Off-roading with my camera
Written by: Tiffany Joyce
(Click on photos to see larger versions.)
Most weekends my husband and I head out to explore the many off-road trails that Arizona has to offer. We have seen hundreds of stunning sights from the safety and comfort of our Jeep. As our skills and confidence have grown, we have tackled more and more challenging trails. We rely upon maps and guide books such as Arizona Trails – Central Region (Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails) and the Arizona Atlas & Gazetteer, as well as our Garmin nüvi Portable GPS to keep us pointed in the right direction and to help us find beautiful areas of our home state that many people miss by sticking to the pavement.
We always encounter dirt and dust, sunlight that can be harsh in the desert, mud and strong winds. We traverse very steep grades and obstacles that make the vehicle sometimes tip precariously. We usually bring the dogs with us, adding pet hair and wet noses into the mix. And every time we go out, I bring a selection of camera gear with me. Usually it’s my Canon EOS 7D, my 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens for wide-angle landscape shots, and my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II for telephoto, wildlife, and faux-macro shots.
As you can expect, my gear can sometimes get a beating. It’s exposed to dirt and wind and pet hair, and subjected to the bumps and jars that accompany an off-roading experience. Now, Canon gear is great. The quality of the camera and lenses ensures that they are sealed against the elements and well protected from the abuse that I subject them to. But I do take some precautions to minimize the potential for damage.
It is very important remember that you never want to wipe your lens with a cloth after it has been exposed to dirt and dust. Wiping it when dirt is present may scratch the lens. To that end, I always protect my lens with a UV filter, and I clean the filter and lens thoroughly before we leave. I always bring my Rocket Air Blaster to blow the dust off of my camera and lens. I hit the entire outside of the lens with blasts of air before I remove the lens from the body, and I never wipe the lens with a cloth while on the trail. I’ve never come across an occasion when dirt was so thick on the lens that a blower didn’t meet my needs. If I did, though, I would probably remove the UV filter and rise it with water from my water bottle.
I always change lenses and filters while I’m sitting inside the Jeep with the windows rolled up. I bring a clean pillow case with me, so if I’m particularly concerned about dust I will perform lens changes from within it. While driving, the camera and lenses are secured in a camera case (lately my Think Tank Sub Urban Disguise 30 and ride on the floor between my feet so I can keep it from knocking around inside the Jeep. The camera bag would never be secure enough for my peace of mind riding in the back seat, we truly do bump around so much that no matter how carefully we pack our gear (camp chairs, a cooler, tools, first-aid kit, water jugs, and the pups) things get shifted around a lot. As extra protection against bumping and dust, I wrap the camera body and the lenses in hand towels. It cuts down on the amount of gear I can fit in the camera bag, but I think the added protection is worth it.
My husband is as much of a photography enthusiast as I am, and he’s always on the lookout for great shots. So he’ll often stop the Jeep and give me time to get my camera out so I can take shots from the passenger seat, or hop out really quick to get the composition I want. Often times we’ll park and hike for a bit. The terrain is usually very rugged, and it’s necessary to have both hands free for balance, so I’ve been using my BlackRapid RWS-1FB Woman’s Camera Strap (here’s one for guys). It keeps my camera secure and close to my body, rather than flopping around my neck and swinging into rocks.
Once we’re back home I clean up my camera gear IMMEDIATELY, including the camera case, so that everything is ready to go again when I need it. Then I get to enjoy several hours of post-processing, going through all of the shots from our trip.
If you’re interested in taking a look at the shots from our Jeep adventures, I maintain this set on my Flickr account for all of the photos from our trips.
All photos copyright Tiffany Joyce.
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