Dodging Dust on Safari! A Guide to Keeping Your Photography Gear Safe in Dusty Environments

When getting ready for our first safari trip, we were repeatedly warned to be prepared for lots of dust. Although we knew to expect it, we were still impressed by the amount of dust that made its way into our safari vehicle each day, pouring in through the pop up top and windows. In spite of our best efforts, it was a constant companion in our vehicle. In Tanzania, the dust is very fine, and makes its way onto everything. Thankfully, taking a few steps to protect our camera gear kept it safe. 

Focusing and zooming draw air into your lenses, presenting an opportunity for dust to work its way inside. This is especially true for lenses with a moving front lens element, like a Nikon 200-500 F/5.6 or a Canon 100-400 F4.5-5.6. Most of the time the issue will not be noticeable in your photos, however it may have an effect over time as more and more dust accumulates. On your camera, dust can cause irritating effects if it settles on your sensor, creating dark spots in your images. It can also work its way into the mirror box of a DSLR, which can be distracting. 

A lioness chases a wildebeest through a thick cloud of dust.

If you work outside, some dust in your lenses or in your DSLR’s viewfinder is inevitable. If you are in a dusty environment, a few tools can be useful for keeping dust off of your gear:

  • A rocket blower can be used to push dust off of cameras and lenses throughout the day
  • A lens brush can be used to wipe dust off of the front lens element throughout the day
  • A small cloth can be used to regularly wipe any dust that settles on the extended part of any zoom lens, so that dust is not retracted into the inside of the lens. 
  • A piece of cloth (such as a pillowcase) can be used to wrap around any gear not in use, so it does not get dusty while stored
  • Be prepared to roll the windows up when a car passes by
  • Thoroughly cleaning the body and lenses with moist towelettes at the end of each day should be sufficient to get the remaining grime off so it does not settle in
  • When in a humid environment, or if using something moist to clean equipment, you can store your equipment with silica gel packets overnight to ensure that the moisture is wicked away. 

When cleaning your equipment, be very careful not to touch anything fragile, such as your camera sensor. Keeping your gear clean throughout the day should keep dust at bay so everything continues to look and function as expected.