Curious Josh's Short Camera Tips for Burning Man

August 27, 2011 at 12:29pm

So, I've always wanted to write an amazing long detailed post outlining how to really protect a camera at Burning Man for professionals, or consumers.


this is... close!


Here's a short list of the tips I give to people who have professional dslr cameras OR consumer pocket cameras they want to protect.


You should ABSOLUTELY bring a camera out there! be encouraged, just be safe. It's kind of like the same advice for some other experiences we all know and love


I- WHY PROTECT?

We've all heard of people who have shot photos at burning man without protecting their camera, so if they can do it, why protect?


As someone who a lot of people talk to about cameras, I hear TONS of stories of people who's cameras have stopped working at burning man, or broke shortly after the event IF THEY DIDN'T PROTECT IT! Even if only 30% of cameras take noticeable damage from burning man, why risk letting your camera fall into that 30%. We've all heard stories of people who shot without hurting their cameras, but why risk being in the situation where your camera breaks?


The dust is a special risk at burning man. It's a special alkaline dust which is corrosive to metal. Ever wonder why bikes rust so fast after the playa? Cameras can sometimes work on the playa when the dust first gets in, then often break or get unreliable over the next few months, as the internal parts corrode. yikes! Also, the dust is EVERYWHERE.


I originally believed RVs or Cars could be "safe for opening a camera" until my mentor, Will Henshall, told me to try something. Next time you're in a "dust safe" environment at night (yurt, rv, car), try turning off all lights, and shining a flashlight. I tried that once, and I never thought of RVs as camera-safe environments again!



II- SHOULD I LEAVE MY CAMERA AT HOME?

Sort answer... NO! I know lots of people who succesfully bring their cameras to Burning Man, myself included! It just pays to be careful, use some of the steps below, and make your gear as protected as possible.I would just recommend doing some protection on your gear at home before leaving. Once you're at the burn, dust is everywhere.



III- CONSUMER CAMERAS  

Consumer cameras like pocket compact cameras can take damage easily out there, and there's a few levels of recommendations I have for protecting a consumer cameras.

  • easy protection: Get a ziploc bag. Every time you're shooting a picture, take the camera out, and put it back in the ziploc when you're done. Don't take out during dust storms. Don't open the camera to change the memory card, use a usb cable to plug the camera directly into the computer, and try to charge the battery by plugging in the camera if possible. (this minimalizes dust's opportunity to get in). I would leave the camera in a ziploc while charging, dust settles most on still items.
  • Get a large memory card For all cameras I recommend gettign a large memory card as an alternative to opening the camera. 
  • Additional protection level 1, tape seams consumer cameras don't have great weather sealing, and the dust is smaller than regular dirt. It can get in like water. Use electrical tape around things like the memory card door and other opening doors (battery?) to seal the camera yourself.
  • Best Protection - Underwater Housimg many companies like sony now make inexpensive underwater housings for their cameras, you can pick one up for sometimes a little over $100, and it will seriously protect your investment. This is the best way to use a consumer camera safely on playa. I still recommend not opening the body, even when you may think the environment is dust free, and charging in a ziploc bagAlso, at any camera shop you can find underwater housings made out of a heavy duty plastic bag. These can be a good alternative for protecting a camera. some work better than others, but they're not as comfortable as the custom made housings

Awesome protection... the art project 

If you really want a top level of protection, a little time can be spent to do something special for your consumer camera. Basically the idea is to custom make a ziploc container to hold your camera with a special cutout for the lens, and a HUGE thanks to Pixie for originally showing me the "camera in a ziploc" method for high end cameras.

  1. Supplies: -heavy duty ziploc freezer bag. heaviest plastic you can get, and smallest bag you can fit camera in.-cheap UV lens filter. smallest size that will cover your lens area, 58mm? smaller? available at every camera shop.-Outdoor electrical tape-exacto knife 
  2. Cut hole in ziploc: Lay ziploc on a kitchen cutting board. You're going to cut  through both sides with a half circle in the non-zip bottom edge of the ziploc that matches the UV filter size, so, like with snowflakes paper cuttine we did as kids, the bag folds out both halfs to have a circle the size of the UV filter. Then put aside ziploc for step 2
  3. Tape UV filter to body: The UV filter acts as a "window" through the ziploc your camer looks through to shoot. position the filter so it goes over the area around the lens, but  make sure not to cover any sensors, or the flash, etc. Use electrical tape to tape the UV filter to the front of the camera.Make sure to not cover sensors/flash/viewfinder with tape. You may need to use exacto to cut special shapes with the electrical tape.NOTE: THIS WILL NOT WORK WITH TELESCOPING LENSES! I've always thought maybe getting a good cardboard tube (mailer? inside of paper towels?) and cutting it to the depth of a zoom lens could work, then have the lens telescope inside the tube with the uv filter on the end. just make sure you can't see the tube or filter when zooming out. 
  4. Tape ziplock to UV filter: ok, pick up the ziploc from step one, position it so the cut hole matches the uv filter, then use electrical tape to seal the ziploc around the uv filter.
  5. You're Done! When you're walking around, keep the ziploc closed, and just shoot holding the camera in the bag. back in your tent, you can open and close the zipper side to plug in the camera, or charge it. Bring extra ziplocs, tape, and x-acto in case the bag rips while out thereFOR EXTRA PROTECTION, USE 2 BAGS (in case one rips) 


