Dry Dock Testing for Your Digital Camera

One of the most frustrating experiences you can have when you arrive at your destination is not understanding how your camera works or not having all the parts you need to make it work. I hope the following information will help you avoid that experience. Most of this is common sense but we all get in a big rush to go on vacation forgetting the little things that we all need to pay attention to. Don’t get stuck spending your vacation time trying to figure out how to get your pictures to come out better or how to make the equipment fit together and function. By following the suggestions below you should be better prepared than most and ready to take great pictures.

1. Set aside time to read…read, and re-read your camera manual. Get to know your camera and its functions so you can operate it in the dark.
2. Write down important notes that will cover the features you think you’ll be using the most underwater, such as: the best mode settings, color balance, file sizes and flash settings. Remember that your camera has a lot of built-in functions that you probably won’t use. The phrase, “Keep it simple” applies to this process. And performing complicated operations underwater while you are somewhat under the mental nitrogen fog can be even more complicated.
3. You must practice…practice…practice. Make sure you know how to load the camera into the underwater case, install fresh batteries and media cards, clean O-rings and know other functions needed to operate while in the dark. You should be familiar with the assembly and function of your accessories like the camera tray, strobe arms and strobe sync connectors.
4. There is something to this suggestion of working in the dark. You can simulate the underwater experience by testing your camera and flash system in your home during the evening where you can lower the light levels to equate the underwater environment. With your pen in hand and a tablet of paper to record your operations, you can begin to use your camera and discover what operations work best for you and which settings provide the best pictures. Aperture at f8 for best depth of focus is a good start for close-up work in the range of 3 inches to 18 inches. Use the manual mode setting on the camera for the close-up work. Set the Shutter speed to 1/125th to help reduce any ambient light that might effect the exposure.
5. Set up some test objects on a table and take pictures of them at different distances. Start at close–up range (as close as your camera will focus) and work out around 4 to 5 feet away, which are the usual working distances underwater. Test your auto focus at very low ambient light. Most small digital cameras do not have manual focus but if they do, it is a problem to use it effectively. Nighttime photography will require an external focusing light. This will also help during the daytime when subjects are in caves or under ledges where the available light is too low for the camera to focus. Turn all the lights off and use one low wattage bulb as far across the room as possible to see if your camera will auto-focus on the subject under low light conditions. Test your external strobe and record notes about the correct exposure for different distances. (Your test subjects should have a wide range of colors and brightness, full black to solid white). The more you test on land now the easier it will be to operate your camera underwater later provided you re-read your notes on the plane.
6. Make a travel checklist of all the items you’ll need for your photography.

a. Camera: Media cards with enough storage to retain 200 images at full resolution. Remember to take your instruction book with you.
b. Batteries: all sizes that your equipment requires and spare batteries and chargers to match with foreign plug adapters. Make sure your charger will operate on both 110 and 200 voltages.
c. Housing: Spare main O-rings and the correct lube for them (using the wrong kind of O-ring lube could damage the O-ring resulting in a flooded camera). Dry silicone dehydrator to prevent your housing from fogging up on the dive, and lint free drying cloth and lens cleaning cloth.
d. Strobe: If you are using an external strobe make sure you have the correct batteries, sync cables, strobe arm, attachments and trays and handles for your system. One short extension cord, 12 inches long, with 3 multiple outlets incase you run into only one electrical outlet and you need to charge all your equipment at once.
e. A travel case with enough room for all your equipment but not too large so you can’t fit in the passenger area as a carry-on. Some short local flights will not allow very large carry-on bags.
f. Additional lenses: Macro or wide angle and some way to store them underwater when you are not using them.
g. Name labels on all cameras, housings and assembly, and chargers so your equipment doesn’t get mixed up with someone else’s.
h. Your passport plus a copy of your passport. A list of all your cameras and lenses, etc. with serial numbers for customs documentation.
i. A laptop computer or portable storage hard drive that will allow you to back up media cards on location and chargers or spare batteries for these units.

7. Take extra time to do this entire list and prepare your equipment in advance and then enjoy your trip.
8. When you return from your trip thoroughly clean and properly store all your equipment in a dry case or storage area.
9. Enjoy all of your fine images.

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