One cursory glance at a map of the state of Louisiana and one thing should be perfectly clear – its water – canals, lakes, and bayous full of it. As a photographer you should also know if there is one thing to fear – for your equipment – it’s water.
Somehow the water concept just didn’t sink in when I was planning this project. I thought through a host of other issues – new computer, new software to manage workflow, edit, new updates to Photoshop, new lenses, even new external hard-drives to store the precious images (now all 7,000 plus and counting) – but what I forgot? Dry bags!
Every trip is a learning experience, regardless how long you have been at it, and the first Gulf trip was no exception to that rule. I completely overlooked the most obvious fact of photographing on the Gulf – there’s water everywhere!! And where there isn’t inches or feet of water, there is mud, muck, sand, oil, and more often than not a witch’s brew of the whole mess.
During the first several weeks I spent much of my time boarding a dawn boat at the marina in Cameron, Louisiana, the guest of the Louisiana Dept of Fish & Wildlife and the young team of boat hands hired as part of the BP restoration effort – yes, occasionally some of the BP money has gone to work in a positive way. I joined them at the first light of dawn to speed the 45 minutes up the dredged passage of the Calcasieu River into Calcasieu Lake and eventually into West Cove – a brackish stretch of inland water that remained off the charts of the invading oil coming ashore along the Gulf Coast. This far west the surface oil never reached – no one is certain about dispersants and micro-oil – concern still rumors through the shrimp and fishing communities.
Water conditions in the Channel are a daily game of roulette – most of the time they are reasonable, but every once in a while the house takes you for everything – water, wind, current, all lash the open deck of the barge-like boat – there’s no hiding. And that means for your gear as well.
Every time I drove south from Lake Charles in the inky pre-dawn I was cursing myself for not bringing the simplest of protection – dry bags – like giant gear condoms. Stupidest thing I could have done. The worst part is I have half a dozen of various sizes sitting in my storage. They have traveled all over the world with me – and from this day forward I never leave home without’em. Mine are drybags are SEALine made by Cascade Design.
For those of you unfamiliar with a dry bag it is a lovely simple cylindrical tube of rubberized material with a round flat bottom. The top clips water-tight by, here’s the simple part, just rolling the top shut in small folds one upon another, then after a couple the plastic clip buckle is insert male into female end and presto! The contents stay dry – completely! I’ve literally flipped kayaks with these aboard and every piece of gear survived bone dry – unlike me.
The other beauty of the dry bag addresses the second issue on board most boats – vibration. A sealed dry bag can trap air like a balloon, so with a bit of padding in the dry bag, an old towel, chunk of bubble-wrap or rain jacket for example, your equipment gets a bit of bumpy reprieve. Especially in rough waters the slapping of the hull can be enough to jar fillings loose. Imagine the repeated impact on small screws in your gear, not to mention various circuitry and seals.
In addition to the dry bag use a variety of methods to try to absorb the vibration and hull slapping shock. Of course a well padded camera bag or shock-proof, water-proof case is great, but not practical if you are also trying to work reactively. THE best place for gear you need out is hanging on your body – your body can take a lot of bouncing around diluting the impact on the gear.
For those pieces of gear that need to be out and available, be protected, and can not be on your body, even if in a dry bag, be inventive, grab a couple extra life jackets, dock bumpers, seat cushions, boats usually have a variety of spongy objects that can service in a pinch.
Two dry bags, one medium, one large, are now permanently stowed in my travel bag.