My Worst Day in the Field


April 8, 2022 was my worst day in the field as a photographer... so far that is. Those who know me, know that I am more of a pessimist than an optimistic individual.

Everything started off great, I was with family who were acting as guides, venturing to a lesser-known waterfall. The weather was great, mostly overcast, yet still warm enough considering the time of year. The area had also received a fair amount of rain the previous few days so the waterfalls would hopefully be flowing with abundant volume. There is nothing worst then showing up to just a trickle... well it turns out there is.

After a short trek on the beach of the Bay of Fundy, we made it to our destination, Healy Brooke Falls. The water was certainly flowing. The beach meets up with a cliff and the falls are a small river dropping over the cliff. I noticed that most of the water was coming off a drop, but a side shoot was hitting many tiers on the way down. This caught my eye right away and I started to frame up on it after exploring the area for a bit while looking for compositions. I was told water does not normally hit these rocks, only after heavy rains. I spent just shy of an hour shooting the falls, concentrating on the tiers.

This was the image I came away with that I titled "Ample Paths". It reminded me of the Price is Right game, Plinko. I contemplated naming it "Plinko" but I don't want to get sued ha-ha. I love how the water flows, navigating the path of least resistance down the tiered cliffside. The way that the green rock contrasts against the orange adds an interesting flare to the image.

"Ample Paths"
"Ample Paths"

As we ventured back, we decided that there was time to hit another location. I noticed that the wind had beginning to pick up (add ominous music). A gorge, specifically one that feeds the Healy Brook Falls was a great location to look for a shot. I instantly found a spot I wanted to shoot. There was not much room on the outcropping of rock that I was positioned on, forcing me to try a few different options. I checked to see how deep the water was by using the tripod legs, which did not hit the bottom. I positioned my tripod and got ready to start taking a few shots. In fact, I was so excited to start capturing the beauty, that I had already taken two shots but unfortunately, they were way underexposed. I thought I only had a 6 stop filter on, but I noticed that my 3 stop filter was on as well, for a total of 9. I was in the process of removing the 3 stop filter when a large gust of wind blew through the gorge. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye enough to see the tripod go down. The gust of wind was strong enough to topple my tripod and I wasn't able to react fast enough. My whole set up ended up in the water, minus the filters I was swapping out. A four-letter F-word echoed against the gorge walls as I fought to recover my gear from the brisk water. Thankfully, I was able to haul it out quickly; however, the gear was completely submerged for at least 15 seconds as I grabbed the end of the tripod leg which was only piece of gear sticking out of the water.

I immediately turned the camera off, pulled out the battery and the SD card. There was water pouring out from the lens, creating an abrupt end to the days shoot. A cellphone shot my Aunt took as I was framing my composition just before my camera's polar bear plunge.

This was the last image captured. I had to raise the shadows considerably, as it was under exposed which was the reason for the filter change in the first place.

I was able to get my gear into bags of rice about 30 minutes later, although learning later that this is not necessarily the best option.

The Good, Bad and Recovery

In my mind, I had written off the camera... you know the whole being a pessimistic and all. It occurred to me that the lens might be able to be saved due to the fresh water being clean, cold and fast moving. Thankfully, I did not loose any of my filters. Although certainly not the largest expense in the photography space, they are also far from cheap. I did damage my adapter ring, in addition to the ring that attaches the adapter ring to my lens. These are both needed to attach the filter system to a lens. So, $110 later, I had replacements on the way.

I patiently waited 9 days with the camera in rice, moving it in front of the fireplace and into the sunbeams. Chasing the warmth as if they were a cat. When I took the camera out of the bag of rice, I noticed that there was still moisture remaining on the inside and on the sensor. I took the opportunity to clean the sensor (and dry it). I put the battery back in and turned it on with another lens. It took a bit, but things started. I was not able activate the shutter, but it quickly started too, it appeared that things might be working.

I tried to switch it to the "live view" and got an error message. This could be a major problem; I used the back screen to focus, and the eye piece was obstructed due to moisture being in there as well. Luckily, I only use the eye piece for my snowflake work. I checked the manual; it had the symptom for the error as overheating. I knew that overheating was not the case and assumed there was more moisture inside causing the issue, so back into the rice it went.

I then moved to inspecting my lens, the newest addition to my gear bag, a Nikkor 24-120mm ƒ4. This lens quickly became my "go to" lens because most of my lenses are primes. I noticed that there were still pools of water in the front elements, so back into the rice it went.

It was back to the waiting game, but this time with a glimmer of hope. Three weeks after the plunge, I tried testing it again. I was amazed to find that the camera functioned properly! The eye piece even cleared out. Currently, it appears to be working as it did prior to getting submerged, what a relief!

Next, it was time to examine the lens. I noticed that there was obvious residue that had dried inside on the elements. I tested it and found that it functioned properly, autofocus and all. However, there were a few small specks that were distorted near the edges, almost like odd shape sensor dust. I took a crack at taking out the first glass element, thinking that the residue was on the inside of it. Using a digital caliper, I got the front element out only to discover the residue was further in than I expected. I tried to take the second element out, but the caliper did not fit. It turns out there is a proper tool for taking lenses out to inspect properly. I will add an update once I have figured out how, and what I am going to do to clean this (if I even need to).

After taking the lens out for a test drive, the camera and lens that were submerged, appear to be fine. I can not find any distorted spots in the images I shot during the test drive. Though it was a waterfall with wood and rocks, distorted spots would appear more in skies, but so would the sensor dust. Here is the result of the test drive.

Silver Lining

I use a Nisi filter system, close to day one of owning it, the camera took a fall. This happened very early on in my photography, and I was using a very cheap tripod that I owned well before getting serious about photography. The head snapped off and the camera went bouncing. There was no "damage", but it nudged the inner workings of the adapter ring. This prevented the internal movement that would allow the circular polarizer to spin. I have since replaced that piece creating the ability to use my CPL again (not that I really got a chance to use it). You can see the difference the polarizer makes.

It only took my camera and lens plunging into the water and denting my adapter ring to force me into replacing the piece. I am optimistic that it will allow for better images at a cost of approximately $110. Considering what the potential loss and cost could have been... I think I faired very well!