Friday Foto Talk: Cameras and Water   6 comments

Metlako Falls in the Eagle Creek Gorge (Oregon), as viewed from above.

Metlako Falls in the Eagle Creek Gorge (Oregon), as viewed from above.

First of all, let me say these pictures may indeed be the last ones my Canon 5D Mark II has captured.  That’s because it took a bad fall and bath.  I had climbed down through the steep brush in Eagle Creek Gorge (Columbia River Gorge in Oregon) trying to find an interesting view of Metlako Falls.  Metlako Falls is one of the tougher waterfalls in Oregon to access and photograph.  I ended up in a spectacular spot, looking down a tumbling stream toward the hidden grotto that the beautiful cascade spills into

The clamp on my tripod head had been a little loose lately.  I’d tightened it but apparently not enough.  I was trying to mount my microphone on the camera to take a video.  In sketchy spots like this, I usually have the camera strap around my neck for safety.  But I had taken it off to get the mic.  The camera was about 7 feet above the creek.

Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is difficult to access.  Here it's viewed from above.

Metlako Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is difficult to access. Here it’s viewed from above.

You know what happened next.  The camera slipped out of the clamp and fell directly onto a rock then into the creek.  I quickly grabbed it before it went over the edge and frantically dried it off.  But the damage was done.  There is a big dent in the top.  This camera has served me very very well.  It has given me zero problems and captured excellent images for about a year and a half.  I was planning to keep it at least until the next version of the 5D came out (or a new high-resolution full frame Canon).

One more of Metlako Falls, this from a small steep path that leads to this view.

One more of Metlako Falls, this from a small steep path that leads to this view.

Now of course that’s all changed.  Luckily my lens appears to be fine, but the camera is damaged goods, no matter whether it can be repaired or not.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  I’m using my backup, a Canon 50D.  It’s a solid DSLR, but it’s a crop-frame.  I’m too much the wide-angle enthusiast to shoot with it on a constant basis.  Also it doesn’t do video and has slightly lower resolution.  So with few financial resources right now I need to somehow get a new camera.  Though I’m curious about the 6D, I’ll probably just go with the 5D Mark III.

The Columbia River Gorge's high cliffs turn gold at sundown, reflected in wetlands formed during spring's high water flow.  This was captured the day before this camera took a fall.

The Columbia River Gorge’s high cliffs turn gold at sundown, reflected in wetlands formed during spring’s high water flow. This was captured the day before my camera took a fall.

Now to the advice.  Shooting in the Pacific Northwest gives one plenty of experience with water.  From plain old rain to splashing creeks and waterfalls, even the humidity, this area tends to be hard on cameras.  My 5D II was not the best sealed of cameras, so I needed to be careful.  I use a towell that sort of has a big pocket built into it.  It is very absorbent.  I found it at Walgreens.  The pocket fits right over the top of the camera, then I can drape it over the lens.  I do this when it is raining lightly or if I have waterfall spray.

You can buy quite expensive rain gear for your camera.  But nothing I’ve tried is very convenient for use in the rain.  I want to get a housing.  I would just love to start shooting underwater pictures at freshwater creeks and wetlands.  Housings are extremely expensive though.

There is one challenge that often goes overlooked when talking about this subject.  When it starts raining you need to quickly transition to camera protection mode.  How do you do this without getting the camera wet?  If you have an umbrella it might help.  But it’s often a stressful scramble when the sky suddenly decides to open up and take a big pee on you and your gear.

A fisherman tries his luck in the lake that sits beneath Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.  This picture was captured with my backup camera the day after the "accident".

A fisherman tries his luck in the lake that sits beneath Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. This picture was captured with my backup camera the day after the “accident”.

I also shoot above rushing water very often.  I have a friend who uses a safety strap that connects the camera to the tripod.  If the head or plate fails, the camera does not fall to the ground or water.  But that still leaves the tripod itself vulnerable.  So I try to always keep the camera strap around my neck near cliffs or over water.  That way if a disaster develops I can save at least the camera/lens and probably the tripod as well.

There is a major Catch 22 here.  Often you want to be out shooting when the weather is “interesting”.  I usually am trying not to shoot in actual rain but just before or after.  I don’t regard grey skies and steady rain as interesting weather!  I think it is the edge of things that you want to target with your camera: the edge of a storm, edge of an ecosystem, edge of the day, edge of a facial expression, etc.

The walls of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge at day's last light.

The walls of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge at day’s last light.

So my approach is to avoid having my camera out while it’s raining, to wait until the rain lets up before shooting.  And then I cover it with the special towel when I have it out shooting.  I think the electronics in this gear we have will never get along with moisture very well.  Of course if I was independently wealthy, or was somebody famous, sponsored by Canon (yes I’m talking about you Art Wolfe!), I would have a well-sealed Canon 1Dx.  If something happened to it Canon would just send me another.  If I had this $6000+ camera I would not worry about drizzle so much, though full immersion (and salt water) would still be a danger.

The last image below was captured the day after the accident.  I had done a sort of rock climb 100 feet or so up Rooster Rock.  A nearby osprey in her nest was not amused at my presence, and I clung to a precarious spot to get the shot.  I definitely kept the neck strap in place this time.  But I won’t ever stop putting my camera in dangerous spots just because of the possibility of an accident.  That’s just not me.  I know, what about putting myself in danger?  I don’t want to talk about it!

Hope you found this advice helpful.  It’s a mean world (at least for camera gear), so be careful and good luck out there!

A viewpoint gained after a short rock climb partway up Rooster Rock in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge gives a fine view of early evening colors on the river.  Captured with my backup camera the day after the accident.

A viewpoint gained after a short rock climb partway up Rooster Rock in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge gives a fine view of early evening colors on the river. Captured with my backup camera the day after the accident.

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6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Cameras and Water

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  1. Truly amazing pictures! Looks like a really beautiful place!

  2. Really like the first three photos – you really know how to make that water sing!

    So sorry to hear about your camera – that’s a sinking feeling seeing it hit the rocks. I have been expecting that to happen to me!

  3. Hope you can replace your camera soon. It is a pity cameras and water don’t mix a bit better!

  4. Sorry to hear about your camera. You have put yourself in dangerous situations and we get to enjoy your beautiful photos. I hope you are able to replace your damaged camera soon. I am just an amateur photographer, shooting pictures as a hobby so I really appreciate all your advice. THANK YOU!

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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