Dust at Burning Man

Dust vs. Blue. Dust wins!

After I came back from Burning Man, one of the most common questions I heard was, “How did your camera hold up to the dust?” My Canon EOS-1D Mark II held up quite nicely in the harsh conditions of Burning Man 2007. Following the trip, I analyzed my photos and could not find a single dust particle that wasn’t in the camera before. That’s pretty impressive, considering I was not using weather-sealed lenses. Sign me up as a Canon spokesperson!

While we were there, two big dust storms his the playa on Thursday and Friday. For the first one, Rae and I were hanging out at our Go Sloth Go camp area (5:15 and Estuary). We heard people cries of, “Dust storm approaching!” and saw this wall of beige and gray coming at us. We were already resting in May and Salim’s spacious tent, so we zipped up the rainfly and hunkered down for the hour it took for the dust storm to pass. This tent was meant to protect against rain and snow, not a Tatooine-style dust storm! After just a few minutes, everything inside the tent was coated in a fine layer of playa dust.

Alison and the approaching wall of dust

In our own tent, lying on top of my sleeping bag, was my camera. The photo to the left is what the camera looked like immediately after the dust storm. I had brought three lenses with me to Burning Man, the 50/1.4, 135/2.0, and the 17-35/2.8. I didn’t use the 17-35 all that much, but I switched frequently between the 50 and 135. It’s been several weeks since Burning Man, and my lenses still have dust on the outside barrels!

My 1D Mark II at Burning Man

We were caught outside by the Man for the second dust storm on Friday. It was just a few minutes following the conclusion of the popular Critical Tits ride. We were checking out the environmental displays underneath the Man when we overheard some rangers talking about an impending dust and thunderstorm. We looked out towards the camp and saw an omnious wall rushing at us. There was no time to get back to the camp; it was already enveloped by the storm. Just before we retreated back to the Man, I took the photo above. Sky on one side, wall of dust on the other side. It was unreal, straight out of The Mummy! One second you have clear visibility for miles; the next second, you can’t see more than fifteen feet in front of you!

Rae in the dust storm

It’s very important to have eye, mouth, and nose protection when you are at Burning Man. If you’re caught out in a dust storm without these items, you’ll find breathing and seeing very difficult and painful. Fortunately, we were prepared with our kaffiyehs and goggles. Next time (yes, there will be a next time), I’ll buy a woodworker’s mask and better goggles for a more comfortable experience. Again, my camera held up excellently against the elements. When going to Burning Man, I figured this would be a good test of the much-touted build quality of the 1D-series. It certainly lived up to its end of the bargain.

I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.

After thirty minutes underneath the Man, Rae and I decided to walk back to our camp. The dust storm was still going on, but it wasn’t as strong as in the beginning. We walked our bikes slowly, using the ghostly figures in front of us for guidance. Some people were still riding there bikes, a dangerous proposition when you can’t see in front of you. When we got back, we were able to see what we looked like in the mirror. Dust caked our skin, clothes, bags, and camera gear. Now I know what Anakin Skywalker meant when he said he didn’t like sand!

You can view more photos from Burning Man 2007 in my SmugMug gallery. I’ll have more commentary to come.

The denizens of the dust

4 thoughts on “Dust at Burning Man

  1. Adam – Those are fantastic (and a little scary ;) ) shots!

  2. Lucky you had a sealed camera! It was indeed grim weather this year, but my 10D and 5D held up okay. Trick from previous years: movie-style gaffer tape around every opening. Not duct tape, as that turns into a sticky mess.


  3. wow. crazy. is that a GPS tracker clipped on the 1D?


  4. Hi Adam,
    Thanks for sharing your experience and photos. I’m not sure I would carry a camera that expensive on the playa — I’m using a 40D and a Rebel and worry about those. But they’ve survived the playa (with minor repairs) for several years now.

    I wrote about the subject of camera protection (or not) in my tutorial “How to Take Better Photos and Burning Man” which you can find on my Burning Man photo site here if you’re interested:

    Thanks again,

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