Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Eight deadly travel photography hazards

Notre Dame de ParisWhen we travel, there are hazards which can prove deadly to digital cameras, and even modern day film cameras.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. Santiago Island, GalapagosSand – 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!

  3. 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.

  4. Hoopika Beach, Maui, HawaiiSalt – 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Phillies World Series Victory Parade, Philadelphia, PABumps 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.”


John said...

Ned--do you have any tips on taking weather photos? I have seen some serious weather and would love to capture some lightning shots.

Not as off topic as you think, your newsletter started with how the weather went from one extreme to the other!

Ned S. Levi said...

Lightning is not easy to get. It's a little like doing fireworks, but since the lightning is more unpredictable, it's tougher.

1. You need a tripod, or something else to keep the camera steady and unmoving shot after shot.

2. If not on a tripod I'd definitely use a remote shutter release too. You can get away without it if you use a tripod, but I'd use one on a tripod too.

3. Manual focus, probably at infinity, unless you're trying for some focus in the foreground, but I'd keep everything at least somewhat distant.

4. Manual shutter, aperture, and ISO. Go with a low ISO, especially if at night or the noise will be awful as dark areas have high noise at high ISO. I'd start by experimenting with f/8 and a 30sec exposure, which can be easily accomplished setting the shutter speed to bulb and holding the shutter release in (this is where a remote shutter release helps) at night, and you can adjust your settings from there if at other times.

5. Frame the shot with the horizon low going up.

6. Be patient. This is not an easy type of photo to accomplish.

You can stack photos which is the way some of the more spectacular photos are done, where several photos are combined into one.

These are the basics. I'll try to take some myself and do an article in the future.

Tom in Seattle said...

Ned, thanks for the Purosol tip. I've not found anything to take the salt spray off my lenses. I'll assume this will work great and I'll owe you.

Lori from Miami said...

You're certainly right about sunscreen, but until you mentioned it, I had never thought about it, but I should have. I've gotten sunscreen on my lenses several times and had an awful time trying to get my lenses clean again.

This is a great tip which everyone needs to remember. The suggestion to wear a top at the beach when shooting is perfect.

It's another great article Ned and why I keep coming back here.

Harold said...

I love your term for idiots who broadcast they're carrying camera equipment in their bag - "Secret Announcements!"

Most of the top bag manufacturers now try to make their bags look just like ordinary ones that anyone might use to carry anything for good reason.

Great article.

Sally in Chicago said...

People have really dropped their cameras over-board?

Ned S. Levi said...

I've seen it happen myself Sally. On a cruise in Alaska I was on a few years ago, in front of Hubbard Glacier, a guy who didn't use his neck strap, for whatever reason, was accidentally pushed in the back by a youngster trying to get a better view, as the ship rotated to port, and his camera went right into the bay.

If that wasn't bad enough, I heard him lament that he had purchased one of those very high capacity memory cards and everyone of the photos he had taken on the cruise were on that card. He lost them all.

avidimages said...

I always carry my equipment with me after leaving it in my hotel room and never seeing my camera again!

Ned S. Levi said...

AI, I don't know about you, but I have far too much equipment when I travel to carry it with me all the time. I have a variety of equipment with me for different situations which I don't encounter daily.

For example, I don't take my tripod with me each day, but I will take it with me at night. Sometimes I'll leave a long telephoto lens behind, but other times I might leave my widest angle lens behind, according to where I'm going that day.

In the hotel, my extra lenses go in the safe, other equipment in a backpack which is protected with Pacsafe netting, locked to something immovable in the room, and hidden if possible.

My cameras are always with me.

Everything is insured.

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