|Getting Ready For Spring
by Gary W. Stanley
Over the past six months or so, you've probably heard terms like, Cabin Fever, Spring Fever, Mud Season and several other expressions associated with the winter doldrums. You know what I'm talking about: that overwhelming desire to get outside once again and enjoy the fresh, warm springtime air, without having to wear fifty pounds of winter clothing.
One of my favorite expressions relating to the seasonal changes that we all experience goes like this: "Fall is nature's adrenalin to help you get through winter, and spring is the reward for making it."
While some of us certainly don't mind winter, many of us don't shoot as much during winter months. For that reason, I've put together an article centered on "Getting Ready for Spring," showing you how to get yourself ready both mentally and physically, and how to make sure your equipment is ready as well.
Springtime can be one of the most special times of the year to capture photographically. Its fresh beauty rivals fall here in New England.
Our eyes and senses are once again filled with an overabundance of subject matter from which to choose. "Should I photograph close-ups of flowers, animals with their young, or landscapes and nature?" Where do I start? Well, I have a suggestion:
Equipment Maintenance: Drag your camera bag out of the closet, and get your tripod out while you are at it. First your tripod: Check and make sure all the nuts and bolts are snug, that the legs and leg locks all work properly. Wipe them clean with a clean slightly damp cloth to remove any dirt. Now check the head to make sure it is working properly. Wipe it off in the same manner. Avoid using any lubricants, as most manufacturers don't recommend it.
Now let's look in your camera bag. Get rid of any junk that doesn't belong in there, like candy wrappers, used lens cleaning tissue, old batteries that you no longer remember if they are good or not. Good, now your lenses: Using 'canned air' or a 'Hurricane' blower, blow off all dust on the surface of both front and rear elements. Make sure if you are using the canned air that the can is held upright at all times when using it. Don't shake it either. You're trying to avoid any of the propellants from getting on the surface of your lenses, and keeping an easy cleaning job from becoming a nightmare.
Here is an important rule: If the lens appears clean and you don't see any smudges, leave it alone. Unless something other than a little dust has gotten on the lens, don't do anything more than blow off the dust. The liquid stuff on the market designed to clean your optics, usually makes things worse. They smear and leave streaks and more. Invest in the soft lens cleaning cloths on the market and use those only when you have to. I rarely do any more than that. The simple solution to keeping lenses clean and unscratched is, don't get them dirty!
If I do get fingerprints or the like on a lens element, I blow off any dust first, then fog the lens using my breath, and wipe it clean with a lens tissue or lens cleaning cloth. I know that someone will write back telling me that breathing on your lens is not good, but, other than doing this when I first wake up in the morning, I've never noticed any biological side effect from doing so.
Now, let's take a look at your camera. Hopefully, if you have not used your camera in the last six months, you removed your batteries from the camera when you stored it. If not, you're probably are okay. But batteries have been known to leak, allowing acid to ruin your electrical system. I've seen this happen a lot in flash units, usually because we don't pay as much attention to them as we do our camera. A quick fix for most any electrical contact point that has a modest amount of corrosion is to use an eraser, and that's okay for minor surface areas.
My favorite trick is to use ammonia! Yes you heard right. Just dip a Q-tip into a little ammonia and swab out the battery compartment, cleaning all the surface contact areas. If there is a fair amount of corrosion, I'll be more generous with the ammonia, and then quickly dry the area with canned air. Watch that you don't get any ammonia in your eyes, and avoid breathing in the fumes (that should take care of the law suits). Using this method, I have fixed everything from cameras, flashes, and even my daughter's electronic keyboard. Fresh batteries replaced often, should keep you from having to do any of this.
Use your hand blower to clean any dust from around the body of your camera. Then perhaps a soft cloth to wipe down the body. Be very careful around the opening where your lens mounts to the camera, especially if you use canned air. The mirror inside is prone to scratching and is very delicate. If your mirror is dirty, let a service tech clean it for you. Also use caution when you dust the camera's film holding area. Be very careful around the shutter curtain, it only takes one slip to put your finger through it.
Also be aware that the contacts or pins around the outside of the lens mount of an automatic or auto-focus camera, can also be affected by corrosion. Remember, they transfer information from the lens to the camera and back. I have cleaned these contacts using ammonia as well. Keep in mind however, that if you have electronic problems with your camera, and it is under warranty, think it through before performing any service that might void your warranty. It may be far less expensive to have a service technician clean your camera and lenses once a year.
People Maintenance: How do we get the dust and cobwebs off of us? When I find myself cooped up in my office for weeks on end without any photographic stimuli, I know that it takes a while before both my creative juices, and my mechanical skills return to normal. "Gary, you mean you're not out photographing every day?" My one word response is: "Dream." I wish I could tell you all that being a professional photographer means being in the field more than in the office, but it just isn't so. When I'm between tours and lectures, I have to spend all my time in front of the computer. As a result, I, just like you, need a fresh set of "mental" batteries before I head out.
Many times I actually review my own articles, like Back to Basics, and Fine Tuning Your Photographs, with tips on composition, lighting, lens selection, and so forth that help to serve as a refresher course for me. You may want to do the same, as these articles are archived here in the pages of Vivid Light Photography. I'm sure too, that you probably have a library of photographic books that you can review as well. Great how-to books by John Shaw are among my collection. This type of mental stimulation will get your mind thinking again about the photographic process.
Once you've mastered the various mechanical and mental techniques necessary to consistently get the kind of photographs you desire, it won't take but a good morning shoot to get back on track with those shooting skills you've acquired.
So, let's dust of that equipment, put on that photographic thinking cap, and get out there and enjoy photographing in that fresh spring air.