When we travel there are lots of challenges on the road. And the longer you travel the more challenges you face. In this travel survival guide for photographers, I cover most of the common challenges. I also cover a few of the least know but equally as important challenges as well
We have no control over the weather whilst travelling. But we do have control on how we manage it. There are various situations that need us, as potential photographers to have our wits about us. So, we need to adopt some special precautions.
A few years back I went on a Polar Bear safari near Churchill in North East Canada. It was November and the first day or so was at 5°C which was reasonably mild.
The cold came quickly! It reached around -20°C for the next 3 days.
What I learnt is that whilst we could be warm inside the lodge, we couldn’t afford to have our cameras warm. It was OK to bring them in overnight, although even then they had to be in the coldest part of the lodge.
But when we had much shorter breaks, like lunch time, we had to leave them hanging up outside. Why?
If you wear glasses, then you will know that when you walk into a warm building from a cold outside area, your glasses steam up.
The same happens to your camera except it will need a lot more time for the moisture to dry.
If you took your camera back out after only half an hour or so and the temperature is low enough, the moisture will freeze.
What can happen then is that it can damage not only your lens but your sensor as well, not to mention other working parts.
So, be very careful with your camera equipment and I mean a smartphone as well, in very cold weather.
Give your camera plenty of time to acclimatise in both the heat of your digs and the outside cold.
Leading on from cold challenges, humidity can also be a danger to
Again, to use the same analogy of glasses but now in reverse. If you go outside from an airconditioned space into high humidity, chances are that they too will fog up.
When I was in Darwin in the North of Australia I was out walking early in the morning.
I went to take a shot and guess what?
You guessed it.
What I saw through the lens was just fog! I had forgotten that that whilst it didn’t seem too humid, there was enough moisture in the air to condense onto the cold lens.
It took around 10 minutes for it to clear.
I also had my smartphone with me which also had fogged up.
But a small lens clears a lot quicker, so I didn’t end up missing the shot!
So how do you prevent this from happening?
If you know you are going to go outside into the humidity with your camera, put it out there at least an hour before you intend using it.
You can do this by taking it outside for coffee or breakfast or putting it out onto your balcony.
In the heat and by the heat I mean anything above 30°C, everything gets hot.
Whilst it won’t necessarily affect its picture making capability, Cameras don’t like heat.
Most cameras are black which means they absorb the heat and can then be too hot to handle.
Not only that but the electronic circuitry in a camera or smartphone is not made to withstand high temperatures.
Whilst most cameras have an operating range of 0°C – 40°C, the recommended temperature for using a camera is a mere 25°C!
Dust is the enemy of all cameras. There are some high-end cameras that
are meant to be sealed to prevent dust ingress, but I doubt very much if that
As we all know from our personal interactions with dust, it comes in many forms and can get into everything.
However the sort of dust I’m talking about is the particles you find on a beach or in the desert. Sometimes the fine dust can be found in old properties where it has been disturbed.
It’s essential that dust doesn’t get into the camera or smartphone. Yes, smartphones are not immune.
If I’m taking pictures on the beach or on sand dunes, I always have a Ziplock plastic bag that I can quickly put the camera into. It’s not just wind or sandstorms you need to be careful of. Vehicles, people and animals can all churn up enough dust to make a big nuisance.
As I mentioned before there are some Cameras that are sealed against Dust. Well the same cameras are also ‘water resistant’. Again, that’s not foolproof. Common sense tells us that we should keep any electronic gear away from water. So be careful around bodies of water like swimming pools, rivers, lakes etc.
Be especially careful around the ocean, as sea breezes have minute water particles as well.
Rain, on the other hand, is little bit harder to protect gear from. Not to mention that it may not be the right time to take photos when it’s raining. Mind you I have got some good shots during rain showers. There are covers that you can buy like the Ruggard RC Rain Cover that will protect your camera and allow you to keep shooting. You can also make your own with a plastic bag or Ziplock bag.
Batteries don’t like extremes of temperature, water or humidity, so make sure you protect them from the elements as best as possible. They tend to discharge much quicker and can charge a lot more slowly in temperature extremes.
I covered this briefly in 7
Travel Photography Workflow Tips to use on the road.
I firmly believe that the majority of the Earth’s population is honest. But, especially in developing countries, it pays to be careful.
Here’s a few tips:
- Don’t check your camera gear in on public transport like air planes, trains or buses
- If your camera strap has the camera logo and model on it, change for one that’s blank. Not only will that make your camera less noticeable, you’ll get a better strap anyway.
- Carry your camera across your shoulder i.e. not around your neck. It makes it less conspicuous and is actually more comfortable
- If you have a safe in your hotel room, use it! Lock up your gear when you are out without your camera and even when you go to bed. If there’s no safe use your suitcase and lock it up.
- Whilst we all want to get that earthy, gritty shot, don’t take your gear (or yourself for that matter) into a known dangerous area. You are asking for trouble.
- Don’t leave your gear sitting around without being secure
- Remember that $500-$1000 worth of camera gear can feed a family for 3 or 4 months in some countries.
Of course, it’s not only the elements or other people who can damage
Stats prove that more accidents happen at home than in the workplace.
They also show that the camera user is the most likely to damage photographic equipment.
In the main most cameras are fairly hardy but don’t assume that they are bullet proof!
Any piece of electronic equipment doesn’t like being dropped, thrown around or slid around with movement. There’s a reason that camera bags have padding.
The best thing you can do is keep with you and don’t sling the bag around. Be careful how you load onto transport and that includes planes.
Here’s some more tips:
- Keep your equipment in a bag that has some sort of padding.
- Don’t carry it one handed with the strap doing nothing. There’s every chance that you could get knocked and the camera ends up in the dirt.
- Keep the lens and body clean.
- Extra tip on this one, don’t use the same cloth to clean your spectacles if you wear them. You could end up scratching one or the other because you’ve picked up grit from either one.
- Don’t leave your gear hanging around without being secure, even in your hotel room. Things get knocked around unintentionally.
Summary for a survival guide for photographers whilst travelling
- Be mindful of the potential for freezing moisture damaging camera equipment in very cold climates
- Allow your camera to acclimatise to humidity before you need it, so that any ‘fog’ has dried first.
- Keep your camera out of the heat and especially the sun, in warm to hot climates. Excessive heat can damage the electronic componentry
- Use protection e.g. plastic bags or purpose made products to protect your camera equipment from Dust and Rain
- Make sure you guard and protect your camera equipment from theft by avoiding situations where that may be possible.
- Treat your gear well and it will look after you. Even the most ‘bullet” proof camera can get damaged if you are not careful with it.
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