Cameras are expensive. Lenses are expensive.
Which means that you want to make sure you’re cleaning them when needed–and keeping them safe to begin with.
That way, you can ensure that your equipment performs well in tough conditions, consistently.
In this article, I’m going to give you some quick tips on how you can keep your camera and lenses free from dirt, dust, and more.
Then I’m going to give you step-by-step instructions for cleaning debris off your camera (because, let’s face it, it’ll happen eventually!).
Are you ready to discover how to keep your equipment in tip-top shape?
Let’s dive right in.
Table of contents
- Start With Proper Camera Care
- How to Clean Your Camera: Equipment
- How to Clean Your Camera: A Step-By-Step Guide
- What About Cleaning Your Camera Sensor?
- How to Clean My Camera: Conclusion
Start With Proper Camera Care
The best way to clean your camera…
…is to prevent it from becoming dirty in the first place.
And yes, I know how that sounds, because (as I already indicated above), of course your camera is going to get dirty eventually. Dust, dirt, and water can’t be stopped, not really.
But here’s the thing:
By taking good care of your camera, you can ensure that it only gets dirty occasionally rather than all the time.
And you can ensure that it stays in better condition for much longer.
(This will also ensure that you get a better price if you decide to sell your camera after a few years.)
So while your camera will eventually need to be cleaned, you can ensure that this happens as little as possible–simply by following a few basic tips.
Rain and Snow
Camera equipment and water (either rain or snow) don’t mix.
Rain, in particular, can be hazardous to your equipment, especially if it’s coming down hard.
Now, some cameras are weather sealed.
But not all weather sealing is created equal. And even the best weather sealing tends to fail in the worst weather conditions.
Also note that having a weather sealed camera won’t do you lots of good if your lens isn’t weather sealed, too; water can seep in through the gap between your camera and lens, or it can simply damage your lens.
So how do you prevent your camera from needing to be cleaned due to rain or snow?
Use a waterproof cover.
This fits around your camera setup and protects it from the elements (though it leaves a hole in the front for your lens, and will have openings in the side for your hands so that you can access your camera settings easily).
They’re also quite inexpensive, which means that you don’t have to spend lots of money protecting your equipment.
Are waterproof covers perfect?
No. They’re inconvenient to work with, because it’s tough to access your lens’s zoom ring or focus ring. And it can be difficult to use a waterproof cover while looking through your camera’s viewfinder (I often have to fiddle around for this to work, because the cover gets in the way, even when it’s a clear plastic).
But it’s worth the inconvenience, given the alternative.
By the way, you may find yourself traveling without a waterproof cover.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. It’s easy to create your own cover using a trash bag and some rubber bands. Simply punch a hole in the trashbag, fit your lens through the front of it, and rubber band the bag around your camera and lens.
It may not be as effective as a dedicated waterproof cover, but it’ll do a pretty good job!
Here’s another problem photographers often face:
Working in cold environments.
In particular, there’s one big problem with the cold that can force you to clean your equipment:
You see, when your camera and lens has been out in the cold, and then suddenly moves back into a warm environment, condensation will form on the front of the lens.
This is bad for a few reasons; first of all, if you’re planning on doing more photography, you won’t be able to capture a sharp image.
Moisture on your lens can linger (plus, in worst-case scenarios, it can help fungus to form).
That’s why you want to avoid condensation in the first place.
Now, there are two general times when camera gear is at risk of condensation:
First, when you’re out in the cold and you come back inside.
Here, all you have to do is put your equipment in your (tightly sealed) camera bag before you head back inside. Then let the air in the camera bag adjust to the new temperature for a few hours.
Once the process has finished, you can open up your camera bag–knowing that your equipment remained free of condensation!
By the way, it’s okay if you don’t use a camera bag. You can always use a couple of trash bags (I double them up to ensure they’re airtight) instead.
Here’s the second time your gear is at risk of condensation:
When you’re out in the cold and you put your camera setup under your coat or in a pocket.
This is easy to do, especially if you have a small camera.
But make a conscious effort to avoid it.
