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Photography

How to Protect Your Camera Gear While Travelling

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If there's one must-pack item for travel, it's a camera. It doesn't matter whether that camera is a point-and-shoot, DSLR, video camera, or even a smartphone: there's simply no better way to capture the sights and sounds of a destination and preserve your precious memories forever.

But travel often involves a camera's two worst enemies: water and sand. Whether you’re hiking into a hot, humid jungle, soaking up the sun at the beach, or going on safari across the dry, dusty plains of Africa, sheltering your camera from water and grit is essential. Here are a few tips and tricks to protect your gear from the elements at home and abroad:1. Use a UV Filter

If your DSLR or video camera has the ability to use filters, I highly recommend getting a UV filter. They're just a clear piece of glass that screws on to the front of your lens. UV filters protect the lens from scratches, salt spray and dust. 

UV filter

I leave mine on all the time, although some photography purists argue that UV filters reduce image quality because you're shooting through two sets of glass. However, it's much cheaper to replace a scratched UV filter than a camera lens, and if you're an adventure traveller like me that's the bigger consideration.

2. Get (or Make) a Rain Cover

No one orders up rainy weather for their travels, but it happens. Some point-and-shoot and action cameras are waterproof, but for the rest you'll have to be mindful. You can buy special rain covers for many different kinds of cameras; they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. Some of the most striking photos and videos are captured during inclement weather, so a rain cover is worth buying if you're a serious photographer.

One of the best travel hacks I've seen for protecting your gear from light rain or drizzle involves a little item found in most hotel rooms:

 

So the next time you’re staying in a hotel room, grab the shower cap and throw it in your bag. You never know when it might come in handy!

3. Avoid Extreme Temperature Swings

Speaking of hotel rooms, many have air conditioning. This is great for staying comfortable, but can cause a problem with your gear if you’re in a really hot, humid location. When you take your nice cold camera outside to record video, the lens will fog up. Then when you take your warm camera back into that nice cool room, condensation forms. When you’re doing this repeatedly, like I was in Mexico, your camera might stop working because moisture gets into the inner workings. Same thing happens if you’re visiting a really cold location and moving back and forth between heated buildings and the outdoors.

I now bring along a plastic Ziploc bag and a handful of little silica gel packs. You’ve seen these—they’re often put in shoeboxes or handbags or vitamin bottles to absorb any moisture in the air and protect the goods:

Silica gel packs

Most people just throw them away. Keep them! When you bring your camera inside from a hot, humid environment, seal it in the Ziploc bag with some silica gel packs. They’ll help remove any moisture.

How to Dry Your Camera

If your camera or phone does get wet, don’t turn it on! Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the battery and memory or SIM cards. 
  2. Open up any little doors to let the air in. 
  3. Carefully dry any water from the outside of the camera using a soft towel or lens cloth. 
  4. Put the camera in a bag with some silica gel packs or rice grains.  
  5. Leave it somewhere warm and dry for at least 24 hours. 
  6. Once you’re confident the camera is completely dry, replace the battery and turn it on.

This method may or may not work; it really depends on just how wet the camera got. If it was completely submerged in water, you’ll probably have to get it professionally cleaned and repaired. If you're travelling in the United States and your smartphone gets submerged, check to see if there's a Redux location near you. They saved my brother-in-law's phone after it spent the night at the bottom of a pond. And as bad as fresh water is, salt water is even worse. Salt is corrosive, so you really don’t want to get your gear wet with salt water.

4. Invest in a Waterproof Housing

One of the advantages of travelling with an action camera like a GoPro is that they’re encased in a protective housing that’s waterproof, dust proof, and drop proof! They’re meant to be used in the water and snow and dirt. One thing you might have noticed when you use one of these in the water is that little droplets sometimes stick to the lens:

GoPro with water on lens

I like to spray a bit of Rain X on the lens to repel water droplets. You can find water repellants like Rain X in many auto parts stores. People spray them on their windshields to help repel rain, sleet, and snow.

Smartphones are also popular for capturing photos and videos on vacation because they're so small, light, and portable, and the cameras produce high quality images. There's a wide variety of waterproof cases you can get to protect them from splashes, sand and scratches, like the Hitcase

5. Pack a Dry Bag

One item I never leave home without if I’m going to be on or near water or in a rainy location like the jungle is a dry bag. These are made out of a rubbery, waterproof material and come in all different sizes. Dry bags are often used on rafting and kayaking trips to keep clothes and food dry:

Drybags

I just put all my expensive camera gear and microphones inside the dry bag, roll down the top, fasten the clasp, and voila: it’s watertight!  The dry bag could fall overboard and everything inside would be protected. I’ve used it during monsoon rains in the jungle. I’ve attached it to my belt as I’ve rappelled down waterfalls. It just gives you peace of mind knowing your gear is safe and dry. You can find dry bags in most sporting goods stores.

Woman on beach with video camera
Photo by valuavitaly/Photodune

One Last Tip

Finally, if you’re travelling in developing countries, be mindful of the fact that the camera you’re carrying may be worth more than many citizens earn in an entire year. That can make you a target for robbery or worse. I always bring a small daypack to keep my gear in when I’m not using it, and I watch this like a hawk. When I do use my camera in public, I try to be as discreet as possible. For example, my video camera has a removable handle to which you can attach microphones and lights, but I don’t usually bring it. I want my camera to be as small and unobtrusive as possible, and easy to tuck out of sight.

I hope you've found these tips helpful, and I wish you safe, stress-free travels with your camera gear in the future!

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