In response to an e-mail I received, I put together this little document on Keeping Your Camera Gear Clean at Burning Man, Black Rock City, NV.  The question was in reference to the Canon 5D Mark II but these tips apply to any camera or photographer wishing to capture excellent images with as little stress about gear as possible.  Questions?  Ask below.  Thanks for reading.

The 5D Mark II is awesome in my opinion.  Fantastic gear, worth taking to the playa and worth taking care of.  In 2009, I took my 5D Mark II to Burning Man while my wife took her 5D.  Both performed spectacularly.

Black Rock City, NV

dust dust everywhere ...

Firstly, I tell everyone, do not take anything to the playa that you can not afford to lose or have trashed.  This goes for technical gear as well as camping gear and your vehicle.  Burning Man ruins everything.  That said, I have been 10 out of the last 11 years and haven’t had any horrible issues.  The playa will get into everything, assume that, and take precautions to minimize any damage that may occur.  If you have one camera body and, say, a wedding booked for when you come home from Burning Man, maybe taking a different camera to the playa would be a good idea.  Buy a cheap one instead of risking a couple thousand dollars and jeopardizing your future client shoots.

My Burning Man Photography Style goes something like this..

#1 Pelican Case.  We have one for our laptop and another for our camera gear.  They are the best way to keep the playa out, as long as you keep them closed.  The playa is in the air no matter what, even when you can’t see it.  Whenever we open our cases, we do what we need and close them up fast.  We do this in our RV (or do it in your car if you can).  Tents are more playafied than closed vehicles.  These cases aren’t opened very often because of #2 and #3.

#2 Large Freezer Zip Lock Bags.  Bring a bunch.  Sized to fit your camera with your lens of choice or biggest lens.  You also want to be able to put your hand inside to pull your camera out or work your camera (#4).  Make sure they have a heavy duty zipper (not the cheap ones) and replace throughout the week as they get dirty or ripped.  I keep my camera zipped in a bag all week that is inside of a soft bag.  I do not store my camera in my Pelican Case once on the playa.  Keep it at the ready at all times.

Embracing The Storm

Embracing The Storm

#3 Choose your Lens.  The biggest problem with digital SLRs out there is when you change your lens out.  So I didn’t last year.  I stuck with my 24-105 and didn’t even put on my 70-200 even though I wanted to.  Dust can get into the lens mechanism or into the body if you switch out your lens.  If you do want to switch your lens, do it in the best, closed shelter you can and do it quickly.  I think it is best to use the lens you like the most, and adjust your shooting accordingly.  Long shots to close ups work on everything out there so change your position instead of your lens.  If you want to use different lenses, minimize your swapping.  It is also important to keep your lens clean.  Take a bottle of photographic lens cleaner and an appropriate cleaning cloth or 4.  Clean your lens regularly or you will be sorry in post production.

#4 Shoot Through the Bag.  This can be helpful.  For a couple of days last year I cut a corner out of my ziplock bag and used gaff tape to hold the lens through the hole.  My gallon bags weren’t big enough to work the way I wanted this to but it is worth a try.  Gaff tape is essential for this.  You do end up with a bit of a mess once the bag is compromised (playafied inside) and you need to make a new one.  Worth a try at home to see if you can work your controls.  Again, zip up the back when you aren’t shooting.

#5 Watch Out / Anticipate.  Watch the weather and anticipate your shots.  Dust storm images are amazing.  Find your spot, back to the wind when not shooting, gear in and out of your ziplock and your soft bag quickly.  Dust storms can also hit you unexpectedly so always carry protection and have it close at hand.

Playa Pack

Playa Pack

#6 Have Fun.  Worrying about your gear isn’t going to get you the great shots of Burning Man.  Once you decide to take your gear, assume dust storms all day for a week and go out and shoot no matter what.  The weather changes quickly and waiting at camp for the weather to change won’t have you out there when it does.  Shoot shoot shoot and enjoy.

#7 Backups and Storage.  Back up your cards to an external drive daily.  Keep your backup drive in a pelican case when not in use.  We used our laptop and downloaded cards 3 times over the course of our 10 days on the playa.

#8 Batteries, Cards and Power.  We take an RV so we have onsite electrical for recharging batteries.  Take either enough batteries and cards for the week or have a way to charge batteries and clear cards.  Charging takes time so be sure to charge whenever you are running your generator.  The 5D Mark II takes massive RAW image files.  I had a light shooting year in 2009 and still managed to shoot 40 gigs worth of images.  Don’t plan on doing any editing onsite, it only opens up your gear to the elements.

