Photographing a Color Run Will Destroy Your Camera Gear–Don’t Do It


If there hasn’t been a Color Run 5k or 10k race near you, there probably will be soon. And with all that color, you certainly want to take some pictures, right? Not with your camera you don’t.

I’m never one to worry much about lens dust, but the color bombs they throw out at Color Runs are different. In the last month my lens rental business has had over 20 lenses and several cameras nearly ruined by these things. For what it’s worth, all of the renters tell us they really weren’t near any of the major ‘color bombs.’

Here are a few pictures from a brand new lens that returned after its first rental — at a Color Run. These pictures are, of course, after the lens was cleaned externally. All of that dust is inside the front and rear elements.



Now a few dust specs rarely cause problems, but this kind of dust affects light transmission and contrast, as well as causing fascinating flare (in pretty colors). The color dust is very fine, tiny specs, made to stick on people as the run by (I’m still trying to figure out why someone thought this was a good idea).

Because of this, the lenses’ weather sealing, front filters, etc. don’t even slow this stuff down. It’s throughout the entire lens stuck on every element, on the gears and helicoids, and in the mirror box of the camera too. And yes, that includes pro-level lenses on pro-level cameras, all of which are supposedly weather sealed.

As an added bonus, it doesn’t blow out like regular dust. It must be wiped off.

Here’s a look at the inner rim after the front element was removed.


Here’s the front of group 2, nice and deep inside the lens (excuse the lights, this is a quick post just using worklights).


And here’s one of a dozen Q tips I used to clean out around the focusing gears and helicoids. Remember, this was a brand new lens only used for this one shoot.


The end result for this lens was complete disassembly and cleaning. This was a fairly lucky one–it’s a lens that we can disassemble and clean without requiring factory readjustment. For a lot of lenses that’s not an option.

A number of lenses, including Canon L’s and Nikon Pro lenses had to go to the factory, and at least one has been given the “financially not feasable to repair” sticker. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether they cover it under warranty or not.

You know what I’d probably find more interesting than the photos of what the insides of lenses look like after this? What the inside of the runner’s lungs look like.

All my medical training leaves me curious about that kind of thing.

About the author: Roger Cicala is the founder of LensRentals. This article was originally published here.

Image credit: Color Run NYC 8-26-2012 by ANTHONY619

  • Sharon Fetter

    I did my first Color Run today (in Seattle) and several times I saw people with cameras right in the middle of the powder throws–including one guy in front of me at the finish with a decent looking DSLR with ZERO protection on it.

    Well, it WAS a decent DSLR…

    The powder used is cornstarch and is VERY fine…(I wore a bandanna over my mouth and nose for protection, and swim goggles for my eyes)

    I doubt a rain sleeve would provide much protection from that stuff…maybe a watertight housing?

  • Dimanche Duncan

    Thanks for the tip.

    Like someone said a waterproof cassing should do the trick.

    Cause I don’t see how dust would get in when water can’t…


  • Steinthor Hrafnsson

    Personally, I would rather just avoid these events. It’s just not worth the risk whether there is or isn’t any risk.

  • Claudia

    Damn that would really piss me off :-s

  • Rachel Wells

    I’ll tell you – I did a color run and that stuff is absolutely tenacious. It got under my dust mask, into my eyes, past the plastic wrap with which I’d covered my phone, INSIDE my car’s door remote (no, really. Inside. And that thing’s got a weather seal), and I peed green afterwards. No way would I bring anything other than a disposable to one of those things.

  • Rachel Wells

    Yes. The infamous green boogers.

  • Rachel Wells

    It’s actually a food grade powder – the same thing they use for the color festivals in India. It’s not a chemical and won’t hurt you, it’s just a PITA.

  • Rachel Wells

    Nope. That color got inside my car’s door remote and that’s got a weather seal. I wrapped my phone in plastic and the color got through that as well.

  • Rachel Wells

    The ‘throwers’ at the color run might be a bit more aggressive than at Holi. The color run I did there were clouds of the color so think you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

  • Rachel Wells

    Mine were bright green.

  • Rachel Wells

    Ooooo… GOOD idea!