Because, as with the cold camera moving into the warm house or car…
…taking a cold camera under your warm coat is just a recipe for condensation.
As a photographer, I despise sand.
And if you’ve ever photographed in a sandy environment, I’m guessing that you do, too.
Sand just seems to get everywhere–and it’s very, very harmful to your equipment. It can get into the buttons of your camera and stop them from working. And it can get into the openings of your lens and wear down the mechanics.
I don’t recommend you stop shooting in sandy places, especially because beaches and deserts tend to offer some of the most dramatic, awestriking images.
So what should you do?
You have to be extremely vigilant.
When you’re in the field, you should never touch the sand.
And if one of your hands does touch the sand, then wipe it off immediately (and as thoroughly as possible).
Only then can you comfortably touch your camera/lens with that hand.
You should also never rest your camera in the sand, nor should you rest your camera bag in the sand unless you absolutely have to.
Oh, and if sand is blowing, then feel free to use a waterproof cover; it’ll save you a lot of headache (and potentially money!) later.
Then, once you’ve finished shooting in the sand, take your equipment home.
And give it a good cleaning, using the steps I outline below.
Rushing Water and Sea Spray
If you’ve ever tried to photograph a waterfall or breaking waves, then you’ll know that the water sprays everywhere.
Even if you think you’re far enough away that you’ll be able to avoid the spray, you’re probably wrong!
Now, saltwater is far more damaging to your camera gear than freshwater.
Which is why you should be extra careful when shooting by the ocean.
Regardless, I’d recommend working with a waterproof cover, same as I suggested above (in the section on rain and snow).
But I’d also suggest you take an extra step:
Cover the front of your lens with some type of protection.
For instance, you can put a plastic bag on the front of the lens.
Then, when it comes time to shoot an image, you pull the plastic bag off, take your shot, and put the plastic bag on once again.
Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a very wet front lens element, which–while not life-threatening–is going to make your images blurry.
How to Clean Your Camera: Equipment
Now that you know how to keep your camera equipment as clean as possible, it’s time to discuss what to do when your camera inevitably gets dirty.
In most cases, cleaning your camera and lens is actually pretty easy–but I do recommend you get the right equipment, so that you’re able to clean without causing any accidental damage.
It’s also important to recognize that lenses, in particular, are delicate. It’s easy to scratch a lens element if you’re not careful.
That’s why you’re going to want to get the equipment I suggest, starting with:
I love rocket blowers.
You simply squeeze a rocket blower and it blows a narrow burst of air.
Rocket blowers are very inexpensive. They’re also extremely effective–at removing dust, at removing sand, and at removing dirt.
That’s why you should always, always, always carry a rocket blower with you in your camera bag, and you should also have a rocket blower as part of your cleaning kit at home.
By the way, you may be tempted to use a can of compressed air instead of a rocket blower, but this isn’t a good idea.
First of all, compressed air is very powerful, which means that you can unintentionally damage sensitive areas of your equipment.
Secondly, compressed air tends to come with a small amount of fluid, which it’ll expel onto your camera or lens.
Here’s the bottom line:
Stick with rocket blowers!
They’ll save you every time.
Brushes are simple, they’re easy to use, and they’re a great accessory for cleaning the outside parts of your camera and lenses.
There are special camera brushes that you can use, though you can also work with a makeup brush.
I’d advise against paintbrushes, however, unless the hairs are very fine (because you want to be able to grab tiny pieces of sand and dirt before they make their way inside your equipment).
LensPens are neat little gadgets that are designed specifically to clean camera lenses.
One end contains a special fabric tip, designed to clean lens elements while leaving no marks.
The other end has a brush, which you can use to wipe away stray pieces of dust and dirt.
I love lens pens and, like everything else on this list, they’re very inexpensive. I’d recommend you keep one in your camera bag (or two, in case one gets lost!).
Lens Cleaning Solution or Lens Wipes
When it comes to cleaning your lens glass (either the front or the rear element), it’s important to be careful.
The wrong cleaning equipment will leave you with scratches or smudges. And the wrong cleaning fluid will leave you with small marks.
