To get the most out of your
video production gear, you need to shoot wherever life happens.
But many locations have conditions that aren’t video friendly.
Even small amounts of sand, rain, salt water, or dust can damage
or destroy a camcorder. It’s vital that you protect your gear.
Whether your image of protective
gear is Uncle Joe shooting in the rain from beneath a Hefty bag
or a Jacques Cousteau film crew shooting in the deep sea with
sophisticated underwater gear, you’ll be glad to know there is
many solutions in between.
In the next few pages, you’ll
learn the challenges and solutions of shooting video in rain,
sea spray, sand, heat, humidity, extreme cold and underwater.
You’ll also learn that with the right equipment in your bag and
a few tricks up your sleeve, you can shoot just about anywhere.
Rain Drops Keep Falling on my (Recording) Head
If you shoot outdoors, sooner
or later you’ll encounter rain. Water is a real enemy to the electronics
and delicate inner workings of your camcorder. The camcorder itself
is designed to protect these working parts, so if it’s sprinkling
lightly, there’s usually no need to panic. A jacket or some other
light barrier may be all you need to keep the camcorder dry, and
you can keep shooting as long as the rain doesn’t increase to
a deluge. Just be sure to thoroughly wipe the camcorder’s casing
with a clean, lint-free cloth when done and store the camcorder
completely dry. Keep an eye on the clouds and be prepared for
In heavier rain, the challenge
is to protect the camcorder without losing your ability to operate
it. Most videographers have relied at one time or another on this
common-sense technique: cover the camcorder completely with a
sturdy garbage bag, preferably a clear one so you can see the
controls on your camcorder. Cut a small hole for the lens. Tape
or rubber band the bag securely around the lens, being careful
not to inhibit the camcorder’s focus function. Take care to keep
tape off the camcorder’s surface or you’ll have to deal with the
sticky residue. Continuously check your camcorder during taping
to make sure that the bag hasn’t shifted or ripped to expose any
part of the camcorder. While less than ideal, this emergency solution
has saved a lot of productions.
For a sturdier cover, use
the clear, plastic zippered bags in which blankets are sold, or
the vinyl department store garment bags used to package mens’
suits. Both are waterproof, sturdy, and can be cut to tent your
Better still are Rain Capes,
made by Ewa Marine and Rain Slickers, made by Porta-Brace. These
clear, waterproof pouches encase your camcorder, keeping it free
of moisture and dust. They feature built-in glass optical ports
and mounting brackets. While waterproof, they are not immersible.
They retail for about $130 to $200.
When shooting poolside, the goal, again, is to keep the camcorder dry. Evaluate the splash
factor and protect accordingly. Wipe any drops off the camcorder
as soon as possible using the clean, lint-free cloth that should
permanently reside in your camera bag. You can also stand as far
back as possible from that splashy cannonball competition and
Between shots, cover your
camcorder and put it in a secure, dry place. A dripping person
walking past your lounge chair can do as much damage as a sudden
cloudburst. The cover also protects your camcorder and tapes from
prolonged, intense sunlight.
Production’s a Beach
Beach productions present four challenges. The first is water; second is sand; third, salty
sea breezes and mist; fourth, intense heat and sunlight.
To protect your camcorder
from water and sand, it must be completely covered. Salt water
and sand are highly corrosive and can be very harmful to your
equipment. The garbage-bag solution isn’t a good one for the beach
because sand has a way of entering through folds in the plastic.
Once inside, sand can etch surfaces and sift into delicate components.
Professional covers like video rain capes are highly recommended.
It’s also vital to cover
the lens. Don’t take your camcorder to the beach without a UV
filter. Not only does it improve video quality by filtering out
UV rays, it will protect the lens from sand and salt etches and
scratches. It’s much cheaper to replace a filter than a lens.
At the beach, a filter is absolutely mandatory.
A huge variety of filters
are available for every imaginable lighting condition and different
optical effects. See “Lens Filters: Quick and Easy Ways to
Spice Up Your Videos,” in Videomaker‘s June issue
to find the right ones for your specifications.
