NOTE: I keep thinking of things while I’m in this cleaning process, so I will continue to add info, photos, and embellish. Check back if you are interested in this BIG CAMERA CLEANING

I consider myself a Professional Packer, since I seem to do it all the time. Packing and unpacking. In previous blog posts I have discussed what gear I take on international trips and how I pack all my photographic equipment (and I have my equipment list on my website). Now I’m home after two months of travel and I have to unpack it all (while thinking of two upcoming trips). I hate unpacking, really hate it.

First I throw everything out of the suitcases onto my living room floor and begin dividing it into laundry, photo equipment, gifts and personal purchases, toiletries, and “other stuff”. It takes days for my living room to look normal. I returned this recent Monday night and it is now Thursday and the floor is still covered with stuff; I would rather write a blog post. And, hey there is lots to do (she says with emphasis) — copious emails to respond it, mail to read, movies to watch, and friends to see. Plenty of reasons to procrastinate these chores. Eventually I will see my living room floor again, probably by tomorrow.

The last thing involved in the Great Unpacking is the most important and the most time consuming the The Big Camera Cleaning: cleaning, examining and organizing my camera and computer equipment.

Note: It is now Saturday and I’m getting ready….


First: (and this happens first thing the day I get home) I download my images from my portable hard drives into my Drobo and Backup drive located in The Grayroom, my editing office (just some of the walls are painted 18% gray).

Second: I unload everything from my camera bags and line up the lenses, filters, cameras, flashes, etc. on a table to be cleaned (more on this in a bit). I check all the camera bag pockets and make sure nothing is inside. I then put the camera bags in the washing machine on the gentle cycle. Yep, I wash them with Woolite or Ivory Snow – as well as the tripod bag, camera straps, lens cloths, and anything else that can be washed. I have never ruined a camera bag in the washing machine yet, but I do pay attention during the spin. I air dry the bags. I then scrub out my Pelican hard case, in the bathtub, which holds my extra gear.

Note on using a washing machine: Obviously, this is at your own risk. I have never destroyed a bag but I take off all the straps and am careful about how I place it in the washing machine (I have a top loader). I first run the water and then turn off the washer, by hand I push it up and down to clean out the insides, then on Gentle Cycle I run the machine. I pay attention to when the Spin begins and only let it go for a minute or put it on low spin. Then I put the bag(s) out in the New Mexico sun to dry or let it dry for a couple of days inside.

Third: I check all my accessories (wires, chargers, batteries, etc.)  and make a list of anything that needs to be replenished, replaced, or fixed and then put them back in my much battered, yet clean, Pelican case — ready for the next trip.

Fourth: I throughly clean all my lenses, cameras, filters, flashes, and absolutely anything that needs to be cleaned. And, this includes cleaning the sensors with Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly if necessary.

Sunday Dec 13th: My world is getting more organized:

I wipe them with damp cloths, use q-tips in the buttons, and examine them to see if any dust is inside the lenses. I clean all filters and check for scratches. I clean the sensors. This time I will probably send my cameras off to CPS (Canon Pro Services) to be cleaned and checked since I used these cameras in tough elemental conditions and they took a few knocks; I usually have my cameras and some lenses checked every year. I don’t just use my cameras; I abuse them. I clean everything. I watch TV or a movie while I do this; and I do it during the day so I can examine everything in strong sunlight.

After all the cameras and lenses are clean I check the mirrors, focusing screens, and sensors of each camera. I use Visible Dust products. I check them with first with a loupe and then use a full sensor Arctic Brush if necessary. I don’t use swabs unless absolutely necessary (this is rare). I have a separate brush for cleaning the focusing screen.

Sunday Dec 13th Note: I put double-sided Scotch tape on the inside of all the back-caps of my lenses to help catch dust before the lens is inserted inside the camera. During this cleanup I take off the tape (and it does catch a lot of dust; I change my lenses often in the field), and put all the lens caps (front & back), strobe diffusers, etc. in a warm water bath and scrub them with a brush, then air dry. After all the lenses are clean I put new double sided Scotch tape back in the inside of the back caps. I also replace the Hoodsman LCD protectors I use on my cameras.

Fifth: I check the focusing on my lenses. First by checking them at f/8 — I put the camera on a tripod and focus on sharp type (lock up the mirror and use a cable release). If they aren’t sharp at f/8… they need help. And, then I use LensAlign to see how badly they are front and back focusing. (Read the article on Luminous Landscape about this nifty device).

Sixth: I order replacements and other gear I need from B&H.

Seventh: I lock everything away in my Camera Room (yes, my gear has it’s own room that stays locked) and am assured it is ready for an assignment or anything that could come up unexpectedly.

As of now… the hard drives are unloaded, laundry is done, but I have to pick up all those other pesky items laying about … and then I start the Big Camera Cleaning. And it must be this weekend, because I’m leaving again December 16th.

Packing and Unpacking. This is my life as a photographer.

Oh, I’ll edit those 15,000 images someday also.