That’s why, if you plan to clean your lens with fluid, you should make sure that you only purchase a dedicated lens cleaning solution.
You also have the option of purchasing lens wipes, which already have the fluid applied and can be quickly disposed of once you’re done.
Microfiber cloths are designed to gently and effectively clean objects.
Which is why they’re great to have on hand when your camera gets dirty.
In fact, I keep a couple of microfiber cloths in my camera bag at all times. They’re great for getting off dirt and sand, plus they do a great job of absorbing water.
When working with microfiber cloths, however, it’s important to keep the cloths separated. If you’ve used one cloth to clean your tripod feet, don’t use the same cloth on lenses or filters, because it may scratch or wear down the glass.
If you plan to use a microfiber cloth to clean lens elements, by the way, it’s important you purchase one that’s designed to handle lenses. There’s nothing worse than trying to clean your lens and accidentally leaving marks or scratches.
Most photographers don’t think to include towels in their cleaning kit, but the truth is that a towel is invaluable if you plan to shoot in rain, snow, or sea spray.
In fact, I’d recommend keeping a towel in your camera bag all the time.
That way, when the rain starts pouring down and your camera accidentally gets wet, you can whip out the towel and dry it off–before any water damage sets in.
And if you’re shooting without a rain cover, I’d recommend you wipe your camera every few minutes to keep the water at bay.
How to Clean Your Camera: A Step-By-Step Guide
Now let’s take a look at an easy, step-by-step process for cleaning your camera and lens.
Step 1: If Your Gear Is Wet, Towel It Off
When you’ve come in with a wet camera and/or lens after shooting in the rain or snow, I recommend you start by quickly drying whatever you can.
For this, you can use a standard towel, but you can use a microfiber cloth to get in some of the more difficult crevasses.
Make sure you avoid touching any lens elements with the towel on this pass (in a moment, you’ll focus on cleaning and drying lens elements, specifically).
Step 2: Use Your Rocket Blower and Brush to Get Rid of Sand and Dirt
Here, I like to start with a rocket blower and do a thorough round of blows. Shoot some air down all the small areas where sand and dirt like to hide, and even open your battery compartment and memory card compartment to ensure they’re free of debris. You should also blow away any stray dust and sand on the front element of your lens; this will become important later!
Then go in and brush away any more difficult sand and dirt particles with a brush. Check all the seams in your lens–such as the area around the zoom ring, the focus ring, and the aperture ring (if your lens has one of those!).
By the way, I recommend you don’t turn any lens functions (such as zoom rings or focus rings) until you’ve done a good cleaning with the rocket blower and the brush. If there’s sand stuck in either of those areas, turning a ring could easily ensure that the sand goes deeper, which is what you absolutely want to avoid.
Step 3: Use the LensPen or Microfiber Cloth to Carefully Clean Your Lens Element
Personally, I’d recommend going with a LensPen here (using the small, carefully-constructed tip), but a microfiber cloth works, too.
Don’t apply any solution, but instead gently “paint” in circular motions, starting in the middle of the glass and moving outward.
If you use a microfiber cloth, use the same circular motion to clean away any dirt or debris (at this point, there shouldn’t be any sand!).
I recommend checking both your front element and rear lens element to make sure they’re clean, because both can accumulate dirt!
Step 4: Use a Cleaning Solution (With Lens Wipes or a Special Microfiber Cloth)
Here’s the final step in cleaning your camera:
Using a cleaning solution plus a special microfiber cloth (i.e., one made for lenses) to clean difficult debris or stains from the lens.
Note that this step is optional, and you should only proceed if you’ve noticed some areas of the lens glass that need to go, but haven’t responded to the techniques described above.
So here’s what you do:
Get a cleaning solution made for lenses, and a microfiber cloth made for lenses.
Apply a small amount of cleaning solution to the cloth–to the cloth, not to the lens itself!–and use circular motions on the lens, starting from the inside and moving out.
Alternatively, you can work with specially-made lens wipes, which will have fluid pre-applied.
