Photo Technical

Learn how to protect cameras from sand and water damage – A19

Welcome aboard photo enthusiast.  A funny thing happened when passing through Morro Bay situated on the beautiful shoreline of central California.  It happened a long time ago when I was in-house photographer for Vivitar Corporation, at that time a large photography company.  My job for them was to field test their manufactured photography equipment against the competition.

Anyway, due to an offshore storm the waves at Morro Bay were huge, and I was angling for a way to get a dramatic shot of them rolling in.  On the jetty and before starting to shoot I took some time to determine the boundaries so to avoid getting caught by a wave.  Well, the best made plans; I must have picked the largest wave of the day and got myself drenched.  That was a problem, but it was the Company’s Olympus OM2 camera dripping in salt water that concerned me.  All sailors know there are few things more corrosive and (in turn) destructive than salt water.

What to do? For some reason I did not miss a beat on taking the right action.  As quickly as my legs and car would take me I went to the nearest garage.  Back then they all had tire air pressure machines, and required no coins to operate.  With hose in hand I blew air pressure to force the water away from all dials, crevices and other parts until I felt reasonably sure I had cleared all the salt water.  At first, the feeling was I simply had to hope for the best, but I was lucky and the OM2 continued being a great little performer.

Last fall I was on assignment in Morocco to photograph a desert festival called the Moussem Tan Tan.  It is a meeting of desert tribes; a social and commercial event where aggressive horse and camel riding, and showing off your beautiful horses, saddles and best guns are part of the rituals.

As the early morning ride to the location progressed along their long coastline the winds were steadily picking up speed.  When I arrived at the festival the winds reached the level of a full blown desert sand storm.  Before getting off the bus I asked the translator if she had a plastic bag.  Fortunately she did, and I wrapped my camera and made a hole for the front of the lens to get clear (sandy) shots.

This desert storm intensely swirled around very fine sand.  It was very uncomfortable to deal with and nightmarish for photography work.  The plastic bag did well in protecting the camera.  It would not have been bad news for my equipment without it, and still my camera ended up covered with of fine brown dust.  When I returned to the hotel room I used canned (pressured) air to carefully blow under dials and in lens crevices to remove the sand, and my Canon 5D continues to be great performer.

The point of both stories is always have some compressed bottled air and a plastic bag large enough to hold your camera on board.  A zip lock bag is especially useful and I, when out at sea, leave my camera in one all the time when not is use.  The salt air, never mind the salt water, will in time get into all camera parts.

Now a Captain wrote in and asked what can be done when your camera is dropped overboard?  The answer is……..nothing, except say bye-bye.  It will not float and I would not expect you to abandon ship to go in after it, unless may be if it’s not moving.  In that case you may get your hands on that camera again, and when you do recycle it by putting it in the metal bin.  You could pull the memory card and try to retrieve your captured photographs from it.  Whether this is possible I am not sure, having no personal experience in this regard.

Here is the best way to avoid the camera overboard scenario, put the camera on any type of strap that you can put around your neck while on deck.  Also keep in mind most compacts have available underwater housings they can fit into and you do not have to go underwater to use them.  If you plan on entering rough seas this may be a suitable and relatively inexpensive solution.

There are also “all weather, water resistant, and water proof (to a certain depth)” cameras.  Off the top, I know Olympus makes several models.  Even if water proof, if you take your camera into salt water make sure you rinse it in fresh water afterwards.

For those of us who do not have a water proof camera or housing for our camera, here is the list of items to have handy to deal with your camera’s care and protection; a can of compressed air, a plastic bag, a camera strap, and a hair dryer.  The latter helps to dry out moisture from the air and after you may have used a (very) slightly damp cloth to wipe your camera body.

Having relived my experiences at Morro Bay and the Sahara desert I feel a little sticky and dusty again.  I need a nice hot shower and ask for permission to come ashore.