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Out of Focus – Traumatic Camera Incident (full story)

©Ethan Meleg Photos of the accident still traumatize me!

©Ethan Meleg
Photos of the accident still traumatize me!

Story and Photography by Ethan Meleg

It was a glorious morning. A cool mist hung in the valley, drifting lightly on the gentle breeze. The sun burst over the horizon, its golden rays delivering warmth and life to the forest and its creatures. Cardinals and chickadees, nuthatches and titmice were harmonizing in song, filling the air with a natural symphony. It was, by every measure, a categorically picture perfect morning.


I was armed with the finest camera gear in the world: a camera that produces files of utterly remarkable quality and a telephoto lens made with extraordinary glass and technology. The light was perfect and the birds were close. It was shaping up to be a spectacular day of bird photography!

I am a very methodical person, organized with finely-tuned routines so everything runs smoothly. You could call me anally retentive and I wouldn’t dispute it; this serves me well as a photographer. I can function effectively early in the morning when I have to think quickly and operate advanced camera gear.

So on that stunning morning, as I was about to click some OPC magazine-worthy bird photos, I can’t explain why I didn’t follow my usual routine, which includes checking to make sure the tripod legs are secure.

The topple happened in slow motion. As gravity took hold of my very expensive super-telephoto lens, camera body and tripod, a quiet calm fell upon the world and I could hear my individual heartbeats as if they were a metronome setting pace for the incident. Unable to catch it in time, I watched the gear careen towards the ground and I braced for the inevitable: THUD.

The moment when your camera gear hits the ground feels like you’ve just been kicked squarely in the groin by a bull moose on steroids at the peak of the rutting season. It knocks the wind out of you. Your stomach ends up in your throat. Your eyes go saucer-sized and smoke comes out of your ears. Feelings of sadness, sorrow and despair wash over your entire body, extinguishing your will to live.

After the initial shock, I surveyed the damage. There were scuffs, but no cracks or chunks missing. The camera had an “Error 20” message, which basically means, “Screw off, I don’t work anymore.” I put the lens on a spare camera and it appeared fine. I was technically capable of shooting for the rest of the day, but the glorious morning had been shattered by the inglorious tumble, taking my photo mojo with it.

Several hundred dollars in repairs later, the gear is back in top shape. My emotional scars from the tragic incident, however, are still deep. Whenever I think of that camera going THUD on the ground, it still feels like that moose is kicking me in the groin again. It’s going to take wine and time to get over this traumatic camera incident!

To read more of this issue please pick up the Summer/Fall 2016 (#38) issue of OPC. Or to never miss an issue please SUBSCRIBE today!

4 Responses to “Out of Focus – Traumatic Camera Incident (full story)”

  1. I know the feeling, I dropped my Nikon D7200 with the updated 80-400VR lense while attempting to place it on my front passenger car seat. The lense cap saved the lense for sure as it ended up on a angle leaning against the open door and down touching the ground. The back of the camera body partially popped out. I pushed it back as far as I could and did a field repair using black electric tape. Have been shooting like this since and all is good, pretty tough setup but luck was on my side.

    Paul O’Toole

  2. Todd says:

    One of the things that I have added to my mental checklist is to setup on grass where I can still get the same shot as opposed to setting up on gravel etc. If I drop the camera / lens or if the tripod tips over, I have a bit of hope of everything still working properly.

  3. David Buzzeo says:

    You are not alone. I did the very same thing on a commercial shoot. It looks like we have the same make of tripod and the same type of head. Co-incident?


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