Dry Bags!


protecting camera equipment

Photography and water make an amazing marriage - but wet battered cameras and lenses can quickly ruin the honeymoon. A few minutes of attention before, during and after the shoot can change the game. Here camera bag, drybag, boat ropes, life jackets, all serve to protect gear.


One cursory glance at a map of the state of Louisiana and one thing should be perfectly clear – its water – canals, lakes, and bayous full of it.  As a photographer you should also know if there is one thing to fear – for your equipment – it’s water.

Somehow the water concept just didn’t sink in when I was planning this project.  I thought through a host of other issues – new computer, new software to manage workflow, edit, new updates to Photoshop, new lenses, even new external hard-drives to store the precious images (now all 7,000 plus and counting) – but what I forgot?  Dry bags!

Every trip is a learning experience, regardless how long you have been at it, and the first Gulf trip was no exception to that rule.  I completely overlooked the most obvious fact of photographing on the Gulf – there’s water everywhere!!  And where there isn’t inches or feet of water, there is mud, muck, sand, oil, and more often than not a witch’s brew of the whole mess.

During the first several weeks I spent much of my time boarding a dawn boat at the marina in Cameron, Louisiana, the guest of the Louisiana Dept of Fish & Wildlife and the young team of boat hands hired as part of the BP restoration effort – yes, occasionally some of the BP money has gone to work in a positive way.  I joined them at the first light of dawn to speed the 45 minutes up the dredged passage of the Calcasieu River into Calcasieu Lake and eventually into West Cove – a brackish stretch of inland water that remained off the charts of the invading oil coming ashore along the Gulf Coast.  This far west the surface oil never reached – no one is certain about dispersants and micro-oil – concern still rumors through the shrimp and fishing communities.


pelican survey boat

Tranquility in Calcasieu Channel was not always the rule, and even mornings that started innocently could end in a roar. The flat, exposed, metal deck of the survey boat we had to use was not the ideal place to hide from harsh conditions - however it did provide an ideal 300 degrees photography platform if you were prepared. Photo: Canon 7D; 28mm @f/5.6; 1/100sec; ISO250. (Photo by Gerry Ellis/Audubon/Minden Pictures)


Water conditions in the Channel are a daily game of roulette – most of the time they are reasonable, but every once in a while the house takes you for everything – water, wind, current, all lash the open deck of the barge-like boat – there’s no hiding.  And that means for your gear as well.

Every time I drove south from Lake Charles in the inky pre-dawn I was cursing myself for not bringing the simplest of protection – dry bags – like giant gear condoms.  Stupidest thing I could have done.  The worst part is I have half a dozen of various sizes sitting in my storage.  They have traveled all over the world with me – and from this day forward I never leave home without’em.  Mine are drybags are SEALine made by Cascade Design.


SEALine drybag

the simple design of the dry bag makes it ideal for travel and a lifetime of dependable service


For those of you unfamiliar with a dry bag it is a lovely simple cylindrical tube of rubberized material with a round flat bottom.  The top clips water-tight by, here’s the simple part, just rolling the top shut in small folds one upon another, then after a couple the plastic clip buckle is insert male into female end and presto!  The contents stay dry – completely!  I’ve literally flipped kayaks with these aboard and every piece of gear survived bone dry – unlike me.

The other beauty of the dry bag addresses the second issue on board most boats – vibration.  A sealed dry bag can trap air like a balloon, so with a bit of padding in the dry bag, an old towel, chunk of bubble-wrap or rain jacket for example, your equipment gets a bit of bumpy reprieve. Especially in rough waters the slapping of the hull can be enough to jar fillings loose.  Imagine the repeated impact on small screws in your gear, not to mention various circuitry and seals.

In addition to the dry bag use a variety of methods to try to absorb the vibration and hull slapping shock.  Of course a well padded camera bag or shock-proof, water-proof case is great, but not practical if you are also trying to work reactively.  THE best place for gear you need out is hanging on your body – your body can take a lot of bouncing around diluting the impact on the gear.

For those pieces of gear that need to be out and available, be protected, and can not be on your body, even if in a dry bag, be inventive, grab a couple extra life jackets, dock bumpers, seat cushions, boats usually have a variety of spongy objects that can service in a pinch.


flying pelicans at dawn

This image of pelicans heading to the Gulf at dawn in Calcasieu Channel was only possible because gear was safe and available as we bounced along the Channel waters. I waited morning after morning on our trips to the pelican rookery to get birds, light and condition optimal to create images like the above. Having gear accessible and undamaged was critical. Photo: Canon 7D; 250mm @f/6.3; 1/1500sec; ISO400. (Photo by Gerry Ellis/Audubon/Minden Pictures)


Two dry bags, one medium, one large, are now permanently stowed in my travel bag.

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