  • Horacio Stjeward

    Just checked, sores shell the same stuff here and colored chalk. The salesmen told me the people prefer the corn starch based products, because the are healthier an cheaper.

  • Meg

    About the runners’ lungs…I did my first (and last) Color Run 2 weeks ago. Two days later I developed the worst sinus infection and bronchitis of my life. Went from being perfectly healthy to unable to get out of bed. I just can’t believe there aren’t more reports of people getting sick. Feel like I’m still coughing stuff up. I’ve been searching online to see if there are any reports, but this is the most discussion I’ve seen on the web.

  • Seriously

    what moron would take a regular camera to a color run…. thats would be like using your camera in a dust storm or under water…
    get a waterproof/dust proof

  • Gon

    There was a 5K race of these in my city last month, I was a bout to attend as a volunteer photographer. After seeing this article, I’m happy I did’n attend the race, thanks to my daughter being ill.

  • Kimberlyandbret Robinson

    Good to know. I shot a lot of paintball back in the day, and never had a problem. This stuff looks like it has been intentionally aerosolized, if that’s a word.

  • bob

    should’ve worn an N95 mask then lol

  • Mark Gordon

    Ah the old naturalistic fallacy…

  • Chris

    Food is supposed to go in to your digestive tract, not your lungs…

  • Deric Tan

    if u want to go for the event then kindly use a underwater plastic protection for your camera so that non of this shits will get into your camera or lenses :) dont have to buy high end underwater casing but those that can be use and cheap on online camera store :)

  • Guestavo

    Use a waterproof camera case.

    Then wash your camera case in the dishwasher when you get home.


    Like Duh.. its a Color Run… there will be colors used.. so should you not protect ur camera to get the shots you want..

  • flightofbooks

    I wonder if the organizers of these events posted any notices about the unique hazard this material poses to photogear. If not, then they might be civilly liable for the damages.

  • Chris Tamayo

    Should’ve gotten a Pentax :D lol I wonder how well the WR would fare with this mini dust.

  • Christopher King

    The headline is a load of bollocks.

    There’s not doubt that it destroyed the equipment in this article.

    I shot a colour run in pouring rain with a 1D3 and 35L and had no problems whatsoever. The 35L is not weather-sealed either.

  • Christopher King

    This was my camera after I shot one, oh and it was pouring rain to boot.

    Beats me how this person messed up their gear. This was almost a year ago and there’s nothing wrong with mine.

  • Brian Lee

    Thanks to all who were involved in Color Run and all the photographs. We will not be holding any more Color Run races due to low publicity and attendance.

  • TheColorRunSuedMe?

    Not only will shooting The Color Run ruin your gear…but they might also use your photos in print without permission and then sue you when you try to remedy the situation.

  • TheColorRunSuedMe?

    But also after shooting multiple events with different bodies (D3100 and D7000)I had no long term negative effects from the powder

  • 17trillion

    I just can’t get past all the litter everyone left behind, makes me wonder what kind of people would leave such a mess in their wake.
    All I can think of is litter bugs who expect others to clean up after them.
    People who demonstrate by their actions how they really feel about the environment.

  • Nancy

    Actually they warn asthmatics on their site that it could be dangerous and to use your best judgment. Even though it is 100% natural.. there are a lot of natural things that make my son go straight into an attack. so considering what it does to these lenses I have to say I don’t think I would want to let an asthmatic anywhere around the “cloud” of color. But that is me. Just imagine if it can get into a closed camera like this and coat it this sticky what it could do to lungs.

  • Tiktian C

    I shot holi with a Mamiya 645AFD III (same as Phase One 645AF) and a Mamiya 35mm f/3.5AF Lense with a filter, I had several direct hits in the crowd, and besides deciding not to change films in the middle everything was fine, there’s dust in the lense but no more dust than any of the lenses I’ve owned for any period of time.

    a good clean with some alcohol wipes and some canned air

  • Science, please

    Of COURSE it’s a chemical! EVERYTHING is a chemical!

    Good grief.

  • mattdgold

    right…they were throwing chalk. significantly different from corn starch powder.