Gaffer Tape Photo Protection

Posted on 16 Nov, 2015 by Scott Jones

When I arrived in MotoGP in 2009 I didn’t notice anyone else in the media center using gaffer tape to protect their camera equipment. Now it’s quite common to see bodies and lenses protected with gaffer tape or some other similar adhesive.

I’m not taking credit for the idea. I saw this first in a remarkable movie called War Photographer, in which James Nachtwey covers portions of his cameras with something that looks like gaffer tape. After a few races of climbing over and under fences, gear bumping into Armco and other hard surfaces, I decided to try what I’d seen in the movie and wrapped up my bodies and lenses in black gaffer tape.

As you can see from the image above, this sometimes comes in handy. That divot in front of the hot shoe would be a scratch (at least!) if the tape hadn’t been there to absorb the impact and protect the camera. This is only the latest of many instances of that black tape protecting the surfaces of my equipment.

Gaffer Tape Guidelines

Gaffer tape is great for this use, but it’s not perfect.

On the good side is the fact that gaffer tape is fairly easy to remove with little or no residue IF you don’t wait too long to remove it. So at the end of each season I remove all the gaffer tape from my bodies and lenses. (Performing this removal after the final MotoGP round is what inspired this post, in fact.) If you do wait too long, the tape can leave a white adhesive residue which is very difficult to get off without chemicals that are probably better not applied to camera equipment.

I find that applying new tape at the start of the season and removing it in November is fine. At times the tape will leave some residue but that can be removed with a fingernail rather than solvent. At times I have waited too long and needed chemical assistance. I’m not saying YOU should use a solvent on your camera gear, but I have used this with good results and no ill effects on Nikon gear.

The main flaw with gaffer tape used in this way is its reaction to water. When gaffer tape gets wet it becomes sort of slick, with almost a slimy feel. With proper rain gear this isn’t a huge problem, but if you get caught out in the rain and your tape-covered gear gets really wet, it’s pretty lousy.

For me the benefits outweigh the downsides, so putting a new coat of gaffer tape on my gear each March is standard procedure.

I use scissors and an X-acto knife to trim the strips of tape when needed, and cover the areas most likely to need some protection. These are mainly the top prism section and the edges of the camera bodies that aren’t already covered with rubber such as the grip.

There battery compartment cover takes some extra attention with the knife so that it can be removed easily but still have the tape’s protection.

I find myself using less and less tape on lenses each season. Lens hoods wear out and must be replaced, so I don’t bother to remove gaffer tape from those. On the lens barrels I put wraps of tape here and there, but other than lens hoods I don’t do that much. Tape on lens barrels just doesn’t seem to pay off as it does on bodies.

If you think you might benefit from using gaffer tape for protection, try it for a short time and be sure to remove the tape after a few months. At that point you can decide if it’s worth the trouble for the situations you get into with your camera gear.

Gaffer Tape Photo



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