IV- PROFESSIONAL DSLRS professional DSLRS really could use protection out there. I find that cameras will usually work fine while out there, but often will start getting weird unreliabilities within 8 months of returning from the playa unless special effort is taken.  Here's some tips I use, with the trick being to avoid any chance of dust getting into the camera

  1. Avoid changing lenses or opening camera! : I get the biggest memory card I can, and don't open the memory card door at all, using a usb to transfer the images. Usually a 32gig will work fine when shooting RAWs if the card is transferred and cleared at dinner, and then again at bedtime, or morning.I personally do not change lenses. When I first took a DSLR to burning man, I was given fantastic advice from Will Henshall when I told him I wanted to change lenses in the safety of an RV. He said to go into the RV at night, turn out all the lights, then turn on a flashlight. Try it.If the dust you see in the air doesn't convince you to keep your camera closed, then um... ok! but for me, that was enough. I keep one lens on each body I bring, and don't change it. Heck, I tape it to the body to avoid getting dust in the seals.
  2. Protect the camera, ziploc method. : A HUGE thanks to Pixie for originally showing me how to do this. Buy a UV filter matching the size of the lens you will be using. put the filter on the lens and use outdoor electrical tape to seal the filter to the lens so dust won't get in. Then use the art project method above to place the whole camera in a ziploc, with a window cut for the UV filter. USE 2 BAGS FOR A PROFESSIONAL DSLR WHEN USING THIS METHOD! if one bag rips, you want the backup.you can also cut a hole in the top around the flash shoe, if you want the flash outside of the bag, just use outdoor electrical tape again to seal the hole
  3. Waterproof Bag Method : The safest and easiest method is to just buy a waterproof camera housing bag from any camera store... easy and done! personally I don't love shooting through bags. so I use the art project method below

The Art Project.... Professional Style 

 If you're like me... and really want the best protection that won't feel like you're destroying the shooting experience with lots of bags, there is an art project I do every year. This is what I use. I actually use a combination of electrical tape, plastic bags, and store brought LCD covers to wrap my camera to protect it from the elements. Here's the quick version of what I do.

  1. Tape lens to body, tape UV filter to lens: get a uv filter the size of the lens, and use outdoor electrical tape to seal around the seam. same with the seam of the lens to the body.
  2. LCD protectionmost camera stores have Plastic LCD covers that stick to the camera body. I love these, and use them for all 3 displays on the canon 1D series bodies I use out there. You can buy one that matches your camera models. It's easy to just apply these on. This way, you can wipe off dust without scratching the lcd cover
  3. Eye Piece Cover:  to protect the eye view finder... I purchase the plastic cover for an iphone screen, and cut it out to cover the viewfinder. Outdoor electrical tape to seal
  4. Seal with electrical tape, cover buttons: Ok, this is the big one. Using outdoor electrical tape, I tape over all memory card doors, etc. I leave the rubber port flaps for last, then use some tape to seal these which can lift on and off for the USB... so I can open this port  to transfer photos, then reseal it easily. Be careful to NOT tape over the sensor on the front.Also, seal around the edges of the LCD protection, so dust doesn't get underneath to the lcd screen, and I also actually have tape over ALL my buttons! yup, it's a good time to memorize the buttons. BUT DON"T GO TOO TIGHT!!! seriously. if you tape over buttons tight, they won't lift up after you press them down. I make sure to cover the buttons, but don't cover the scroll wheel on the back, or the shutter wheel on the front. but I do cover the shutter button. This year I have a camera on loan from Canon. Although I wonder if they know what burning man is, I did talk with them about taking care of the gear in desert conditions. This is their flagship weather sealed camera, the 1D series, so they did not seem concerned about covering the buttons with electrical tape, but they did really like my move for the LCD cover, and sealing the memory door with tape, etc.For cameras with a step down from the 1D, like the 5D Mark II, I'd still recommend taping the battery door when shut. personally I like taping the buttons so when I get home and take off the tape... the buttons are clean! 
  5. The Lens: ok, this is an art project within itself. I use 2 ziploc bags around my lens, with outdoor electrical tape to seal both sides. I just don't want to risk dust settling in the lens and affecting pictures. I make sure to keep the bag VERY loose, so there's some room to manipulate the zoom and focus, but it is definitely tough, and one of the biggest challenges about using this method 


Well, I hope this helps everyone heading out to burning man! And remember... Burning Man is a special environment where people go to be free. ASK someone if they are recognizable in a photo, if they're ok with the photo being made public. People can have sensitive times in their life, like a divorce or legal case, where being pictured in a free environment can hurt them. And is it worth hurting even one person for a photo?   For me, it isn't. 


Also, recently I've started checking to make sure someone isn't in an altered state of mind when giving me the "ok" to publish a photo. Especially a state where "everything is amazing!"


If someone has nudity, or a compromising situation, and they would like me to post the photo, I'll take the time to get their contact info, and ask them again (call or email), when the event is over, before posting the photo.


Omg... I'm getting SO EXCITED! ok... I've got to go pack!

See everyone out there. If you see a tall guy with a camera taped up like I'm describing (and 2 bleached stripes on each side of the head in 2011... and again in 2012!) please say hi! :)


-Josh (CuriousJosh)

8/27/2011 (edited 8/22/2012)