Tips for photographing safely near natural disasters

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The following syndicated post comes from Dreamstime photographers, Viorel Dudau, Catalina Zaharescu Tiensuu, and Rachael Murphey. If you’re intested in submitting a post for consideration, please visit our Contact Us page. 

James Mattil | Dreamstime

Between wildfires, hurricanes and massive flooding, the U.S. is experiencing an onslaught of natural disasters that span the country. And if there is any bright side to the darkness of our weather forecast and smoky skies, it’s the opportunity to document through photos the great power and majesty that is Mother Nature.

But taking photos near a storm or fire is risky business, and should not be taken lightly. Photographers need to follow certain guidelines if they choose to document these events in order to stay safe and keep their equipment intact as well. 

Don’t get too close

Find the best safe spot, use a telephoto lens if necessary. Don’t risk getting too close to the action if we’re talking about volcanoes, landslides, tornadoes or anything else extremely high-risk. Sometimes it’s just better to take pictures after the event and not during. Use your best judgment here. A good photo is worth a lot, but it’s never worth your life!

Dress for success

Gear up with the proper equipment and clothing to keep yourself safe, warm and dry. Rain coat and rubber boots for flooded areas, mask and fire proximity suit for photographing wildfires, etc. Take care of yourself first, and then worry about the camera and gear.

Find the right case

Roman Demkiv | Dreamstime

Protection comes first, so a waterproof case is mandatory for cameras in areas with hurricanes and flood conditions. Plastic cases should not be used in forest fires areas; the plastic might melt and damage the camera and the lens. As a bonus, find a case that is shock-insulated with foam to protect delicate equipment in transit.

Protect the lens
There’s a reason professional photographers keep a collapsible lens hood in their mobile cases. In bright conditions, they’re great for blocking glare, reducing lens flair, and producing captivating photos.

They also double as a guard against bad weather. If the weather turns during a shoot, a lens hood can block rain and snow from settling on the lens. In addition to keeping the lens dry, it ensures a slight change in the weather won’t force a cancellation.

Stay Dry

It doesn’t matter if you’re caught in a monsoon in the forest or a pop-up storm during a wedding shoot: bad weather ruins equipment.

Savvy photographers guard against this sudden misfortune by keeping several dry bags in their cases. Cheaper versions are simple plastic bags, but more secure options include treated canvas and other fabrics safe for use on camera equipment.

Back up, back up and back up again

Katser | Dreamstime

With any weather mishap, there comes a risk of losing your work. Backing up your photos might be the most important part of your job as a photographer. While sometimes in photography less is more, when it comes to backing up your work, more is never enough. Basically, you should have your work stored in at least 3 different places, one of them in a different location. I would recommend keeping important photos on your computer, on an external hard drive and on a cloud storage platform. From time to time, it wouldn’t hurt to burn some DVDs and mail them to a trustful friend or member of your family. If you’re shooting film, you should start scanning your negatives and store them exactly like I said above, in at least 3 different places.

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