Another problem at the beach
is the wind. To capture clean audio, your microphone will need
to be covered with a windscreen. Windscreens can be found in foam,
flannel, or acrylic fur. Most are designed to slip right over
the microphone and are relatively inexpensive. Be sure the screen
you select is designed for outdoors, not just to reduce minor
sounds of a speaker’s breathing or popping consonants. Markertek
and Location Sound offer a variety of sizes and styles of windscreens,
ranging from $6 to $38 each.
As mentioned earlier, it
may be wise to keep your distance from the waves and zoom in.
At the beach, you have to worry not only about splashing, but
surprises from Mother Nature like unexpectedly large waves. Before
approaching the shoreline, spend 10-15 minutes watching the ocean.
Waves have a rhythm and often a predictable pattern. Every seventh
wave, for example, may be huge. As you approach the shoreline,
notice how far the biggest waves washed up on the sand. Obviously,
you’ll want to set up behind that point even if the waves currently
lapping the shore are further back.
Before your production, check
the tide table. A film crew shooting in Santa Cruz recently placed
a dolly track close to the ocean. In the 45 minutes or so that
it took to prepare the shot, the tide steadily moved in. The crew
lost an hour frantically rescuing the track and moving it to higher
If you’re shooting in a tide
pool area, you need to beware of spouts and blow holes. You can
be shooting anemones in a tide pool from a dry rock and still
become the victim of an unexpected saltwater shower as the waves
surge into the rocks and send a geyser of sea water up through
a hole or cavern nearby.
Finally, respect the ocean
at all times. Every year freak waves or incoming tides sweep people
to their death. For your own safety as well as the safety of your
gear, don’t turn your back on the ocean. Better yet, have a production
assistant whose job is to watch the waves.
After any beach production,
do a routine maintenance check and clean the heads.
Under the Sea
Underwater shooting isn’t
just for the crew from National Geographic. Quality underwater
gear is available in a wide range of prices, making it possible
for just about anyone intrigued by the deep to capture some impressive
First, check with the manufacturer
of your camcorder to find out if it can be submerged to the depth
your shoot requires. Ewa Marine makes a video housing for depths
up to 30 feet for $397. More sophisticated housings start around
$1000. They are available from Ewa Marine, Amphibico and UnderSea
Video Housings. Some camcorder manufacturers (Sharp, Sony and
JVC) also make underwater housings for their camcorders. When
searching for the right one for your needs, get answers to the
- Compatibility: Does this unit work with your specific camcorder brand and model?
- Ease of installation: How difficult is it to install your camcorder in the housing?
- Ease of use: Are the controls easy to access and use? Do they allow you to perform all the functions you require?
- Visibility: Does the unit offer increased color saturation and definition for better visibility? Does it correct refraction?
- Construction: Is the housing rugged enough for your purposes? How is the housing sealed?
- Depth: Is the unit guaranteed to the depths required for your production?
- Buoyancy: Does the housing approach neutral buoyancy. Are weights required?
- Peripherals: Does it have the capability to accommodate the peripherals you’ll need, such as lights or video line out?
Once you’ve taken the plunge
and purchased a housing, take a plunge into the deep–with the
housing empty. That way, you can make sure it’s watertight at
the depths you’ll be taking your camcorder. Some underwater gear
is also available for rent.
Dust on the Filter
Dust is not only very damaging
to your camcorder; it’s insidious. Be prepared for dust, not only
in the obvious places, but in the form of chalk dust in classrooms,
cement dust and sawdust at construction sites, flour dust in a
kitchen, residue from a smoky room, and so on.
To protect your lens, keep
a filter on it at all times. Stand as far from the action as is
practical and zoom in. Protect your camcorder from the worst of
the dust with a cover. During production, you can clean the filter
with a can of compressed air. Don’t wipe dust from the filter
and risk scratching it with the grit. After the production, carefully
wipe down your camcorder as soon as possible in a clean, dust-free
location. Clean all surfaces with a lint-free cloth or a blast
of compressed air. Check and remove all dust from openings and
compartments, and, if you were shooting for more than an hour,
clean the heads. Find out how to do this in “Clean Up Your
Video Act” in Videomaker‘s August issue.
