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Issue 9 (May/Jun 1999): Visual Eyes

column photography cameras

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#1 Mike Woeller

Mike Woeller


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Posted 01 June 1999 - 04:00 AM

Now that the kiting season is underway, and summer is approaching, people are meandering their way down to that kite heaven known as the beach. They're also going out to their favorite windy field, baseball diamond, sandlot, or what have you. This is also the time I see many, many, MANY broken cameras brought in for repairs. It's seldom done intentionally, but cameras take a lot of abuse, especially where the wind is concerned. It always kills me to have to tell people that the camera they just paid $300 for (or in many cases more) now has to go away for 6-8 weeks and needs a $200 repair*. So, I thought I would take this month to spare all my kiting friends from having to go through camera withdrawal (at least I know I go through it).

Wind, Wind, And More Wind

Yes, that very element we all love for kite flying can be bad for a camera. How, you may ask? Well, it's not really the wind itself, but it's what it can carry, which is dirt and sand. These are the Number One killers of cameras that just seem to "stop working." Your best bet for avoiding sand and dirt damage is to keep your camera in a good nylon bag when you aren't actually shooting. Also be sure to keep a cleaning cloth and blower brush handy and use them frequently. When taking pictures, whenever possible, place your back to the wind, forming a shadow of dead air in front of you. Power up the camera in front of you, near your body for maximum lens protection and be sure to turn it off down there, too. If you're using an SLR camera, you also want to have a UV or 1A filter on the front of your lens. This protects the lens without affecting your pictures negatively. Trust me, it is a lot easier on the heart and wallet to replace a $15-$30 filter than a $150+ (sometimes lots of +'s) lens. SLR users must also be careful switching lenses. Find the most wind protected place you can, like the sound tent or your car trunk, and be sure the area you switch in is as clean as it can be.


Another leading cause of damage to a camera is the Fall of Death. Simply put, dropping will kill all but the hardiest of cameras. And it only has to happen once. Your camera may appear to function normally after a fall, but inside there may be damage to the shutter, lens element, or a simple misalignment, which all result in lost pictures. So how do you prevent the Fall of Death? It's really simple. Almost all cameras come with a strap. Wear your camera suspended from your neck, and near your sternum (mid chest). This is the most secure place on the human body because it is the least likely place to fall off. Hanging your camera over your shoulder is a bad idea because the camera can slip, and when you walk, the camera will swing around and bang into things. It's also a good idea to remove the camera --and put it inside the protective bag--when assembling kites.

Cameras Cannot Swim

One thing that really amazed me was the day someone brought a camera in to be fixed and it was full of water when I opened it. Then I thought about the buggiers I have seen taking cameras to the water, either the shoreline or the buggy boats. Unless your camera is specially designed, it is not waterproof. My boss jokes, "Any camera is an underwater camera.....once, and don't try to develop the pictures." So just be careful when dealing with a shoreline, especially an ocean. Never go into the water with your camera, unless it is specifically designed for it. If you want to take pictures of buggy boats in action, I recommend using a nice SLR with a LONG zoom lens, or a waterproof camera. Special Note: "All weather" does not constitute waterproof.

"But, Mike, You Take All The Fun Away..."

By writing this article, I do not suggest that everyone should leave their cameras home when going to kite events. Please, continue to take lots of pictures, and show them to me, too. I love that. I just hate seeing people without their camera because of something preventable. So what else can you do to make your camera safe? The first thing to do is to talk to your local camera dealers. Ask if they offer accident protection plans to cover mishaps like those mentioned above. Check your homeowners insurance; sometimes they cover valuables like cameras (kites, too). And above all else, keep your camera clean. This last one is extremely important, as dirt can linger and cause malfunctions long after your event is over.

Anything Else?

Some other tips for kite photography fun:
  • Keep LOTS of film handy, especially when traveling to a high tourist area. ("You want HOW much for that roll of film?")
  • Keep at least one, if not two or three, spare changes of batteries in your bag.
  • Always have a notepad and pencil in your bag for taking down names and addresses of your subjects. Treat them to a print if the shot is good.
  • Stow your instruction manual for your camera (if you still have it) in your bag.
  • Always look for "THE" shot...it's fun.
  • Always be safe and conscious of others. Avoiding conflict is the best way for stress free shooting.

Mike Woeller

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