Today’s post is an admission of how hard it is sometimes to be a photographer. You learn and relearn over the years, teach others what you’ve learned and sometimes still struggle to take your own advice!
Cindy and I just returned from much needed beach R&R in Jamaica. It was beautiful and the magic of Caribbean colors are irresistible if you love making photos. But it’s not always the easiest environment in which to work. First, when you see something that catches your eye, you have to set down your frozen mango margarita and go shoot it. I hate it when that happens! LOL Second, there’s a good chance your fancy DSLR is in the room because you worry about leaving it unattended while you dip in the ocean or as you head to dinner assume the light was over for the day. So let’s talk about your room and why it’s a real problem in the Caribbean (or any southern destination): Humidity!
Short of staying in a dive which doesn’t have air conditioning, you’re likely to be storing your belongings in the cool, drier (and hopefully secure) hotel room. Why is this a problem? When your camera gear is in the room for more than a short while, it’s temperature acclimates to that of the cool room. When you run in and grab equipment to rush back to the great subject, you’re in for some sudden disappointment: lens fog. Condensation is something we all know about. It’s what makes the cold glass of icy drink sweat on a hot, humid day. That same “sweat” happens to any exposed cool surface of your gear, meaning viewfinder, front lens element, and heaven forbid you change lenses outside, inside the camera body! So what’s a serious shooter to do?
There are two approaches and both require your gear gets placed outside your room long enough to warm up and “dry” out. The greater the temperature difference the longer this takes. It could be as simple as unzipping your backpack during breakfast (with your lens caps off) so by the time you’re on location you’re good to go. But what if you’re going to shoot sunrise and want to sleep to the last minute, doing a quick grab and click before heading back to bed? One option is to set your alarm so you can place your backpack outside the room long enough to be ready. Places you can consider putting the gear might include a second-floor balcony or hidden in your car. Having run into this problem one time too many I decided to be proactive and started saving silica gel bags, the small desiccant pouches that come in so many products we buy. I have quite a reserve and put several into each of two, gallon size zip lock bags for this trip. When we arrived I put camera body and short lens in one bag, and longer telephoto in the other zipped in so even if it rained I was good. What could go wrong? The maid! With the best of intentions when she saw my bags on the balcony she kindly moved them back into the room under some clothes so they weren’t out in the open.
The next night as we were headed for dinner, a beautiful setting sun was about 10 minutes away from dropping perfectly into a gap in the trees, with water reflections and the potential for boats… good stuff. Cindy saw my eyes and the sun and just said, “Go do it.” I sprinted for the room and cursed when I found the bags. Undaunted I loaded up the D500 body with the 80-400 and crossed my fingers, sprinting back to the shot. Of course, as soon as I looked in the viewfinder I knew I was screwed. Condensation thick as thieves, stealing any chance for a shot. Even if I’d had a lens cloth, glass refogs very quickly so that’s not a great answer. Disappointed, I looked at my watch wondering how much time I had left before dinner and realized I should try for sunset the remaining nights we were there. A good plan B. I just had to make sure the camera stayed on the balcony. I brought the maid up to speed and all was good… except for the weather. The next night the sun dropped behind impenetrable clouds in the late afternoon. No joy. The last day of the trip conditions seemed to be similar, but nearing the appointed hour I saw some feeble thin streaks in the clouds and having been rewarded before decided to still go for it. I got to my designated location 15 minutes early and began the wait. The sky grew darker and darker and prospects gloomier and gloomier. I wasn’t able to see the sun and despite knowing some incident light was still in the sky, decided it was time to throw in the towel. As I was walking back to the room, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of bright orange. S*!T I turned tail and ran back to get the angle I needed and damn if the sun wasn’t revealing itself in those thin cloud streaks. As I worked the orange ball several boats started moving across the bay on their way home, so I shot until the cloud bank claimed the light before calling it quits. Yes, I know that some of the most beautiful sunset comes after the sun is below the horizon, but I was facing solid cloud cover.
I was pleased with what I ended up creating, but the take home message is how much work can be involved creating your art. Not only does it require constant planning but it requires you to not talk yourself out of making the shot! You have to keep reinvesting effort and trusting yourself to listen to the angel on one shoulder saying, “Stay a little longer” while the devil on the other shoulder says, “Go to dinner! The show’s over.”
Mark Alberhasky has been a contributing photographer for Nikon for over 10 years, taught as a Nikon Mentor for national photo workshops and leads destination photo trips around the world.
Follow him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.
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