Photo Journal, Issue 4, October 4, 2009

Another photography lesson to be learned the hard way

There is a large desert state park, and I had traveled there in the springtime for wildflowers and wildlife photography. It’s crazy to go there in the summertime because of the extreme heat. Desert wildflowers are very fickle, and you have to hit the season just
right. Get there one or two weeks too early, and the flowers don’t look like much. Get there one or two weeks too late, and they are all shriveled up and brown. Desert wildlife is pretty elusive. Many animals are smart enough to stay out of the hot sun during the middle of the day, so you have to go after them with your camera in early morning or evening. I had bighorn sheep and chuckwallas on my target list.

After driving for lots of hours, I arrived at a park campground where I intended to camp for a few nights. However, I still had an hour or better before sunset, so I got the D-SLR camera ready. On the front of the camera body I mounted my trusty 100-400mm lens, and then placed all of that on top of a lightweight tripod quick release. I propped the tripod over my shoulder, and I started to walk away from the campground to the edge of a gully. I shot a few scenes this way and that way, and then all of a sudden my eye caught a glimpse of something moving. Across the gully I saw a Gambel’s Quail. I had never seen one before except for the illustration in a guide book. I could try to snap the shot from across the gully, but it would be much better if I worked my way closer without spooking the bird. I waded through the waist-deep brush as I crossed the gully, and the camera tripod was held high to clear the brush.

Just as I got into the middle of the brush, I started to take one more step when I heard the distinct and unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake! Its suddenness and intensity registered in my brain that I must be just about right on top of it. After a long period of thought for about one second, I fell and jumped backward to avoid the venomous serpent.

Unfortunately, there was a rock boulder right behind me at that moment, and when I went backward in a hurry, the back of the camera body slammed against the boulder. Of course, my heart sank when I felt the impact.

I jumped to my feet in a hurry, and I saw that I was out of range of the snake, or at least where I thought the snake was. Just to be sure, I scurried out of the gully in a hurry. My camera visually appeared to be in one piece, but I had to test it. The shutter was working, but all of the digital photos were at least five or six stops overexposed. Obviously the camera body had sustained major internal damage, plus one big ding in the case. The cost for repair would have been significant, and it would be more costly than buying a new one. I ended up writing off the camera body as a total loss.

I had to finish the rest of my weeklong desert photo trip using my backup gear, a film camera, and I had only a few rolls of Velvia 50 with me.

So, the lesson was to watch where I walk when I am waving camera gear like that over my head.

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