When we travel, we need to exercise our “street smarts” to keep ourselves safe and secure, as well as, keep our photography equipment safe and sound. Virtually all traveler photographers worry about keeping their photography equipment safe from theft. Fewer worry about the many other photographic equipment hazards they may encounter, which can do just as much harm.
- Dirt and Dust – I've covered the problems of dust and dirt spots on your photos in two recent articles, Can I prevent my DSLR sensor from getting dusty and dirty? and What do I do about those dust spots on my digital photos? There is nothing worse than having an ugly spot on an important photo. Dust on your DSLR's sensor is the #1 cause of that problem. The two articles discuss preventing dust from accumulating on your DSLR's sensor, and once it's there how to clean your sensor. Even simply wiping your camera clean at the end of the day can go a long way.
- Sand – Dirt and dust are generally only annoying. Sand can damage your camera. While DSLR's are electronic marvels, they do have important moving parts in the shutter, focus and other mechanisms which the abrasive nature of sand can quickly ruin.
I'm not advocating not making photographs at the beach, or at a desert or other interesting area with sand. You only have to look at my photographs of Monument Valley to know that. I am advocating you take precautions to prevent sand from getting into your camera.
When in sandy areas carry a few plastic bags large enough to hold your camera and change a lens in it. You've got to protect more than just your camera and lenses too. Protect your memory cards and batteries. Bring along a cleaning cloth and brush too, as well as a small blower. Don't forget to look out for those flying beach and volley balls at the beach!
- Moisture and Water – Over at Nikonians I've read countless instances of amateur photographers on vacation dropping their cameras in fountains, rivers, ponds, swimming pools, toilets, and even over-board while on cruises. Even a quick “dip” will likely cause the death of a digital camera. Anytime I'm carrying my camera I either use a neck or wrist strap to secure it. You never know when you might be knocked about by someone not paying attention to you. I once slipped and fell on my own at Williamsburg. My neck strap saved my camera from flying away.
Moisture condensation can be a serious problem too. In my article, Brrrr! 8 secrets for mastering travel photography in cold weather, I discuss the problem of moisture condensing on the camera's cold surfaces when coming inside from a cold winter's day, and how to avoid the problem.
- Salt – Problems with salt occur at the beach, on cruises, deep-sea fishing trips, etc. It seems as though, any time you encounter it, salt finds a way of getting into your camera and lenses. It can cause many problems including serious corrosion. Salt, in the air at the beach or on a ship or boat, seems to stick to every camera surface it touches. It's especially difficult to remove from your lens glass, as it's so sticky.
When changing lenses or batteries, for example, in a salty atmosphere I make the change in a plastic bag. I keep the camera in a bag when not in use too. I also wipe down my equipment often, to clean off the salt. I recommend using Purosol optical lens cleaner to get the salt off your lens glass.
- Insect Repellent, Sunscreen, Hand Lotions – These products are oily and may contain chemicals you need to avoid coming in contact with your camera, and certainly your lenses. I've cleaned these products off lens glass, and it's not easy. It's much easier to prevent it from getting on your equipment. Never place these products in your camera bag.
An important preventative, to keep these products off your camera, is to wash your hands after applying any of of them to your body. When at the beach, wear a shirt or top to prevent transfer of the products to your camera when it hangs from your neck.
- Bumps and Blows, Knocks and Drops – These are a principle cause of dead cameras while traveling. I've told the story, on this blog, of walking near the Eiffel Tower, when I was accidentally knocked into a metal railing. My lens' UV filter was smashed, but my lens was unharmed, protected by the filter. It's much less expensive to replace a filter than a lens.
Use your camera hand or neck strap to secure your camera. While carrying your equipment, use padded cases and containers.
- Thefts, snatches, and grabs - This is where your “street smarts” and common sense really comes in handy, as does insurance. In my article, Traveling to Europe this summer? Keep your camera equipment and valuables safe! I discuss many ideas of keeping your photographic equipment safe from theft. In case you're a victim, equipment insurance can really take the sting out of the theft, but you're better off preventing the theft, if you can.
- Secret announcements – I will never understand why travelers carry their photographic equipment in bags which have on the side, in big letters, “N I K O N” or “C A N O N.” It's really saying “S T E A L.”