My Camera is Gonna Get Wet
This is a question that comes up fairly frequently, and it’s a good one:
Hey, I’ve got a friend who’s going down into the jungles in Central America soon and needs some suggestions on keeping it dry and working. Should he spring for Canon’s waterproof case or are there other things you’d suggest?
For projects in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and other wet and humid environments, here’s how we keep our gear functional:
Ever see those little silica packets that come in shoeboxes and the like? That’s desiccant, a substance that can create or sustain a state of dryness in a contained space. Using dessicant like these silica canisters (from Amazon) in combination with a dry bag, see below, is the best way to not only keep your photography gear protected from moisture while packed, but to also dry it out in between uses.
That’s pretty important because if you’re like me then sooner or later your gear will get a bit – or very – wet. When that happens the best thing you can do is to dry your camera off as best you can by wiping it down with a dry cloth, stick it in a dry bag (or other airtight environment) with silica, and leave it overnight.
If you’re already out in the boonies with no FedEx deliveries in sight, filling up a ziplock bag of rice and sticking your sodden electronics in there is a nice alternative. Rice also absorbs moisture!
Note: The gel canisters linked above can only absorb so much moisture before they become ineffective – before you store your gear dry off as much externally visible moisture as possible. After a silica canister has maxed out its absorbance of moisture, you’ll need to bake it (in an oven, or go sit around in Death Valley for a spell) before it can be put to work again. With cheap silica packets there’s really no way to tell if they can absorb more moisture or not.
2. Dry bag(s)
Even if you’re not planning on white-water rafting, a dry bag is a very handy thing to have. It can be used for storing equipment at any time without worrying about whether or not it might get wet, and it can also be used to create a drying environment with the use of desiccant as outlined above.
Dry bags are made out of waterproof materials with sealed seams and with a water-tight closure system. Just remember that the water tight closure systems depends on you doing your part and closing it correctly ; ) Here’s a selection on Amazon to give you an idea.
3. Water-ready camera pack
If you’re going to be stomping around in the rainforest or jungle then you need to have a way to carry your camera and gear. Usually that’s some form of a backpack.
In these types of environments it’s a good idea to have a pack that is waterproof or is water-resistant, has sealed zippers, and has some sort of a pack cover. That way when the showers come – and they will – you can rest easy knowing that your gear isn’t getting totally soaked.
Here’s an example of a big Lowepro pack that I regularly use as an airline carry-on but which also does a nice job in the jungle.
One of the most low-tech yet highly effective tools you can have in your arsenal, an umbrella is uber-handy when set up to attach directly to your tripod (because most of us don’t have enough hands to shoot effectively while holding an umbrella – this is when you become envious of Cebus capucinus’ prehensile tail).
Once mastered, the jungle becomes your oyster with this little setup because you and your camera can be shooting/writing/looking in the dry even when it’s throwing down cats and dogs. Just remember that wind will not be your friend, nor will traipsing through dense undergrowth as a five-legged Mary Poppins.
5. Waterproof rain covers and housings or cases
For working directly in the drizzle (or downpours), a rain cover (like this one by Altura Photo) can be well worth it. While most modern cameras can handle a bit of moisture, once they start getting wet you need to think about protecting them. With a rain cover you’re set up for really inclement weather.
When submergence of your camera, and yourself, is only a matter of time (like when you decide to crawl around in streams and rivers) you should consider going the more extreme route of running a completely water-proof camera housing, like this one for a Canon 5D Mark II. While housings afford the most protection, they are also the most limiting in terms of accessing the camera and generally make the most sense for shooting underwater.
The Bottom Line
Challenging conditions are not impossible to shoot in – they just require a bit more planning. But remember, the more gear you add the more your camera will become unwieldy, adding complexity when it comes to accessing controls, changing lenses, etc. Start out with the basics – like always having a bunch of microfiber clothes like these handy to wipe off your lens when it gets moisture droplets on it – and tackle wetter environments as you build up great degrees of protection.
So there you have it. The good news is that with a bit of a system (and a reasonable attitude toward the inherent risk) it’s entirely possible to get your camera into (and out of) the wettest and wildest environments around. Good luck out there!
If you’ve got any other tips or tricks for keeping gear dry in the wet, please hit the comments and share your knowledge!