Sometimes the most useful photographic tool is a simple cloth.
The most recent geo-magnetic storms forecast by spaceweather.com had photographers across the northern US eager to capture an aurora that, sadly, failed to materialize for most on August 4th.
As I sat beside the Kettle River in north-eastern Minnesota awaiting the Northern Lights, I spent my time capturing less-exciting images. The image above was taken as the night grew deeper. The Milky Way Galaxy core shoots into the sky like geyser over the grove of pines. A distant town provides the glow for the horizon and the reflection in the water.
One of the problems with shooting at a body of warm water at night-particularly in late summer or early fall is condensation. The temperature drops, mist forms, and condensation builds on surfaces like tripods, camera bodies, and, oh yes, the glass lens elements. It is easy in the excitement of the shooting (or uneventful waiting for missing-in-action aurora) to forget to police the front of your glass.
The image at the article’s beginning was taken just after 10:00 PM. What is interesting to me, is the image taken (shown at left) at 12:00:17, shows no condensation. The rather foggy image above, taken at 12:04:05, just four minutes later shows a heavy layer of moisture on the surface of the lens. Condensation can happen very quickly. The proximity to water, the still night air, and the rapid crossing of a temperature threshold all combined to make this happen. Any glass or metal surface instantly became coated with a lovely moist diffuser. Image quality suffers as well as your gear. Too much condensation can be detrimental to lens interiors and camera electronics.
To the rescue-the lowly rag. I keep a lint-free cloth in my camera vest as well as a microfiber lens cloth. A quick wipe down with the cloth and a cleaning of the lens and I was back in business. Fortunately for me, I was checking my preview on the camera’s LCD that night or I might not have noticed. After all, it was very dark. For the next thirty minutes or so, until conditions stabilized, frequent lens cleanings were necessary. The fish-eye lens was particularly susceptible.
We are cognizant of condensation in Winter shooting and sometimes consider it in Summer when air conditioning is involved. It is on our minds after a rain storm too. We seldom think of it on a shirt-sleeve night in dry August. We should.
Be prepared for Nature’s conditions.
Rikk Flohr © 2010