Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer: In All Honesty, This Is Really Just a Starting Point
I’ve been incredibly fortunate that, in all my years, I’ve never had my gear go down so I couldn’t shoot. I’m pretty much a zealot about keeping my gear clean, charged, and tucked in at night. I want to encourage you to take the same care of your gear. When I travel, I have along a camera care kit that has just about everything in it for taking care of the gear. You’ll find its contents in Appendix 2.
Working with electronics, as we do with digital, moisture, grease, and dust can be our biggest enemies. Simple daily care makes any gear going down on us a non-issue, though. The key is a clean, white T-shirt that you use to wipe all your gear down. It is amazing how this simple tool and technique keeps the vast majority of the daily grime from killing the camera. The basic regime I go through every night is best learned and observed on the four Camera Care videos posted on the Moose Library page of our website. So, rather than taking precious page space to cover that here, I’ll simply say: You’ve gotta do it, there’s no way around it, and it pays big dividends.
Working in the rain is very, very common for wildlife photographers. I tend to dive right in and not shy away from the moisture and, as long as I can handle it, I know my gear can, as well. I’ve tried all the covers and, while they work, they are a pain in the ass to work with. What I’ve been using for the last two years is not truly a rain cover, but works really well for that and just general protection of the lens (like when shooting out a truck window).
The LensCoat is a neoprene wrap that protects most of the lens barrel. It’s not a complete cover, but I’ve found it does a great job. In conjunction with it, I use a clean, white, hand towel that I swear fell into my luggage at that hotel. This is used to blot the gear dry—not wipe it dry. Blotting prevents moisture from being forced into cracks and crevices of the gear, where moisture shouldn’t go. So the clean, white towel is used by just pressing it against the wet gear and letting its natural absorbency do the job of drying the gear. One of these towels is in every one of my photopacks, so I always have one with me.
Working in inclement weather is really a hallmark of the diehard photographer. This includes cold—true cold, where your breath fogs up your eyepiece (which quickly teaches you not to breathe on it). Often, when this is the case, you and your gear are going in and out of the cold, which can cause, at the least, fogging, and at the most, condensation on your gear, in particular the glass. I’m suggesting you don’t need to fret about all of this.
The key is to keep condensation from forming on your gear. The problem normally starts when you come in from the first day of shooting in such weather. The goal is to get your gear into the warmth and up to room temp as quickly as possible, so you can upload cards, clean it, and charge batteries. So, when you get to your room, take your gear out, lay it on the bed, grab a clean, white, bath towel, and instantly cover the gear. The condensation will form on the towel and not the gear. Once the gear is room temp, take care of it as normal.
Once the gear is all clean, place it back into its bag and place it in the coldest part of your room for the night. The next day, once out shooting, if possible, have the gear out and keep out what you’re going to use from its bag, but under the cover of a white towel. Again, the towel will help with the fogging. The goal is maintaining an even temp for the gear as much as possible and keeping all moisture out of your bag. Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you.