#9 Clean Your Gear.  I have to admit that I didn’t do this when I got home this year as the 5D Mark II is well sealed against dust and moisture.  The outside of the body may never get clean but the insides are still pristine due to my care and choice of shooting a single lens.  I was able to go right back into my commercial shooting on return.  I do recommend getting your camera cleaned regularly.  It makes good sense.

East Black Rock

East Black Rock

#10 Ask permission.  OK.  So this isn’t exactly about keeping your camera gear clean, but it is the most important rule for photographers at Burning Man.  Respect your subjects.  Over the years I have developed a short hand where I can quickly get acknowledgment to photograph a subject without speaking.  It is in your eyes and body language.  Do not interfere with anyone’s experience when shooting.  Stopping somebody in the middle of what they are doing to ask to photograph them should be avoided at all costs.  Learn to ask quickly with your eyes and respect the response.  If you are at all unsure, don’t take the shot.  There are many more shots out there waiting for you.  If they don’t want you to shoot them, sit and watch for a bit without shooting.  Enjoy what you are seeing and take your mental pictures before you move on.  Again, respect your subjects.

I hope this helps you take beautiful photographs in Black Rock City with as little stress about your gear as possible.

I plan to expand upon this document so please feel free to ask any additional questions below.

Happy Shooting and Best wishes.  -Hovering.

My Burning Man Images can be found by starting here:


What a week.  I have been sneaking in 3-4 hours of sleep a night for a good run now.  I can hear the inevitable crash just on my heels.  I can outrun it.

We started off with RENT on Sunday night.  A beautiful date night and a welcome break from the chaos of work and home.  We had fabulous box seats, the show was spectacular and I was hella happy Laura got the tickets months ago.  We really enjoy taking in local arts whenever possible.  It’s inspirational and a crucial element of our sanity solution.

Brother Chris flew into town Tuesday to spend some time helping with metal fabrication for our art car.  We had a 12 hour day at the shop in the blazing sun but made fantastic progress on our mutant vehicle modifications.  A big thank you to Forgewerks, Andy, Dex and a host of others who gave input and a helping hand http://cial..cialis/.  A big shout out to the City of Portland employee who gave me a jump start when I was stranded in the heat with art car and trailer in tow.

We had a couple of photo sittings and client meetings, we booked work and mailed prints, and we had post production on almost 2,000 images this week (see our Hood River Super D photos here).  We also had our first joint art opening Thursday evening.  What a great night down at Leepin Lizards for First Thursday.  Laura and I are showing prints from Burning Man 1999-Present for the months of July and August at the salon on NW 21st.  We saw lots of old friends and made many new ones.  Thank you to everyone who came down and shared a story and glass of wine.  Afterward we went to Le HAPPY with a small group of friends to celebrate.  Yum.

Daily care for a friend and late night dog walks rounded out our busy schedule this week.  Oh, and we are throwing a big shin-dig for the 4th of July so prep for that has been squeezed in between the lines.



Yes, it is official.  We are going to Burning Man.  Today is the deadline to put in Theme Camp applications and when Laura approached me this morning to ask if I wanted to go I said “Yes” without hesitation.  She said “Good, I do too.”  And so it was done.

We had been talking about going this year for a couple of months now, leaving the option open but not ready to commit just yet.  Well, give us a deadline and we can make a decision.  And we both feel really good about this decision.  Seriously.

I called my brother Chris on the off chance that he might want to join us on the playa this year.  We extend the offer each year and have been politely told “No” each time.  Until today.  A wholehearted “Yes” came out of his mouth immediately.  And it was done.

So we spent today filling out our Theme Camp application for “deBOCCEry” and acting like giddy little children.  Burning Man has been a big part of our lives and we missed going back last year.  It is where we celebrate our anniversary and where the majority of my published photos come from.  It breaks us down and fullfills us all at the same time.  It is everything and nothing to us.  And not to mention that our last year on the playa (2007) I was in a sling having just had reconstructive surgery on my collarbone.  What a trying year that was.  So once more into the flames.  This will be Laura’s 11th year at Burning Man and it will be my 10th.  For Chris it will be year 1.  How fucking exciting.

And as always, I must say, if you are thinking about going to Burning Man… don’t.

See you on the playa.

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