Sunday, January 4, 2015

Photo Equipment Care in the Everglades

Two days ago, I got back from a 10-day paddle through the Everglades. I've spent the past two days at home cleaning and drying out all the equipment and gear, including the cameras. Most paddlers in the Everglades bring a camera, but very few bring two DSLRs, one telephoto lens, one wide angle lens, an external flash with better beamer, several filters, 10 spare batteries and a tripod. I bring all these. And during those ten days, the cameras and lenses were continually exposed to the heat, humidity, sand and salt water.

Why risk it? After all, a powerboat ride to some of these areas would get me there and back safely in a short period of time. And there are beautiful areas of the Everglades that are accessible by foot. Indeed, this is the way many photographers get into the Everglades. But where is the fun in that? The challenge of getting to areas accessible only by boat and being totally at the mercy of the weather and tides for several days at a time is what gives me the greatest satisfaction when I photograph. For me, my experiences in the Everglades as a paddler have been the impetus for my photography and has propelled it to a level I never thought possible when I first came out here ten years ago with nothing more than a palm-sized waterproof camera.

I challenge other photographers that wish to explore the Everglades to try it by canoe (or kayak if you insist). To nudge this along, I offer some information on how to keep your equipment safe from the elements. Keep in mind that some of these tips may not work for you, particularly if you are in a kayak. I work from a canoe, which is quite different in terms of storage and accessibility.

The picture below shows all the equipment taken on this trip.

Everything (except for a few accessories and the tripod) is stored in the pelican cases.The large (size 1500) case holds two cameras, one attached to the telephoto (70-400mm) and one attached to the wide angle (16-55mm) lens as shown on the left in the image below. It also holds a plastic container for extra batteries, memory cards, and spare lens cloths. The orange case (size 1300) contains several filters, filter holder, ballhead, remote control, and a few odds and ends such as a spare battery for remote. The small black case on the right (size 1200) contains the external flash, better beamer, flash cable and several lithium AA batteries.

The large case with the cameras sets in front of me in the canoe so that I can access a camera at any time, as shown below. In a fully loaded boat, the other two pelican cases are not accessible when I am paddling from one campsite to another. Please note, you may consider dry bags to store your equipment (particularly if you are in a kayak). This works well for a day or two. But truth be told, dry bags do not keep the equipment fully dry, humidity does get inside. In my experience, nothing beats a pelican case.

The tripod is wrapped in a sealed hefty plastic bag and placed inside a nylon bag. I use it only on land at the campsites. Other accessories not in the pelican cases are several spare camera batteries, an air blower, a brush and extra lens cloths. These are stored in sealed plastic bags inside a dry bag.

Cleaning the camera and lenses is essential of course, but should be done only inside the tent. I have a lens cloth, air blower and brush dedicated to cleaning the lens in the tent at night. None of these cleaning accessories see the light of day.

There are two significant threats to the camera and lens out in the Everglades, salt water and sand. The pelican cases do a great job protecting from these elements, but of course when you are using the camera, they will be exposed. Clean lens cloths are absolutely necessary; I bring several with me. Once a lens cloth has been exposed to salt water, I replace it. Also, daily cleaning in the tent helps minimize the risks.

However, understand that humidity is a constant in the Everglades. Nothing ever really dries out there. To help protect the contents of the pelican cases (which are opened often), I place a couple silica gel packs inside.

At the campsite, which is often a sandy beach, I place the pelican case in a wind protected location before I open it to grab a camera (disclaimer: sand gets into everything no matter how careful you are). Usually, when I want to photograph with the tripod, I have to walk a distance along the beach. Along with the tripod and camera, I bring my orange pelican case that holds my filters and ballhead. Once I get to my location, I can open the case to access what I need.

A few tips for when shooting from the boat; keep the pelican case locked, avoid shooting when water conditions are rough and use a lens hood to shield from salt water spray.

 After I get back home, I give the camera and lenses a good cleaning. The tripod is washed in soap and water and after it dries I spray Corrosion Stop into the metal hinges. I do the same with the hinges located on the ballhead. In addition to caring for the cameras, you need to also care for what protects those cameras. I clean my pelican cases inside and out. The foam padding gets shaken to remove sand and dirt. I remove the o-rings and wipe them to rid them of sand and dirt. I allow the pelican cases to dry thoroughly before placing everything back inside.

Camera skills and eye for composition are important to photographing the Everglades, but just as important is keeping your equipment safe from harm. I hope that I have given you some useful information for your next Everglades paddling adventure. With your boat and camera, experience the best of the Everglades, help protect this amazing wilderness by showing the world its beauty, as seen from a canoe.

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