Water Hazard

The two elements of this blog post have a common theme today; how water tends to add challenges to your shooting day.

Rain rain, go away.

So I’ve just come back from a couple of days in Leeds. My parents and sister had decided that watching Michael Bublé was utterly essential, so rather than trek all the way over there for just the evening, we’d decided to make it a bit of a Christmas shopping trip. Unfortunately with the weather being as northern as a Yorkshire pudding, my camera was confined to it’s bag for most of time we were there. The Christkindlmarkt was quiet for a mid-afternoon, especially compared to Manchester’s markets midday; the weather seemed to dampen people’s spirits almost as much as it dampened the city.

Whilst the rest of the family jaunted off to watch Bublé, my girlfriend and my sister’s fiancé decided to wander round with me and sample some of Leeds nightlife. The choice of bars was pretty varied; we walked past a rather quiet Spanish style tapas bar, and a place with blacked out windows which was aptly described as “The Pit”. If you’re ever in Leeds at night, try out “It”, the staff are a right laugh and the food is decidedly moreish.

Hopefully next time there’ll be more time to sample the delights of the city; two half-days just doesn’t seem to be enough.

Since today is Thursday, I figured a throwback was in order. Here’s a lovely shot of a sunrise over the Rivington reservoirs.

It’s pleasant enough, I do especially like the colours. Nothing too amazing or progressive. It does however have an interesting story behind it; it’s the final proper image one of my cameras ever took, and stands as a cautionary tale about checking your equipment before using it.

So let’s head back to 2012. According to a long dead civilisation the end of the world was nigh, Gangnam Style hits the internet and wriggles it’s way into everyone’s collective earlobes, the Summer Olympics happen and don’t go disastrously wrong, and CERN discovers the Higgs Boson. It also marked the beginning of the second year after I’d bought my first DSLR camera; a Nikon D3100. I’d finally started to get into the swing of things, and by that I mean “not shooting on auto like a wannabe”. Portraits had eluded me at the time so landscape photography had become a bit of a forté for three pretty solid reasons.

  1. Landscapes don't move much.
  2. You don't have to tell a hill that it's pose is unflattering.
  3. Nothing beats a good walk in the countryside.

There are two periods of the day that are the most attractive to a photographer, often referred to as the “golden hours”. The first is the hour after the sun has risen in the morning, the second is an hour or so before the sun sets in the evening. Direct sunlight in the middle of the day is actually one of the worst times to shoot; it’s boring, too bright which leads to overexposure, and lacks any dynamic nature to it’s light. The angle of the sun during the golden hours leads to interesting shadows, as the colour of the light lends itself to some truly magical moments.

It was on this fateful morning that the inspiration to shoot a sunrise over the local reservoirs had struck like a bolt out of the blue. The weather was pleasant, the wind was low which meant the water’s surface would be still and give out some amazing reflections of the sunrise. Brilliant! Pack up the tripod and camera in the dark, make the quick drive out to Rivington, set up on the shores and wait for the sun to rise. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

The tripod I had recently bought was an ex-display model. A little rough round the edges, but a cheap option for someone just starting out. Rather than the unit screwing directly to the camera, there’s a plate that stays attached to the camera body and slides into the top of the tripod before being secured in place by a little lever. The advantage is that you can easily just pop the camera on the tripod without having to faff about with screws, and just as easily remove it for quick setups and breakdowns.

See the warning signs.

Something's missing.

I get to the parking spot and make my way down to the shore in the rapidly brightening woodland. The tripod goes down on the gravelly ground and I pop the camera on top and secure the plate. The shots I took are...average. The top image is one of the first set I had planned but it contained too much shoreline for my liking. I took a few shots of the open water and I’m struggling to understand what I’m missing to really make them “pop”. Foreground interest perhaps? A good landscape shot will include something in the foreground to draw the viewer’s eye into the picture, absolutely essential to providing it with the depth that a two dimensional medium sorely lacks. A quick investigation finds a rock emerging from the surface of the water. Fantastic! Get that in shot and it’ll look great.

Aligning the shot, it just doesn't look right. The foreground interest is too far out from where I’m stood; the rock just sits lost in the middle of the frame. Rubbish. Still, the water is pretty shallow so I can get a little closer and just pop the tripod in the shallows.

Red flag.

Uh oh...

Uh oh...

The shot is lined up. Everything is set. I go to activate the shutter, only to feel the camera body suddenly shift forward. The tripod was sturdy, but the plate release mechanism was loose from all the use it had seen in the shop. The tiny lever had finally given up the ghost and jumped to freedom without me noticing. Everything started moving in slow motion. The camera fell lens first from the tripod, slamming into the water’s surface before flipping on the gravel bed and coming to rest lens up. The water completely immersed the body of the camera and left the lens popping up like some sort of little periscope for a submarine. This submarine however had a screen door. There were bubbles.

I’m kinda glad there was nobody else out that morning, because if anyone had heard me they’d have rung the police to report a potential murder. Think of the stereotypical scene in an action movie where the hero’s friend cops for it and he’s left there screaming at the sky powerlessly. Just amp the drama up there and you’ll have a pretty good idea of my reaction.

It was dead. Pining for the fjords. It had shuffled off this mortal coil. This camera had ceased to be. Nikon shrugged their collective shoulders at it and wrote it off. Thankfully the house’s contents insurance covered it; if you haven’t got any and you have expensive electronics then for the love of all that is holy go get some. It will save your bank account one day.

So what have we learned? Water does not mix well with cameras. Treat water with respect. Don’t blindly trust equipment. Don’t kneel dramatically in reservoirs at 7am. All of these lead to soggy knees. Somehow.