How to Protect Your Camera Gear in Gnarly Weather

Follow these eight suggestions to keep your kit intact no matter how burly it gets.


I have been in a lot of awful weather. Shooting surfing in the Arctic is probably as bad as it gets – salt water corrodes your cameras, and the rain, snow, and ice just tear everything apart. In Iceland, in the shot above, it was not only brutally cold, but the wind was howling and the snow was pounding down as Raph Bruhwiler and Nate Zoller got ready to paddle out into an epic lineup.

If you pursue making great photos during real adventures – which you do, right? – you’ll inevitably find yourself in situations where the elements are putting your pricey gear at risk.. If you have the forethought to be prepared for these circumstances, you’ll be able to take some really unique pictures.

1. Don’t Open Your Camera Outside
Nothing trashes a camera faster than dust, water, or snow on the sensor or in the electronics. If you need to change a lens or memory card, do it inside the shelter of a building or car. If you don’t have access to indoors, do it inside your jacket. And if you don’t even have that, turn your back to the wind and bend over to cup your body and protect the camera.

2. Don’t Bring a Cold Camera Into a Warm Place
Been ski touring all day and then come into the hut? Leave your camera inside your bag until its temperature equalizes with the indoor air – cold metal exposed to warm, often humid air will result in massive condensation on the camera and lens.

3. Carry Silica Gel Packets
I travel with these in all of my bags, as moisture can wreak havoc on digital equipment. Sometimes it’s the most basic problems that get overlooked, and while good cases go a long way toward protecting your gear, they don’t always keep all the moisture out (especially condensation).

4. Clean With Camp Towels
I use microfiber camping towels all of the time. Cut them in two and use them as lens and drying cloths. Just be sure to keep them inside your jacket or bag.

5. Save Power With Hand Warming Packets
In addition to keeping your fingers (and sometimes toes) warm, tucking a packet or two in with your batteries will help them last a little bit longer in extreme cold. Sub-freezing conditions can suck the life out of batteries and almost always reduce the number of shots you’ll get before they die – a little extra warmth will stack the odds in your favor.

6. Adapt With Plastic Bags
When it’s pouring and you still have to get the shot, you can always get inventive with a heavy duty plastic bag and some gaff or duct tape. The MacGyver approach can work in a pinch, but protection like the Aquatech Weathershield also will allow you to keep going all day without worrying about your gear getting soaked.

7. Always Use Lens Filters
Whether it’s a polarizer, neutral density, or UV filter, having a protection over the front element of your lens in gnarly situations will help protect its expensive coatings. If your filter gets thrashed you might be out a few bucks, but it’s far cheaper than buying a new lens or replacing an element.

8. Think Twice About Shooting
Blowing snow is challenging, but ultimately is just water. If you’re in the desert or at the beach and the wind is howling, though, consider not shooting at all. Sand can devastate your gear, especially the focusing or zoom rings on lenses, and it’s shocking how quickly fine-grained grit can get into your stuff. Is the shot worth it? Sometimes the answer is no.

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Showing 14 comments
  • Marty
    Reply

    Chris, thanks for the good tips. I’m curious about how you clean your camera when you do accidentally get it wet with salt water. Just a few days ago my 5D and 50mm lens got splashed big time by a rogue wave on the beach. I immediately wiped everything down with a clean damp cloth and let it dry out before turning it on. It’s working fine, but I’m concerned about corrosion in the spots I can’t get to, even with the camera’s weather sealing. What would you recommend? Is a professional cleaning the best thing to do? If so, do you have recommendations for where to have that done? I’m in SF.

  • Walter Underwood
    Reply

    I stopped using filters for protection after I had to carefully pick the red glass shards of a #25 filter out of the smashed ring. The ring was wedged onto the lens from the blow, so I had to avoid the front element while I was picking out the broken glass.

    Now I let the light flow freely, undamaged by filters, and use lens hoods for protection. A lens hood only improves the photo and is better protection.

    The red filter was on an FD 28/2.8, so I’ve been successfully relying on lens hoods for a few decades now.

    wunder

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      A hood is better protection? From sun flare, maybe. But not moisture, dust, and scratches.

      • Walter Underwood
        Reply

        The hood keeps scratchy things away from the front element. For telephotos, it can protect from rain, too. Dust, not so much, but it keeps some of it away.

        wunder

  • Jay Long
    Reply

    Great advice and slick tips.

  • chris
    Reply

    How Do SLR and Movie camera’s work on top of Mount Everest ?

    • Kat Croft
      Reply

      I second this question!

  • Cardelucci
    Reply

    I agree with using filters! I’ve also read that you need to place a filter on some of Canon’s EF weather proof lenses for full weather sealing. I’d rather be safe than sorry as well!

  • Gavin Ayre
    Reply

    I do a lot of sailing and need to have high quality protection for my DSLR from salt spray and splashes. I’d love to know more about your experience with camera housings Chris. It’s not as extreme as surfing in the Arctic circle but the consequences are the same for my gear if anything goes wrong.

    • Seth
      Reply

      Gavin, I would suggest taking a look at Outex covers. I think it would be perfect for your application. A full dive enclosure would be over the top, but the Outex’s are flexible, light, and good to 30ft.

      Several well known surfing photographers use them; Not sure if Chris is one of them.

  • Stephen Quick
    Reply

    I learned the hard way with blowing sand. Went out during a tropical storm to take video of surf… camera was fine… but I messed up my leg position locking mechanism on my brand new carbon fiber tripod….. still works… but not to the ability it used to. #noob

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