By the way, if you’re ever cleaning your lens elements and you start to feel like something is wrong–if they feel gritty, or you’re leaving stains that you can’t seem to get rid of–then stop what you’re doing immediately. Take your lens to a camera repair store, where they deal with these sorts of problems all the time, because it’s not worth endangering your lenses just to get the cleaning done quickly and cheaply.
What About Cleaning Your Camera Sensor?
The camera sensor sits inside your camera–but dust can still creep in from the outside environment.
Oftentimes, the dust isn’t noticeable, especially if you shoot at a wide aperture.
But you will start to see some dust spots in your images if you use a narrow aperture and shoot against bright backgrounds, such as the sky.
If this happens, don’t panic! Dust spots are very easily removed in a program such as Adobe Lightroom, so your images won’t be at all compromised.
And plenty of photographers, including professionals, let their dust spots sit on the camera sensor for years without doing any cleaning at all.
You may eventually want to clean your sensor.
Unfortunately, camera sensors are extremely delicate and also very costly to replace, which is why I recommend you don’t do this yourself (unless you happen to be a trained camera technician, of course, in which case be my guest).
Getting a professional sensor clean doesn’t cost a ton, and it’s a lot safer than trying to do the sensor cleaning on your own.
How to Clean My Camera: Conclusion
As I explained above, the best way to clean your camera is to keep it from getting dirty in the first place.
But if you have to clean it (and you will have to), there are some special techniques and accessories you can use to keep your camera looking brand new.
So make sure you grab a rocket blower, a LensPen, and remember the techniques I shared.
That depends! It’s safe to take your camera out in the rain as long as you take proper precautions. First, even if your camera is weather-sealed, you’ll want to use a rain cover of some sort. This could be a specially-made waterproof cover that fits over cameras, or it could be a makeshift rain shield such as a trash bag. Second, make sure that you take a towel, and as soon as your camera (or lens) gets wet, dry it off.
Before you take your camera out for a long shoot in the rain, I would recommend checking to make sure your rain cover can actually do the job. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a session with a soaking wet camera and lens. And even very good rain covers will struggle if the rain starts pouring down hard.
If you get sand on your camera or lens, I recommend you wipe away whatever you can with a soft brush. You should be careful with using a rocket blower, because it can force the sand grains deeper into your equipment (which is not at all good!). I often go over all the crevices in my camera with small paper fragments or the edge of a playing card to ensure that no sand is left over.
When it comes to sand in a lens zoom ring or focus ring, however, there’s not much that can be done aside from sending it in for a professional clean. In fact, if you do hear or feel sand inside your lens, I’d recommend you stop using it immediately and send it in for professional cleaning; it’s very easy for the sand to break down and cause issues to your lens’s internal technology.
Some photographers clean their own camera sensors. However, I don’t recommend it; camera sensors are delicate, and one wrong move can leave you with a useless camera. That’s why I’d suggest you send your camera to a professional for cleaning–this won’t cost much, but it’ll save you a whole lot of potential frustration. By the way, the main reason you’ll want to get your sensor cleaned is due to dust. But bear in mind that a bit of sensor dust isn’t a big deal; it’s easy to remove in post-processing and won’t impact image quality in the slightest.
To clean your camera, I recommend always having a rocket blower, a LensPen, a towel, and lens wipes (or lens cleaning solution plus a special microfiber cloth). It’s important to be careful when cleaning, however, because it’s easy to scratch important areas (such as a lens element). So make sure that you always approach your equipment gently and use nothing but the suggested cleaning materials.
Snow is actually a lot easier to manage than rain or sand, but I still recommend you take precautions when taking your camera out into falling snow. If the snow is light, then you can simply brush it off with your hand as it accumulates on your camera (but be careful not to let it build up, or you might end up with water getting in unwanted areas). In heavy snow, you’ll want to use a waterproof cover of some sort–I use a standard rain cover for this, but I’ve also gotten away with a makeshift cover out of a bagel bag, so there’s no need to spend lots of money. Then, once you’ve finished shooting, give your camera a thorough clean with a rocket blower, a brush, and then a towel. Finally, put your camera in its bag before bringing it into a warm area (this is to prevent condensation), and let it acclimate to the air for at least an hour or two.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.
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