It was the last day of our beach vacation in September 2012.
I was there with my husband and two children. That last evening we were walking to play a few rounds of mini golf. On the way, I stopped to take a photo and there it was – the blue screen of death that you may have seen on your computer monitor. That dreadful blue screen was now appearing on my LCD screen on my camera.
Gratefully I was able to download all of the photos that I had taken on our trip. That camera never worked again. As fortune would have it, I was about to invest in a significant upgrade and was planning on starting to take on client work the following year.
But what happened to it? The shutter count was around 33,000. It should have handled more than that. I wondered if it was from the sand and not being more careful during our fun in the sun.
When it was time to return to the beach, I thought about taking pictures on the beach and felt ill. I even felt tightness in my chest. I loved my Canon 5d Mark III and would be crushed if anything happened to it. At the time, I did not have a backup. Nor did I have a smart phone capable of taking some decent shots. My big girl camera was my only option.
I ended up renting a camera for the week just for my peace of mind. And our much shorter excursions to the beach went undocumented.
I needed to come up with a plan. This is my process for how I feel comfortable and confident that I can take my DSLR to the beach and grab some great shots of my kiddos. It is important to note that this is not for a portrait session or when I am on the beach at sunrise shooting and am really only there to take photos.
This is the process I follow when we are there to enjoy the day and have a great time. Taking photos is secondary.
First, I make sure that everything is clean and mounted before we leave our dwelling. I only choose one lens for that day so I am not changing lenses while on the beach. I typically choose my Sigma 35mm Art or my Canon 100mm f/2.8L lenses. Occasionally I may mount my Lensbaby with Sweet 50 Optic for something more creative. If I am going to use a polarizing filter, I will put that on my lens before we get to the beach as well. I personally think that my Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8L is just too big and cumbersome for this task. I love that lens but not here. I also have a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L but I tend to stick with the primes since they are smaller and easier to keep safe in my insert.
Speaking of my insert, my Tenba BYOB 10 camera bag insert is a life saver here. It turns any bag into a camera bag. I put in my camera with the lens mounted and zip it up. Then I put it inside another tote bag that also has a zipper closure and made of heavy nylon or canvas so that sand cannot penetrate it. Along with the camera, I keep a clean hand towel inside that bag. I drape a clean beach towel over the top of the bag to cover the zipper opening. Now I have three layers protecting my gear.
I slather my kids and I up with sunscreen before we leave for the beach and I make sure that I wash my hands. The oils and emollient ingredients in lotions are not good for your electronics. You need to keep those out of your gear just like the sand and water.
Before we are off for some fun and sun, I point out my special tote bag to my kids. They know that my camera is in there and there is nothing that they need in that bag! Nothing! They have a separate bag or two for snacks, drinks, or anything else that they might want. Why? Because they are the most dangerous threat! Well not them. It’s their sand covered hands and bodies! Like seriously. They are covered with sand from head to toe. There’s also flying sand and water. They are there to enjoy with reckless abandon after all.
Now it’s not completely out of the question that your camera could fall and land in a pile of sand or in the water. Wear your neck strap! But I think that probability is really low compared to the dangers of the sandy hands reaching in to get some lip balm and leaving a lot of sand in their path. I can’t be certain but I think that’s what happened to my old camera.
When we get to the beach, I remind my kids about my bag. I tuck it behind my beach chair and strategically place their totes away from my protected gear. I also get a bucket of water so that when I do want to take my camera out, I rinse off my hands and use the clean towel that is inside my bag to dry my hands. If you are at the ocean, sand is swirling in the surf so that is why I use a bucket where the sand is settled and not coating my hands. The outer towel and the top of my zippered tote always need to be cleared of sand. I am so glad that those layers were there! Once I pull my camera out, I make sure that everything is zipped up again to keep the sand out while I am using it.
Now I am free to get my day at the beach shots and so happy I’ve got my good gear. I do have a backup camera and that’s the one that I bring, a Canon 6d. This is no slouch of a camera and I would be just as upset if something happened to it! I also limit my time shooting. I am, after all, there to be with my family. Once I feel I’m satisfied for the day, everything is zipped back up and safe and sound behind my chair.
When it’s time to return my camera to it’s safe cocoon, I clear the sand away again from the outer two layers. It’s important to note that any beach will do. Even the little beachy area by the lake counts and I use the same precautions. Since we usually stay in very close proximity to the beach, I always walk my gear back to the house once I have accomplished what I wanted to. If you are not in walking distance, never leave your gear in a really hot car. That is very bad for it as well. There will be a maximum temperature listed in your manual. Regardless of what it is, extreme temperatures are never a good idea and I never leave my gear in the car. Just keep it safe in your devised set-up on the beach if you need to do so.
Also, be mindful of crowd control. As you can see, where I frequent the beach, the crowds are not very dense.
But, I’ve been to very crowded areas where it is very hard to find spots to walk around the beach blankets.
Everyone is there to enjoy and it’s not their job to worry about your gear. Sand or water can fly out of nowhere at anytime. Not intentionally. In these cases, I have refrained from pulling out my gear and just let it go.
So, you can take your gear to the beach. Just be really mindful of how you handle your gear and cherish those images of your time with the sun above and the sand between your toes, not your gear. Then you can come home with piles of memories and the pictures to prove it.