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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rainforest Rhapsody

How to protect your equipment for a trek to a tropical jungle environment

Labels: Photo Traveler
If you don't have a camera bag with a rain cover built in and always available to pull over the bag, consider buying a backpack rain cover for your bag. When it rains in the tropics, it can really pour, and even your bag will need some help to keep your stuff dry.

Forget The Hair, But Bring The Dryer. Although you wouldn't think it to look at me, I consider a small, multi-voltage hair dryer to be standard equipment whenever I travel in the tropics. I don't use it on what's left of my hair, though. I use it to help fight another demon of the tropics, one that stalls and ruins a lot of picture-taking opportunities: condensation.
To make the tropics habitable for humans, we invented air-conditioning. Air-conditioning is a godsend for us, but by removing moisture and cooling the air in our hotel rooms and ship cabins, it also "cold-soaks" our equipment. So when you walk into hot, humid air with cold-soaked equipment, you get that layer of moisture over your lens, LCD screen, maybe even the camera itself.

Unless, of course, you warm your gear up with a hair dryer before leaving your room or ship cabin. I always spend a few minutes warming up the gear and the inside of the bag with my mini-hair dryer, paying special attention to the front elements of the lenses. It's a minor inconvenience to assure that when I step into the steamy tropical air, I'll be able to pull out my gear and start shooting immediately, without any fogging or condensation.

Yes, you can leave your bag and gear in a non-air-conditioned environment overnight and do the same thing, but this often means leaving your gear outside your room (a security risk, if ever there was one) or trying to keep the room warm enough that condensation won't be a problem (sleeping in a room that warm might be, however!).

You'll see occasional advice that advocates packing along some silica desiccant to absorb moisture in your camera bag, but by and large, this is specious. The humidity level is so high in these places that the gel packs reach their limit of absorbency in a day or two, and unless you're going to recharge them regularly in an oven while you're on location, they will afford you little protection after a day or two.

It's No Good Making Your Cameras Comfortable If You're Not. There's nothing more distracting than having mosquitos buzzing around you when you're framing a shot. Insect repellent is the answer, but the question is how to use it without ruining our cameras.

The active ingredient in most non-organic repellents is a chemical compound nicknamed "DEET," and it's highly effective in keeping bugs away. Unfortunately, as many photographers have unhappily discovered, it's also highly corrosive to polycarbonates used in most camera bodies these days. So if you take a cream or lotion or a spray-on repellent into your hands and rub it over your exposed areas, the residual stuff on your hands can eat into the camera's surface when you next pick it up. (I've even seen fingerprints etched into a camera's surface panels by the hands of a photographer who coated himself liberally with DEET and grabbed his camera.)

Gumming up your camera's exterior with DEET really can ruin your day, not to mention the camera's resale value. And, yet, you can't go unprotected into the jungle. The answer is a roll-on repellent, which allows you to grasp only the tube as you apply the repellent directly to your skin, but not the palms of your hands. A roll-on tube is also small, compact and easy enough to carry in your camera bag without worrying about spilling a highly corrosive liquid inside if the cap should come off.

I first came across this type of repellent while hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand 20 years ago, and I bought a dozen to take home with me because I had never seen anything like it in the U.S. It's still not a popular delivery method for repellent here, but you can usually find one domestic manufacturer or some imports on Amazon. An Internet search will allow you to find this style of repellent, and anything that can make you and your camera just that little bit more comfortable in the deepest, darkest, hellhole jungle, er, I mean the rainforest, is worth every penny. Trust me!

For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, visit www.bobkrist.com and go to the "Teach and Talk" heading.


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