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A Day at the Beach with Your Camera

Going to the beach with a camera can present some wonderful opportunities for photography, but also requires that at least some planning go into keeping both you and your gear clean and dry.

First off, if you are careful, you are unlikely to have any problems. You will be spending a lot of time around water when at the beach though, and saltwater is corrosive so let's look at how best to protect your camera gear. The beach is one environment in which I do use a protective filter on my lenses, usually a polarizer to reduce glare off the surface of the water. A lens hood can help prevent any spray from reaching your lens in the first place, but if it does, a filter of some kind can be a good idea. Bring a micro fiber cleaning cloth in case you do need to clean a lens. Minimizing the number of times you change lenses can be a good strategy since this is when your gear is at its most vulnerable. Sea Star in the surf, Olympic PeninsulaThere is no need to get paranoid about things though as a moderate degree of common sense will go a long way. The worst I've ever done is to drop a polarizer in the salt water. After flushing it with plenty of clean water when I got back to the parking lot, everything was fine (I put it in a Ziploc bag till I had a chance to do so). No matter what, be sure to wipe your camera body and lenses off thoroughly with a damp cloth at the end of the day to remove any salt residue.

Consider the subject matter you are expecting. Depending on where you go, you may find macro shots with tide pools, grand landscapes with sea stacks and great light as well as wildlife possibilities. Shore birds are also plentiful at some locations and deer, raccoons and other animals can sometimes be found early in the morning. For landscape shooting, graduated neutral density filters can be a big plus to compensate for the brightness of the sky, especially if you will be shooting near sunrise or sunset. A large diffuser or even a black umbrella can help create shade to reduce contrast when none otherwise can be found. Balancing the amount of gear you bring with the challenges of how to carry it all and keep it dry is something that in the end must be a personal decision.

When using a tripod at the beach, keep the bottom-most leg segment fully extended and adjust the height with the remaining segments to minimize the chance of getting sand in the joints. After your trip, thoroughly rinse your tripod in fresh water to work out any remaining salt or sand. Taking it in the shower works well, as does a garden hose. if you find your tripod does need a more in depth cleaning, please read my article on "back from the beach" tripod maintenance (written for Gitzo users, but those who use Bogen can likely benefit from the concepts at least).Sea Stacks, Olympic Peninsula

Next, let's consider your feet. Wet rocks can be very slippery so going slowly and being careful is important. Sand is very forgiving; wet rocks are not. Hard rubber (Vibram) hiking boots can be one of the worst things to wear on wet rocks. Probably your best option (though certainly not required) would be to get a pair of fishing waders so that you don't have to worry about your feet getting wet. I have a pair of thigh-high waders with felt soles that fit folded in half in a day pack. They may be overkill, but they work. When I arrive at my destination, I change into the waders and put my regular boots in the day pack to stay dry. A spare pair of old tennis shoes may be all most people need if the water is not too cold. It can be an excellent idea to bring a spare pair of dry socks, preferably wool or synthetic since wet cotton can be miserable. Strongly consider wearing one pair of shoes or boots for hiking and bring a different pair for working around tide pools. While it is possible to do many trips without getting wet, being prepared can make the trip more enjoyable if you do slip.

And just in case, bring lots of plastic bags to handle whatever comes up. If nothing else, they can be helpful for sitting on in wet sand.

Date posted: July 6, 2003 (updated March 20, 2004)


Copyright © 2003, 2004 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
"Back from the Beach" Gitzo Maintenance
Predicting the Restless Tides

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