The likelihood of this experience ever happening to you is pretty small, however, while you may never make the same mistakes I made, this story is a reflection of the stupid decisions that tend to tag along with us as people. The same warnings and lessons that I'm about to share apply to everyone.
Over this past year, I began a landscape project out on a local barrier island. I wanted to stretch my experiences as a photographer and get shots that would challenge me in several areas. The primary idea behind most of these shoots was to mix star trails, dawn, and off camera lighting with my scene. This required an overnight trip on a moonless, cloudless night.
After a few successful nights of shooting, I decided I wanted to use the same time lapse/light painting technique on a lighthouse. This lighthouse is different from most. Instead of sitting on a rocky bluff or the the edge of a beach, it currently stands in the middle of the ocean. The beach around it has slowly eroded over time leaving stranded but standing in the sea. Given the unique location of my subject, the shoot would involve an extra complicated step of getting to the lighthouse order to light paint it. Having kayaked several times in the area with no issues, I figured I could easily paddle out and light up the light house.
So at midnight on a moonless night, I took my gear, with one back up lens just in case I wanted a different perspective, and got everything set up at the end of one island. After evaluating the shot, I decided I didn't like the angle very much. The final product would look much better if I were on the adjacent island. The water was very calm in the inlet between the islands, so without much of a thought, I loaded up everything into the boat and set off.
Although I had kayaked in the area several times before, it had never been in the dark. As I approached the adjacent island, I did not realize my course was headed over a sand bar. Although the water was pretty calm and I was still 75 feet from shore, a very small wave crossed over the sand bar right under me and started to rise. As soon as the wave caught my kayak, a feeling of dread hit me. As the wave slowly rose, it caught my kayak like a surf board and began pulling me toward shore. I desperately back paddled to try and keep my course straight but to no avail. After carrying me 50 feet, the wave turned the kayak side ways and slowly flipped me and all my gear into the water.
Immediately my tripod came loose and sunk 3 feet into the murky water. I grabbed my bag and camera and frantically tried to get them out of the water before everything was fried; both had been submerged for only a few seconds. I got to shore, cursed myself in a wave of self disgust for several minutes and finally collected my thoughts. I spent the next 30 minutes wading around in the tidal inlet looking for my sunken tripod to no avail. Not only had my gear gotten wet and lost my tripod, I later realized I had also lost my wallet, phone, shoes, and the rope I had used to tie my kayak to the car. Freezing and exhausted, I managed to get home feeling like I should never take pictures again.
My decisions for this shoot were idiotic, I wont disagree otherwise to any trolls who would like to rub it in through comments. I was passionate about my landscape project. I was even more excited about capturing the perfect picture of the light house that I saw in my head. But I got carried away. Not once did the thought cross my mind that I should water proof my gear before getting it near salt water. Not once did I weigh the possibility that I might lose equipment. I was focused and confident... and ridiculously careless. It's probably not a far reaching statement to say most photographers have felt similarly. It's fun to become passionate about a project, but that passion can blind us to caution. It's important that for any shoot we plan out, we ask ourselves, "is the final product worth the the risks of all the possible outcomes?"
Fortunately, there is a hero to this story that brings a happy ending. When I first started my business a few years ago, I was sure to cover all my bases of the things you should do when starting a business. As well getting all the proper licensing and paperwork, I was strongly advised to look into business and gear insurance. Through my search I came across Hill and Usher, an insurance company which caters specifically to photographers with their "Package Choice" option. I quickly signed up for their very reasonable coverage option.
After having a miserable night on the ocean, dealing with Hill and Usher was a welcome relief. They took my claim and gave me quick easy instructions on how to proceed. I sent all of my gear off to Canon to be evaluated for repair. After a few days of examination, every piece of gear came back with an irreparable status. Salt water had corroded too many parts to make anything recoverable. With just a few extra days to process the claim, Hill and Usher sent me a check for the full original value of everything I lost. I was able to replace all my lost gear with new or updated lenses.
While most of you will have much more common sense and a sense of preservation than I did for this shoot, we as people tend to make poor decisions from time to time. Even in the times when we are thinking clearly, life can bring along circumstances out of control that can interrupt our plans. Without having gear insurance which reimbursed me, my business would have been severely hit this year. Having the insurance has become one of the best business decisions I have made to date. Don't let something similar debilitate your business.