Story last updated at 4/16/2014 - 4:15 pm
I like to document my life with both words and images. Sometimes I look back at my stockpile of moments just to remind myself certain things did actually happen. I went skydiving once? Really? Good for me. Over the weekend, I set my camera down on a rock. A new-caught steelhead flicked its tail, caught the strap and pulled it into the water.
I pulled the submerged $450 camera from the river, took out the battery, memory card and fished for a little while longer while I processed what happened.
An hour and another steelhead later I went home, removed all the little screws to open the thing and dangled it near the wood stove to dry out what I couldn't get to myself.
I started the replacement conversation with myself and thought it couldn't hurt to pass along my non-professional, basic knowledge about photography.
First, good images are more about capturing a moment in a unique way than your equipment. Anyone can walk up to something and snap the photo, but good photography has a multi-layered or dimensional effect. It doesn't require the "enhance" wand on your cell phone or iPhoto. A good image is a good image.
I am far from a pro, but if time allows, I try to shoot something I haven't seen, or at least replicate a good idea, a unique perspective, something interesting. You don't need an expensive camera to be creative.
Second, if you are seduced by the possibilities of an expensive 300mm attachment or 50x optical zoom, learn how to use the custom and manual settings to get your money's worth out of what you already have. The factory settings provide basic guidance and should work well in general situations, but Alaska and general are rarely synonymous. Alaska is specific, chaotic and requires some adjustment.
When the manual setting was selected, the camera that dropped in the drink allowed me to see the lighting adjustments in the viewfinder as I made them so I knew what I was getting before I snapped the photo.
It takes the confusing vocabulary of ISOs, f-stops and shutter speeds out of the equation. You should probably know them if you are serious about taking photos or if you paid serious money for a good camera, but the point is you don't have to.
If you take a photo and the blue sky looks white, you don't have to live with it. You can adjust the dial and see the color and lighting change before you re-take. This will eliminate unintended silhouettes and keep you from looking like you were photobombed by a nuclear explosion.
Tired of blurry whale photos? You'll know that you can go to your M setting, select the fractions, turn the dial that makes the camera take pictures faster, then select the smaller numbers, some of which have decimals, to make things lighter and boom: National Geographic.
Then it will start to make sense that in order to freeze the action, you needed a faster shutter speed. However, things get darker because the shutter wasn't open as long and less light was let in. So you adjusted the opening that regulates the amount of light (the aperture) and paired it with light sensitivity (ISO) more conducive to capturing a crisp, perfectly lit moment frozen in time.
Then you'll be much more satisfied that you bought the crazy 300mm lens that allows you to get all up in a whale's fluke.
But like I said, I am not a professional. If you really want to get into photography and see what's available before you make the purchase, try your friends' cameras. Play with the manual settings, so if you invest in a good camera, it's not a heavy, expensive way for you to get the same photo you would have with a cheaper point and shoot.
As for my camera, it works well enough that I don't need a replacement, but I'm heading out for more steelhead soon...