound like someone pressing the outside of the nylon barrier, I knew this day was going to be similar to the past two... wind, wind, and more wind.

I was fortunate that the direction the moving air had chosen was fairly consistent, and was not at epic gale force - just a constant nuisance. The temperature was in the upper 40's °F, but the velocity made the working conditions in the 30's. But temperature was not the issue I was concerned about; it was the blowing dust that required a bit more planning.

When shooting in the field, I find that having good quality equipment is always a plus. But with good equipment, one must be vigilant about its maintenance and take precautions to protect that gear in changing events. Here are a few things you may want to incorporate into your prepping and field work that could save you some additional cleaning or possible camera repair later.

I will use my desert scenario as an example as they are a dusty place by design. By using common sense while exploring, you can ensure a reduced amount of dust on sensors and internal workings of your camera.

Past observations have proven to me that plastic re-sealable bags work well for the desert, but are not necessarily the best option for "on the water excursions" if you are expecting a possible immersion of the camera during transport. I will touch on this later. One-gallon or quart size bags are just the ticket. They are light-weight and take up little space in the camera bag or pack.

When stored in the camera bag, I have each lens in a plastic bag to help reduce the potential for dust working in past the zippered seal of the bag and into the equipment itself.

(As you can see in the above photo, a simple gallon plastic bag will provide protection for an array of lens sizes. And of course you can't forget the T.P.)

Dust is always in the air. So when you are traveling or moving about, or if you are somewhere where something is moving about such as an automobile, livestock, large animals rolling in the dirt, or even other people or their pets walking around you, remember, they will be stirring up dust. In these situations, you should endeavor to have the lens or lenses you intend to use in place on the camera body(s) to avoid having to swap them during the shoot.

My face was at ground level with the snake as I shot this with my 105mm micro lens. A puff of breath the wrong direction could have blown dust into equipment and in front of the lens between me and the snake. Remember to move slowly so as not to churn up dust. Of course it is always good to not disturb the snake either.

The camera bag is a safe place for reducing or eliminating the dust. But you inevitably have to have the camera out and ready to use. If I have to change a lens, I always have the camera body pointed downward during the exchange. Since the heavier airborne particles will be falling downward, this will reduce the possibility of the settling dust to directly deposit on the mirror and internal compartment when the lens is off. If I do have to swap a lens, the new lens is ready to put into place as I remove the one on the body. This means the open time is reduced dramatically and hence less time for dust to enter.

I have witnessed other photographers removing a lens from the body of their camera and then turn to their camera bag to search and extract the lens they are swapping from the contents of the bag. Meanwhile the front of the camera is exposed to dust entry for sometimes over a minute. That may not seem long, but a tremendous amount of dust can enter the camera within that time frame.

One of the intriguing things that Mother Nature has blessed the photographer with, is an array of beauty in the spring and summer months. The splash of color on meadows and hillsides is a wonderful palette for the photographer to work from. But with all those flowers and lovely blooms, for those of you who have allergies are constantly aware, is the presence of pollen. And where is that pollen? Of course, it is on the plants, duh. But since you are reacting to it, it is also in the air. All those beautiful plants are busy spewing tons of pollen into the air to fertilize the neighboring plants. Don't be fooled by forested scenarios. Conifer forests pump out tremendous amounts of pollen during certain seasons, so be alerted to that fact.

Apply the same techniques for camera dust safety with plastic bags and swapping lenses during these specific times. Pollen also has the wonderful benefit of being somewhat sticky, and having lens wipes in your camera bag will aid in the removal of pollen dust from the surface of the front lens. Beware, using a lens brush could just wind up smearing the pollen on the lens and not actually lifting it off the surface. This will reduce the overall quality of the images you are attempting to capture.

For those of you who are forest or brush dwellers, try to keep your camera gear in the bag or pack unless you are actually stalking a specific target. As you pass through shrubbery, you are not only dislodging ticks and other invertebrates happy to have a ride, but you are generating a lot of dust and debris that has accumulated on the leaves and stems of those plants. Place the camera under your jacket or in your pack as you pass through these debris fields, and you will have less dust to clean later.

If you choose to photograph in the presence of a waterfall, be very cognizant of the fact that the moving water over the falls is doing two things. One is that the falling water is now airborne and the surrounding spray can, and does settle all around, including on your camera. The other thing that many are unaware of, especially when it is a small falls or cascade, is that the moving water is displacing the surrounding air and creating a breeze, which is also blowing solid particles in the air. And large waterfalls can throw matter into the air for hundreds of feet from the base of the falls itself.

I will set up at a waterfall, keeping the camera covered as much as possible until I am ready to take the shot. I remove the cover and then replace it as soon as the capture is made. Again, leaving little time for particulates, liquid or solid, to accumulate on the gear.

As a final note, salt spray at the ocean is treated just like the waterfall scenario, and it is also more of a concern because the salt is much more corrosive than freshwater. Always be careful with electronics of all kinds around salt water. This is where I recommend a dry bag (sometimes referred to as a “float bag”) if there is any chance you might drop the camera into the water. Don't rely on a plastic bag to keep your camera or gear dry if they get dumped in the water. They are semi-permeable membranes, not air-tight containers. Water can get in. plastic bags will shed water spray or an occasional splash, but are unreliable for pressurized immersion under water.

As summer approaches, I hope you can wander the woods, fields, and streams with a bit more confidence now that you are more prepared for the “little things” in life (especially those that are blowing about).

As always, happy shooting.


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