How to Protect Your Camera in Extreme Weather

If you love to photograph nature, you surely know how unpredictable,
and often hostile the elements can be. While we may get a sniffle or a
chill from bad weather, the electronics inside our cameras are much more
sensitive.
A little water, some sand, or extreme temperatures can cause your
camera to temporarily malfunction or even suffer permanent damage. When
the storm clouds roll in, it’s important to know how to take good care
of, and protect your camera gear.
Foggy trees by Anne McKinnell

Moisture

Whether it’s full-on rain or just intense humidity, moist conditions
are your camera’s number one enemy. Not only can the wetness seep into
the electronic elements of cameras, flashes, lenses, and other
accessories and short them out, but it can get trapped inside the
casing, causing condensation and eventually mold.
To prevent this, consider purchasing a protective rain cover for your
camera. You can find these in both disposable and reusable versions. In
a pinch, a non-biodegradable plastic shopping bag will do the trick.
Make sure all the rubber doors covering your camera’s inputs are sealed,
and keep a clean, dry cloth handy to wipe away any water that condenses
on the outside of the camera.
Rain drops on flowers by Anne McKinnell
In the event that your camera does get wet inside, remove the lens
and set all the affected pieces next to a warm (not too hot) radiator.
Remove the battery and memory card, open all the doors and gaskets, and
place the camera face up and the lens face down to allow water to
evaporate through the openings. Less sensitive accessories can be placed
in a bag of dry rice, which will absorb the excess moisture.
Tip: Throw some silica gel (the little packages in shoe boxes, etc., that read “DO NOT EAT”) in your camera bag to protect against humidification in storage.

Intense Heat or Cold

Most cameras are rated to work between -10 and +40 degrees Celsius
(14-104 degrees Fahrenheit). This is generally not because of the camera
itself, but because of the batteries – the chemicals inside of them
cease to work properly when they get too cold, or too hot.
Palm Canyon Sunburst by Anne McKinnell
To avoid this problem, keep an extra battery in a
temperature-controlled place. If you’re shooting in the cold, keep one
in your pocket to be warmed by your body heat. In the heat, your camera
bag should provide adequate shade to keep a battery cool enough to
function.
Never place your camera face up in direct sunlight. The lens works
both ways, and can act like a magnifying glass to focus the rays into
your camera and burn a hole in your shutter, and eventually, your image
sensor. Remember that even magnesium-alloy cameras contain plastic
components, so if you shoot in really extreme places such as near
volcanoes or among raging fires, use common sense and keep your camera
well clear of the flames.
Frozen Fountain by Anne McKinnell

Sand

Other than moisture, this is probably the most common cause of
equipment malfunction. Everyone wants to take their camera to the beach
(or maybe to the desert), but as anyone who has ever tried to picnic in
the surf knows, sand gets anywhere, and everywhere. At best, it can
become stuck inside the lens and cause spotty pictures. At worst, it
will get inside the gears and severely damage moving parts such as the
shutter or auto focus motor, or scratch the lens or image sensor.
Ormond Beach by Anne McKinnell
This applies to compact cameras too – sand in the lens will cause it
to grind and prevent it from extending, turning your little
point-and-shoot into an expensive paper weight. Even tripods aren’t safe
from this effect. Grains of sand inside the fastening screws can
destroy the threading and keep them from tightening properly.
Again, make sure the rubber gaskets on your camera are tightly sealed
and always tuck your equipment away inside a sealed camera bag when not
in use. A protective rain cover can also help keep your camera clear of
debris. If sand does get on or in your gear, don’t wipe it with a cloth
which can embed it deeper, or worse, scratch the glass elements.
Instead, get a hand-pumped air blower to puff the grains away. Avoid
compressed air canisters, which are too strong and contain chemicals
that can cause damage. If you have no other option you can use your
lungs, but be very careful not to project little spit particles into
your camera’s insides.
Mesquite Sand Dunes by Anne McKinnell

Wind

A stiff breeze won’t hurt much on its own, but it can easily blow
over a tripod and send your camera crashing to the ground, causing
untold damage. On a windy day, anchor your gear using sandbags,
or simply hang your camera bag from the tripod’s centre column to weigh
it down (a sack full of rocks will also work). Keep in mind that wind
combined with sand creates a natural sandblaster which can scratch up
your lens quite badly if you aren’t careful.
Stormy Day at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument by Anne McKinnell
Bad weather can often make for good photographs, so get out there and
make the most of it. Just make sure you are taking care of your
equipment at the same time.