5 Ways to Protect Your Camera in High Humidity Conditions

5 Ways to Protect Your Camera in High Humidity Conditions

Being from the United Kingdom, I am well versed in protecting my camera against drizzle and Brexit, but the rainforest and high humidity were entirely new beasts.

I'm very familiar with how to handle my camera in extremely low temperatures, having shot in Iceland, Norway, and the Alps. But high humidity takes a lot more thought, preparation, and care to avoid rendering your camera unusable or worse, damaging it. Here are some tips for people going to high humidity locations for the first time that I picked up from local professionals, photography tour guides, and a few other reliable sources while I was in Costa Rica.

1. Acclimate Your Camera

The biggest difficulty for your camera in high humidity is not necessarily the temperature or the humidity, but rather the sharp shift in temperatures from air-conditioned cars and buildings to the outside. My first morning in jungle conditions was in Mexico, where I left my freezing cold room and stepped out into the morning heat, and my camera's sensor and the lens fogged up immediately. When I visited Costa Rica with Fujifilm, one of our guides that Fuji hired (Rob Knight Photography — brilliant tours of Costa Rica if you're interested) suggested that an hour or so before I went out for the day, I should put my camera bag out on the balcony and let it adjust.

2. Silica Gel Packs

If you've ever bought almost anything online, you'll have seen tiny white packets with "silica" or "desiccant" written on them. These are used at an industrial level for their water-absorbing properties, and they can keep moisture away from electronics or even keep food crisp. Buy (or save) a bunch of these — they're inexpensive — and keep some in your camera bag.

3. Keep a Lens Cloth With You

No matter what you do, you will have your lens fog up with moisture at some point. If you try to wipe it clean with your t-shirt or an ordinary cloth, your images will become cataract simulations. Get some proper microfiber lens cloths, and make sure you always have some with you. If it starts to get damp, switch it out, or you'll be quickly back to soft, overexposed images.

4. Dry Your Equipment

It isn't just the optical elements of your equipment that require your attention. Leaving your camera moist from the environment or whatever sources you may encounter could creep into your camera and cause problems. Periodically dry your camera body and lens with an absorbent towel. One crucial addition to this: if you go near the sea and your camera gets splashed, even if it's weather-sealed, you must wipe it with a cleaning cloth to get the salt off, and then dry it. Salt water can be the devil.

5. Avoid Changing Lenses

I was told this one by several different people. I'll be honest: I rarely adhere to this rule, but the inside of your camera is usually a lower temperature than the outside, which is exposed to the sun. So, taking the lens off can cause moisture and condensation on the sensor, which is bad news. However, it seems that if you change lenses enough, the inside doesn't cool down enough for it to be a problem. Similarly, zoom lenses were pushing warm air into the inside of the camera anyway. Your safest bet is to not change lenses unless you really have to, though, as it does increase the chance of moisture getting inside.

Summary and Your Best Tips

There are other ways to combat the spikes and plummets in temperature and humidity in tropical locations. If you're in one long-term, there is of course also the option of purchasing a dehumidifier to keep an area of where you're staying nice and dry. A lot of people also use Ziploc bags, but that didn't make a great deal of difference to me.

Do you have experience photographing in high humidity? What advice can you give first-time travelers to these locations for protecting their gear from moisture and fogging? Share them in the comment section below.

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8 Comments

Brent Daniel's picture

A lodge we'd stayed at in the Amazon had an electronics warming box in each bungalow. The rooms were all just screened in so no A/C to worry about, but they had a little cabinet that was kept a bit warmer than ambient temperature (basically with a lightbulb). It both lowered the effective humidity in there and ensured that your gear didn't cool over night and get condensation on it when you headed out for pre-sunrise hikes. Seemed to work quite well. (Sacha Lodege was the place. Absolutely amazing!) Oh, and having a seriously weather sealed, tropicalized body and lenses can save your trip and your equipment. Know a bunch of people who ruined less sturdy bodies in wet environments.

Robert K Baggs's picture

On my first day in Costa Rica I went into the rain forest and you could have been forgiven for thinking the camera was sweating. If I lived somewhere that humid I'd definitely invest in a few more things to keep my kit safe! Sacha Lodge has just been added to my travel bookmarks, looks incredible!

Kirk Darling's picture

I did that for years while living in places like Okinawa and the Philippines back in the 70s and 80s. Actually, I do it now in Texas, although I'm using a commercial heater made for that purpose called a Goldenrod.

Anthony CHAPITEAU's picture

Lightbulbs are also a good way to prevent fungus. I live in French Guyana and this is one of the recommended tips to preserve lenses.

Kirk Darling's picture

Trying to reuse silica gel packets from old purchases is a bad tip. Silica gel absorbs moisture until it's saturated. Then it's useless unless it's dried out in an oven or microwave. Those tiny packets become saturated very quickly--and were already saturated when you took them out of the original product box.

If you intend to begin a silica gel, you must get "indicator" silica gel that changes color when it becomes saturated, put it in an appropriate container, and follow the regimen of periodically heat-drying it as necessary.

That's actually a pain in the okole as a lifestyle. It's not necessary to control humidity constantly, it's only necessary to keep breaking the environment fungus needs to propagate. It needs 24 hours of 70% or above relative humidity.

If you have air conditioning, let it spend the night on a table or shelf open to the air conditioning. If you don't have air conditioning, use a commercial dry cabinet or put it in a cabinet with a mild heater ("Goldenrod" is one brand name).

Or in a tighter box with indicator silica gel, as a last resort.

Wolfgang Post's picture

I live in the tropics (Singapore), key is to monitor and control humidity for storage conditions. The usual standard practice here is to have an electrical dry cabinet at home. There are different types and sizes available. Some people also use them for herbs, tobacco, tea.. keep the humidity below 50% (see manual) and all is well. The myth of drying up lubricants has been sufficiently debunked.
For traveling, nothing much to worry. Use the camera, period. Even a few days in a travel bag won't grow fungus. Never had any issues with changing lenses either on beach or in the forest. Silica for travel bags is pointless, unless the camera is in a zip-lock bag (depending on the situation). Also, the silica should come from sealed sources, not the stuff found in shipments.

Oli Aponte's picture

I live in Puerto Rico. During hurricane Maria, the winds and rain were so strong that it forced water into my apartment, from the balcony.. Well water found its way into several rooms, and in one of those rooms, into the closet where I kept all my gear. I cleaned all the water as best as I could, but did not notice that beneath my gear shelves, there was still water inside the closet.. As you can imagine, not much photographing was done in the months after hurricane (no electricity, cancelled events, and whatnot)..

Long story short, all my expensive Nikon lenses got fungus.. I already had put rechargeable silica packs inside all my bags, I would check them constantly and recharge them, but that wasnt enough. So after a hefty repair bill from Nikon, I bought an electronic dry cabinet from B&H, when they had a special on it (like $75-100 less than usual price), and now keep most of my gear inside of it. I still put one of those rechargable silica packs inside the cabinet (I dont quite trust the accuracy of the cabinet's display, not for any particular reason though) so I can double check the humidity levels inside the cabinet. So far, so good! I have not had to recharge the silica pack, so it must mean that the cabinet is doing its job.

PLUS every now and then I'll roll my closet dehumidifier into my home office, and let it run for a couple of hours.

Rudolph Tolar's picture

I wish I would've learned this before my trip to Costa Rica last year for my 1st destination wedding.