How to take care of your camera and photography gears during hikes in tropical forests

Photography and hiking are expensive hobbies. Combining the two could cost you a lifetime of investment. You can “innovate” though to lessen expenses, maximize your current gears and still enjoy both as a combined hobby.

In my case, because I couldn’t simply afford an expensive photo climbing expedition, I’m pushed to innovate and find ways  to maximize a personal photo climbing project without sacrificing fun, photos and enjoying the mountain scenery along the way.  I’m sharing these tips I’ve learned from reading books, blogs, websites and photographers I idolize. Up to my last climb, I have applied these tips while hiking some the most beautiful tropical forests of Mindanao. I don’t claim it will work for you and give you outstanding photos, because certainly there are other factors that contribute to that. What I’m sure of is this; my recent photo climb would have been a disaster and my pictures could have been worthless have I not used these tips. So pick one most applicable to you.

  1. Bring a sturdy, lightweight, adequately cushioned water repellent camera bag with a rain cover. I brought a Low Pro belt bag that fits all my essential camera and lenses plus accessories. I lost count how many times this bag saved my cam gears from rain, dust, dirt and scratches and falls.
  2. Weatherproof your camera, lenses and accessories. Some camera manufacturer claim weatherproofing of their camera and lenses, but the harsh environment of the tropical forest is just too much for these gadgets. I use bubble plastic  to wrap my lenses then zip locked them inside my belt bag. My camera has a light water repellent flannel cloth bag hanging on it and I use this to cover my camera when its hanging around my neck during shoot intervals. This is my first layer of defense agains dirt, dust, water and scratches. As a back up, I bring a large garbage bag to put all my gears immediately during heavy rain.
  3. Bring a boxed desiccant and put it safely inside your camera bag. Temperature can be freezing up there and sometimes, it just gets humid. Changes in temperature imperils your camera sensor and lenses. Fungi loves to grown in humid environment. This might not totally prevent your cam/lenses from getting “infected” but at least it minimizes the chances.
  4. Keep your camera batteries warm at all times. Wrap it with a cloth before putting it inside water sealed plastics (ziplocks). At night when temperature are freezing, I keep my batteries wrapped in my jacket or place it near my body to warm it a bit. This way, it wont drain fast. Even freshly charged batteries suddenly get drained when exposed to cold temperature. What i do is I cycle using my batteries every time to allow heating it a bit.
  5. Only switch lenses when there’s a need for it. Better if you bring another camera body for your second lens. If you need to change lenses, do it under a sheltered environment, inside your tent or inside your bag. That way you lessen the chances of dust and dirt finding its way inside your cam and lenses.
  6. Keep the changing of lenses, batteries and memory cards inside a sheltered environment, like a tent or a bag, away from humid, damp environment or rain. If your camera accidentally get wet, turn it off immediately, wipe the externals of the case immediately with a dry soft cloth, then remove the batteries and card. Let it air dry first, before using. If you have a doubt if its still wet or the innards were contaminated with water better not to use it at all until it is seen by a technician. Again, here is the advantage of having a second cam body.
  7. Always fit your lenses with a cap when not in use or use a lens filter whenever possible. A regular anti glare (UV rays) filter will save the front of your lens from bumps, scratches and dirt. For landscapes and with a good clear sky as a backdrop, I take advantage of my CPL and ND filters to act as “protector” and highlight the blue sky.
  8. Never let your camera hang in your neck when your climbing on all extremities-hands and feet. Put it inside your camera bag first. Whenever you lean forward, the cam swings in front of you and will probably hit a wall, or worse, a hard object. I was just lucky I only broke a UV filter when I did that.
  9. Shoot with a tripod whenever possible. If your position does not allow for the use of a tripod, look for a stable arm rest, a stable ground, or a wall to rest your elbows/arms before taking a shot. Aside from less shaky photos that you get, it also keep you constantly aware of your surroundings and the area your taking photos at. The risks we take during a photo shoot, often wandering into unstable ground just to take shots is just too much not to mind.
  10. Always shoot and hike together with a buddy. A guide, a porter or a friend will serve as your lifeline while doing some perilous photo hike. Though it may look quite expensive to pay someone to accompany you, your buddy’s help in times when you need them – like carrying your other gears, holding your rope line, when ascending/descending a ravine/cliff taking pictures or sometimes just the fun of talking to someone while hiking, its all worth the expense you incur.

There you go. I have a few more tips up my sleeve but I’ll share it as soon as I’ve tested it up there when I photo hike! If you have photo hiking tips, share it here by commenting below.

Enjoy some of my photos during a recent climb in  my photo blog, Twelve Inches Behind.

(Header image photo credit to Jocelyn Muring)

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About the Author

I am Bundok. When I'm not mending bones for living, I go hike, travel and then rant about my outdoor adventures. I consider my life outdoors as a fitness essential. For more updates, consider subscribing to this blog and to my twitter and Facebook fan page

8 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Bonzenti,Con Tour (@Bonzenti) January 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    At least hindi pa ako nakapag try na gumawa ng mga extreme outdoor photography like this one…..Good thing that I have a good friend who is knowledgeable in taking care of camera….at kampante na akong gawin ang kanyang mga tips. Nice tips my “good friend”.

    • Bundok January 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      Bonz, di pa tayo extreme photography nyan. It’s just photo hiking and I’m pretty sure you’ll get into this reading your blog :)

  2. lantaw January 22, 2013 at 4:37 am - Reply

    Great tips doc!

    • Bundok January 22, 2013 at 6:05 am - Reply

      Thank you Lantaw. I’m already thinking of finding that poor man’s pelican you suggested..Thanks for the tip!

  3. Tupe Diaz January 22, 2013 at 3:51 am - Reply

    i broke 2 digicams in the outdoors— one in mt. hamiguitan, the other in hundred islands. sadly, my dslr is now in the shop after a big fall in 1 of laguna’s 7 lakes…

    • Bundok January 22, 2013 at 6:12 am - Reply

      My camera has been with me underground spelunking, high on top of the mountain , falls beaches etc, but I never tried dropping it “unprotected” inside my camera bag. It happens to even the most careful travel photographer, so don’t feel bad :). One thing about badly beaten camera is that its value increases for you because of memories you have with it) but its resale value drops, so take care of your gears

  4. Christian | Lakad Pilipinas January 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Ayan pwede na mag comment! Liking the new look of your site ah, ang linis!

    Great tips Doc, except for the keep your battery warm, everything you said is new to me hehe

    • Bundok January 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      Master Christian, Ikaw pa! natutunan ko yang painitin ang battery, sa yo! Though sometimes, I tried my armpits as a warmer….(hahah)

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