At the beach, Melissa Groo often drops to eye level with avian beachgoers like plovers, sandpipers, and skimmers to tell stories about their lives. There’s just one problem for the conservation photographer: the beach itself. Sand can scratch lenses or jam camera buttons and dials. If it gets inside your camera body, the repair cost can be exorbitant. Meanwhile, get too close to the surf, and salt spray can coat your lens and corrode batteries and ports. Don't risk your gear. Follow Groo’s hard-earned advice to keep your camera safe while soaking up the best of summer.
Lens choice is critical. Zoom lenses generally have a telescoping component easily infiltrated by sand, which can lead to crunchy, clogged gears. For that reason, Groo favors fixed-focal-length lenses. If you do bring a zoom, use a tight-fitting rain sleeve, like the LensCoat RainCoat ($53 and up), to keep out salt and sand. When not shooting, keep your lens capped and camera stashed.
Groo advises against changing your lens midshoot. If you must make a swap, retreat to your car or other sheltered space to reduce the risk of windblown sand.
Placing your camera directly on the sand for a low angle is an invitation to disaster. Consider using a ground pod, such as the NatureScapes Skimmer Ground Pod II ($100). Like a plastic sled for your camera, it easily slides across the sand as you adjust your shot.
Conditions change fast, so stay aware of your environment and check a tide chart. When you’re hooked to a viewfinder, it’s easy to miss an oncoming wave that could drench your gear.
Clean your gear after every shoot. Start with a paintbrush to whisk sand off the camera and lens body. Then, switch to a hand-held blower, like the Giotto Rocket Air Blaster ($15 and up). A spritz bottle and soft cloth can tackle salt residue on the body. Finally, gently clean the front of your lens with a microfiber cloth or moist camera wipe.
Need a more advanced cleaning job? Check with the camera manufacturer or search YouTube for your camera and lens model. And, just in case the beach wins out, invest in camera insurance before you go so you can rest easy, knowing you’ll stay well equipped to hone future shots.
This story originally ran in the Summer 2022 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.