The main problem stemming
from a hot, humid location is condensation. Like drops that bead
a cold mint julep on a hot summer’s day, moisture can collect
inside your camcorder. Dampness is disastrous for delicate electronic
components. Many camcorders have a dew sensor that recognizes
the presence of condensation and shuts down all functions until
the moisture evaporates. Moisture causes tapes to stick and can
result in the growth of fungus inside your lens.
To avoid condensation problems,
do two things. First, pack moisture absorbing silica gel or another
drying-agent product whenever you travel to a humid location.
These products absorb moisture so your camcorder won’t. Most are
reusable. When the drying agents become damp themselves, simply
dry them in an oven set on low heat. A good rule of thumb is to
purchase one ounce for every cubic foot of sealed container.
The second line of defense
against condensation is to allow your camcorder to gradually warm
to the temperature of the location. Whether you’re taking your
camcorder from an air-conditioned car to a Vietnamese jungle or
from an air-conditioned hotel room to a humid indoor swimming
area, allow about 30 minutes for the camcorder to acclimatize
Condensation can also occur
when bringing your camera into a warm room from a cold location.
Cover your camcorder with a vinyl or plastic cover for an hour
when you come in from the cold. The cover will keep the moist
air out while the camcorder warms.
A general rule of thumb is
to use your camcorder only when it has reached the ambient temperature
of the location. You should also avoid overheating your camcorder
by transporting it in the trunk of a car or by setting it up without
An avid skier, I’ve frequently
witnessed people learning this disappointing lesson the hard way:
in freezing temperatures, even fresh camcorder batteries have
a short life. When the temperature hits 32 degrees, both nicad
and lead-acid cells can lose 50% of their battery life or simply
quit working all together.
Avoid this problem by keeping
the batteries warm. Carry them inside your jacket, next to your
body if possible, or wrap them in flannel or wool. Don’t put a
battery on the camcorder until you’re ready to start shooting.
Another common mistake is setting the camcorder on the frozen
ground while removing gloves or otherwise preparing to shoot.
This not only leads to moisture accumulating in the camcorder;
it chills the battery very quickly, shortening its life. It’s
also a good idea to put batteries in a waterproof Ziploc bag at
all times. There’s always that out-of-control skier behind you
or that melting snow in the branches above.
At high mountain elevations,
there’s more UV light in the atmosphere, which can make your video
appear blue or very washed out. Use a UV filter–a good idea,
anyway, to protect your lens–and avoid wide shots. Close ups
and medium shots mean less atmosphere between the subject and
the camcorder and the effects of the UV light will be diminished.
Finally, plan ahead how you’ll
manage your gear in snowy terrain. I carry my camcorder in an
insulated front pack when I ski. This allows freedom of movement,
keeps the camcorder warm, and doesn’t interfere with riding the
chair lift as a backpack or shoulder bag could.
Predicting the Weather
You can’t predict the weather–or
can you? A cool service every production manager should have is
Metro Weather. This 24-hour service will, for a fee, give you
live, up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and climate data for
your specific location. If the sky looks threatening, you can
call and find out if rain will hit before you get your next shot.
They’ll check the satellite and let you know when and where those
clouds will burst. Call 800-488-7866 for more information.
You can also check your local
phone listings and the Internet for frequently updated automated
Some of the most satisfying
video you’ll ever get will be in unexpected places. Plan for the
unexpected and the whole world can be your location.
Janis Lonnquist is an award-winning
writer/producer with credits in video, television, and film.
[Sidebar] Weather Protection Gear – Manufacturers and Suppliers
9563 Cote de Liesse
Dorval, Quebec, Canada H9P 1A3
- Location Sound Corp.
10639 Riverside Dr.
North Hollywood, CA 91602
- Cambridge Camera Exchange
119 W. 17th St.
New York, NY 10011
310 S. Racine Ave.
Chicago, IL 60607
50 W. 33rd St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
4 High St.
Saugerties, NY 12477
North Bennington, VT 05257
- Photomart Cine-Video
6327 S. Orange Ave.
Orlando, FL 32809
- The Saunders Group
Ewa Marine brand
21 Jet View Dr.
Rochester, NY 14624
4783 Ruffner St.
San Diego, CA 92111
- UnderSea Video Housings
9560 South Canyon St.
Orangevale, CA 95662
This list is only a sampling and is not intended to be comprehensive.