Over the years, I’ve acquired an interesting array of “tools” that I use for setting up and maintaining my underwater camera housing. I wish I had known earlier about some of the items I travel with, as they have made my life quite a bit easier. Most of what I carry with me has been a result of trial and error, and I’d like to pass along that information to any budding underwater photographers out there.
1. Foam Makeup Applicator: This is the absolute best way to clean underwater housing o-ring grooves without leaving behind any fibers. I’ve seen other photographers use Q-tips, but I avoid those because they are of single-use nature and fibrous — not something you want to put inside an o-ring groove. If cared for properly, foam makeup applicators can be used hundreds of times. They pick up loose hairs and sand like a charm and are easily rinsed and dried.
2. Blue Shop Paper Towels: Along with foam applicators, I feel lost without my blue shop paper towels. These ultra-absorbent, lint-free paper towels are an absolute lifesaver. I use them for a variety of things, such as soaking up water droplets in and around o-ring grooves and after rinsing debris from o-rings. You can find these online and at most automotive stores.
3. Lint-free T-shirt/Rashguards: If you can’t find blue shop towels, this is the next best thing to clean your o-rings. Usually, if I run out of the paper towels, this is a great backup plan, as rashguard material is usually lint-free.
4. Headlamp: A lot of photographers already travel with a headlamp, but this piece of equipment is super important for inspecting o-rings and the inner workings of your housing. While we don’t always have control over the lighting situation, headlamps are a great solution to poor lighting. Don't forget to keep an extra headlamp battery on hand!
5. Extra Neoprene Cover: There is nothing worse than misplacing your dome port cover, especially at the beginning of a shoot; however, having a spare port cover in my bag is a rather new thing for me. In the last year alone, I’ve lost more covers than in all of my previous years shooting underwater combined! Sure, you can always wrap it up in a towel, but it can be a bit awkward and less secure. A scratched dome port is the last thing you need.
6. Plastic Cleaner/Buffer: Underwater housing ports have a tendency to get scuffed up on occasion, and this miracle potion never leaves my bag. Whether it's fins, animals, or someone else’s strobes making contact with your port, accidents happen. But keep in mind, this item only applies to those that shoot with an acrylic dome port. If you have a glass port, it can’t hurt to have a backup port with you when traveling.
7. Extra O-rings and Lubricant: Supple o-rings keep the water out of your housing but have a life span that is determined by how well they have been maintained. O-rings deteriorate over time and can become brittle. Keep some spare o-rings of each size tucked away in your bag just in case! While it’s not mandatory to lubricate o-rings each time you reinstall them, sometimes, these little vials disappear when you most need them. Note: Only use the manufacturer's lubricant.
8. Extra Sync Cords: Whether electronic or fiber-optic, sync cords can snap or flood. If these parts fail, they are hard to come by and could put a real kink in your plans. Keeping a spare in your bag is a good policy to have.
9. Lanyard: While I don’t always use a lanyard, it’s a good idea to keep one with you. If a situation arises where both hands are needed, a lanyard makes it a whole lot easier, but be sure to buy a heavy duty one that won’t snap under pressure.
10. Dessicant: Not all housings require dessicant, but it’s good practice to keep some with you just in case. They’re useful in your dive and camera bag regardless.
11. Multipurpose tool: Bits and pieces tend to loosen up on housings, so having a multi-purpose tool on hand can be quite beneficial. Prior to getting in the water, it's a good idea to conduct a quick check to make sure everything is secure.
12. Change: Depending on your housing manufacturer, a coin can come in handy when securing and removing the camera body from the tray. I've spent too much time searching for a coin just to get my camera on or off the tray. Not fun! Now, I always have one close by.
13. Moisture Alarm Battery: If your underwater housing has a moisture alarm, it can't hurt to carry an extra battery in your bag. Most moisture alarm batteries are the size of a quarter. While I can't remember the last time I had to swap one, it's good to know I have it with me just in case.
14. Gorilla Grip Shelf Liners: This might sound silly, but I cannot tell you how many times the battery compartments to my strobes lock up. Without the grip liner, it can be quite an unnecessary struggle to remove the lid. After a dive, the last thing I want to do is have my water-logged hands battling my equipment. Cut off a small section of the liner and throw it in your bag; it weighs nothing!
Let’s face it, things happen, and being prepared is the best way to operate. Spare underwater photography equipment is not something you can easily find while traveling, so having a contingency plan is important. But it's also nice to have tools that make assembling your system a little less frustrating. Keep in mind, this list is specifically geared to my underwater needs, and I always have the usual tools in my kit as well!
What items do you keep in your underwater camera bag? Let me know in the comments!