Grieving Gear

My Nikon D800 captured its own end.
My Nikon D800 captured its own end.

She’d been with me only about a year, but had photographed my wife, dog, daughters, parents, artists, raptors (though no rappers), the holidays, Seahawk heaven. She’d ushered me from sports to landscapes and wildlife, accompanied me to four national parks, four national wildlife refuges, and my 10th wedding anniversary, helped me win two competitions and get my first outdoor image published in a magazine.

I have another Nikon body that is faster, but not nearly as magical as the D800. She’s the one who helped me become a “real” photographer and for that she’ll not be forgotten.

Hey, if a movie about a guy who essentially falls in love with Siri can be nominated for “Best Picture,” I can grieve over the loss of an inanimate object. Two, actually. Not only did I lose my D800 body in a Pacific Ocean drowning, I also lost one of my favorite lenses, a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8, considered one of Nikon’s “Holy Trinity” of lenses. A lot of photogs think it’s too limiting. I tried to break it off with her because she’d gotten heavy. I bought an 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 to lighten my backpack but, after a few tries, ended up taking the 14-24 as well. She’s the one I danced with the most.

(NOTE: Clicking on an image will reveal the full-sized version in a separate browser window (so please do)).

Last hurrah at Madison Creek Falls.
Last hurrah at Madison Creek Falls.
I mean, the last time that duo worked together, it produced the image here. Yeah, it’s not exactly magical, but that’s the operator’s fault. Shoot, this is a single image. Look at all the detail. This camera mostly weaned me off HDR. Who needs it when you have 36 megapixels?

I Jonesed for the detail so much, I even forsook my smooth, ultra-fast Nikon D3s for shots like below, for which it was made. To capture a juvenile Bald Eagle, I actually had to be a photographer, waiting for the moment of truth, then capturing it with a single click. I gladly took the gamble for a payoff in such luscious clusters of visual information.


The loss, especially of the D800, was so devastating, I actually was afraid to go out shooting without it. But hauling out the D3s gave me fresh perspective, I must admit. After all, could I have frozen a zippy Tree Swallow in mid-flight with a single click of the D800? I think not.

A Tree Swallow changes course in mid-flight.
A Tree Swallow changes course in mid-flight.

Furthermore, I was able to use the D3s to pretty good effect, capturing cherry blossoms in the low light of pre-dawn. It was the 18-35 that was the limiting factor, creating such heinous distortion that, even though I had a lot of cushion in my composition, I lost all of it and more making corrections. Not to mention that I didn’t get any nice starbursts from the lanterns.

Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington.
Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington.

Given all of the above, who could have blamed me for tempting fate with my beloved combination? That’s ostensibly what I did by hauling the D800 and 14-24 out to Second Beach, near La Push, Wash., in Olympic National Park. Second Beach took my breath away, the first time I laid eyes on it last summer. So I kept going back. Problem was, my first time was before sunrise on a glorious morning, so I kept trying to shoot it at sunset.

It almost was comical the troubles I had at Second Beach in the evening. One time, I became so engrossed taking selfies (with my little Sony RX100 II, tethered to my iPhone wirelessly), I didn’t notice how dark it had become. And for a few terrifying minutes, I could not locate the trail back through the woods to my car. That time, and every other, there was no sun to watch set. The best I could do was play around during the Blue Hour and try to catch some interesting waves.

Second Beach in Olympic National Park during the blue hour.
Second Beach in Olympic National Park during the blue hour.

The last time I went, it was at least as cloudy. The tide was lower than I’d seen it, however, so I tried to salvage the trip by capturing the water swirling around rocks and coursing through tidepools. I jammed my tripod into the sand, as I learned by experience to do (to lessen the vibration caused by moving water) and was clicking off a series, using a remote trigger. All of a sudden, a big wave surprised me, blasted my tripod, tipping it into the Pacific Ocean – in mid-capture, as evidenced by the lead image in this post.

One of the first things that crossed my mind was the old Chiffon Margarine commercial – it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. In my case – fool with. By that brain flash, I’d fished out the D800 and 14-24 and furiously wiped them down. But I knew. The corrosive process immediately was triggered by the contact with sea water. My body and lens were toast. The biggest loss, to me, was the body. I gasped, comprehending the loss.

Then another though consoled me a little: She definitely went out with a splash.

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