Let’s say you just got a shiny new package from your local camera store or Amazon or B&H. In it is a brand new camera body or lens or [insert gear type here]. You’ve probably spent some hard earned money on it, right? So, it would stand to reason that you’d want to do everything in your power to keep it safe, protected and in optimal condition, right With that, let’s take a look at how properly protecting your gear can ensure many years of productive and creative usage.
Protection from general use
Ok, this is an easy one but one of the most obvious ways to protect your gear is to pack it in a bag that offers the right amount of protection based on your mode of transportation. I’d wager that a majority of you carry your gear with you on any major trip, whether it’s by car, on a hike or in flight. This means that you’ll want a bag that supports optimal storage of your gear with very high quality padded inserts. You’ll also want to make sure that the bag uses high quality zippers and tear-resistant fabrics. While these things may sound obvious, it really is important when you consider the rigors that you’re likely going to put the bag through. You don’t want a zipper jamming up or having a tear start fraying even larger if it can be avoided. The ideal bag for you will allow you to fit your gear snuggly while also sitting comfortably against your back (or shoulder if we’re talking about messenger-style bags).
As of late, my bag of choice is the MindShift Rotation 180 Pro backpack. Born from the same people who bring you ThinkTank Photo products, the Rotation 180 Pro gives me tons of room with plenty of padding and even includes covers that protect it from the rain and dust. On top of that, their novel rotation waist belt system allows me access to all of my gear without having to take my bag off. This is especially useful whenever I’m standing in wet or muddy environments.
When it comes to keeping the front and rear glass elements of my lenses and filters clean, I can’t recommend enough these disposable lens wipes by Zeiss. They come individually wrapped and are masterful at wiping away smudges without leaving any residue. Just remember to be eco-conscious and dispose of them in designated garbage receptacles. In addition to that, invest in a collection of high quality microfiber cloths and even a pen cleaner. Having any combination of these accessories will help ensure optimal use of your gear in the field.
Protection from the elements
Mother Nature can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Not preparing for those nastier times can utterly ruin a shoot and, if not properly protected, can damage your gear. Two of the most notorious natural occurrences that can wreak havoc on your gear are rain and sand/dust. Fortunately, there are some common sense practices that you can follow to minimize exposure to these factors as well as accessories that you can invest in to protect your gear.
My most basic rule of digital photography is to keep your camera sensor as clean as possible. While cloning and healing advances in post processing have come such a long way, do you really want to have to deal with fixing dust spots on every image you want to work on? A clean sensor will save you lots of time during post. Now, it’s one thing to use a microfiber cloth to wipe some dust or raindrops off the front of your lens while in the filed. It’s an entirely different thing to get that off the surface of your camera sensor. So, my golden rule is to avoid changing lenses in wet, windy or dusty conditions if you help it. If you intend on having to photograph at differing focal lengths (both ultra wide and ultra long), consider renting or purchasing a second camera body. I always travel with at least two bodies, ensuring that I can have two different lenses ready to go immediately as well as having one serve as an emergency backup in case the worst happens. Now, if you absolutely must change your lens in the field, be sure to turn your camera off first and touch some metal. Doing so will minimize electrostatic currents, which attracts all manners of dust.
You can take protection from the elements a step further by investing in rain/dust covers for your camera and bag. While many of today’s cameras come with some protection to rain, you’re just asking for trouble if you don’t take proper precautions. Not only do you want to keep your camera covered, you’ll also want to ensure that your bag is too. There’s nothing like having your bag drenched from rain or caked in dust and to find out that all of it has permeated through, coating your gear, memory cards, and other items. MindShift and ThinkTank Photo include rain covers for their bags, which is a huge bonus to protect your packed gear. Additionally, you can find disposable rain covers at any major camera store. For my own needs, I use the Hydrophobia rain cover by ThinkTank Photos because of its high quality construction and thoughtful access to all of the main camera controls.
Protection from yourself
I think we can all admit to have moments of clumsiness or bad luck every now and then. We are human, after all, and accidents will happen. Whether your camera slips out of your hands, a powerful gust of wind blows your camera and tripod over, as was the case with me a few years ago, or even if someone unsuspectingly steals it from you during your travels, one variable that you must factor protection from is yourself. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of insuring your camera gear. Remember the start of this article… when you just got your shiny new box containing that expensive new camera gear? Well, having it properly insured will make it a lot easier on your mind and wallet in the event that it becomes damaged or stolen.
The thing that boggles my mind most is just how many people don’t have their gear properly insured. Odds are that you have insurance on your home, whether you rent or own it, as well as on your car (in fact, in some states, it’s law that you must carry insurance on your vehicle). So, why wouldn’t you insure your gear? Most reputable insurance companies will allow you to add your gear on the same rider as expensive jewelry, for example. All you need to do is give them a call, provide the model and serial numbers of each item, and you’re set! In fact, some carriers, like mine (USAA), has specific provisions for camera equipment. And it takes no time at all! Just the other week, I switched exclusively to all-Sony cameras and lenses. Do you know how long it took me to make those changes with the customer service agent? 15 minutes flat and, like that, all of my gear was fully covered. And do you know how much extra I have to pay per month for this coverage of over $25,000 worth of gear? $12 per month or the cost of two venti lattes from Starbucks.
Now, this sort of supplemental insurance is perfect for those of us who are enthusiast or hobbyist photographers. However, if you are running a business whereby you’re collecting a fee for your work, you’ll likely want to pursue getting a commercial insurance policy, which would be a policy that is altogether separate from your traditional home/renters/auto policy. And it usually comes with the added benefit of allowing you to be covered for liability (usually for $1 million or greater) just in case you damage property or someone is injured while on your shoot. When I used to have my photography business, I had such a policy with a company called CNA and was totally satisfied with their offerings and prices. Expect to pay between $600-$1200/year for this, depending on how much coverage your need. Remember: if you’re trying to run a business with your photography, you absolutely must be covered. In fact, many locations won’t even talk to you about obtaining access permits unless you can prove that you have sufficient liability insurance.
Now let me tell you one form of ‘insurance’ that really boils my blood: the crowdsourced kind. Photofocus author (and my wife!), Nicole S. Young, recently wrote a great article covering this and I wholeheartedly agree. I simply do not understand the concept of funding the blunders and accidents of others who did not have the wherewithal to properly protect their own gear. It just strikes me as absolutely irresponsible and lazy to rely on others to help you replace your gear when you could just as easily protect it yourself. So please heed my advice here: add a bold-faced item on your to-do list to get proper insurance for your gear.
I hope the stuff listed here helps you plan and prepare so that you can have peace of mind whenever you are out there with your gear, no matter the condition.