What's in your camera bag?

July 12, 2016

What’s in your camera bag?Being prepared is half the victory.

A few weeks ago I went down to Ha Ha Tonka state park as part of a photo group; we decided to meet around 10am at the “castle” on top of the hill. I really wanted to get there before that, not only to beat the crowds and leave before it got to hot, but I wanted to get early morning fog in my pictures. So the night before I gathered my equipment, and packed it all in to 1 bag I had two cameras with me. I had let a family member borrow my digital camera but I still had my film cameras, so I packed 2 rolls of 35mm and 1 roll of 120, 2 lenses for each and my brand new tripod.

I left my house around 6:30 and got there at 7, perfect timing. The fog was lingering and light was coming through the branches. I was the first car in the parking lot. This was my first time coming here and I was very excited, I was going to make it count. I grabbed my bag, my tripod and started to walk around.

The “castle” was at the top of the hill I decide to save that for last for when my group got There. I started walking down the wooden walkway, and it was pretty neat, took some pictures of the ruins and kept going down deeper down until I got to a fork in the trail. One went to the natural bridge and one went down the side of the cliff were the castle was sitting; thinking it would be a great idea to get down to the water closer to the fog, I choose the cliff. There was a sign warning how far it went down and how hard it would be to take the steps back but being 30 years old I figured the sign wasn’t really for me, so on I went taking a few more pictures on my way to the bottom.

I had borrowed a sweet macro lens from my co-worker so I took a lot of pictures or flowers and such. At certain point I realized how thirsty I was. I had packed a bottle of water but left it in the car thinking that would be a base of operations that I could come back to as I pleased, but at this point I felt it would have been easier to go down and take the pictures then go back up. Problem was, I didn’t know how far it went down yet.

The wooden steps zigzagged down the side of the cliff. It had been about an hour since I had gotten to the park and I was still feeling pretty good, but it was starting to get humid and warm.

After going for another half hour I realized wouldn’t be able to go back up my legs were already tired from going down the steps, they weren’t going to go back up: So I made de decision to keep going. I kept encountering people so I figured I would be safe (I hoped, anyway). Once I got to the bottom where the lake met the cliff side the walk became a bit easier, but the sweat was running down my face and my bag started digging into my shoulder. I had better bags, but this was the only one that fit my big heavy 120 camera.

At the bottom of the cliff the wooden walkway wrapped around the base. I kept looking for a great picture. I had worked so hard to get here I wasn’t going to quit now. As I was walking around, another hiker stopped to tell me he had seen a pretty awesome sight and pointed me to where it was. He said the fog was still on top of the water, so I decided to go there.

The path turned into dirt at a certain point, I don’t remember when, but steps were dug into the dirt reinforced with logs, the hiker had told me to go to where the bridge was and to go over to the other side of this small island and there was the spot, in a small cove at the bottom of the cliff where the “castle” stood. As I got to the bridge I saw a parking lot. “Hurray” I thought, at this point, was hungry and thirsty having also not had breakfast, but I didn’t want to back track so I kept going. When I got to the island there was another sign, this time warning about the steep incline of the terrain. I had gotten this far. I wasn’t going to give up. On my first step up the hill my leg gave away. This was the first step upwards since I had started descending from the top; I sat there for a second feeling a bit defeated then I remembered my tripod.

I had always bought cheap tripods. I never thought about it as a necessary accessory, but they would always break or not sit right because they were cheap plastic, so I finally invested into a really heavy duty, sturdy tripod and loved it. I had it for about a week before this trip and was happy to take it along.

Sitting there holding my tripod, I remembered that the leg comes off and turns not only into a monopod but a really handy walking stick, so I rested for a few minutes and then took off up the hill with my new walking stick. Once I made it to the top of the island I saw the cove the hiker had mentioned. I went down to it where the island met the cliff and the spring met the lake: a perfect spot. I looked straight up and saw the “castle” ruins. I was far from my base of operations.

I took my bag off my shoulder I had a pretty deep mark on my shoulder, the strap wasn’t padded and I was carrying over 15lbs of equipment for 2 hours. I set the camera up, put the wide lens on it, leveled my tripod (after attaching the leg back), checked my exposure attached a cable release and snapped a single picture.

I didn’t feel the need to take another one. I felt I had done a good job. I put everything back in my bag, collapsed the tripod and headed back to the other side of the island.

At this point I really didn’t feel great. I was starting to get scared. I made my way to the parking lot as fast as I could without stopping. I didn’t want to sit, I might not be able to get back up. When I got to the parking lot I saw there was a public restroom but no water fountains. I couldn’t believe it, I overheard someone saying they were heading to the “castle”. I was very embarrassed but I asked if I could ride with them. Of course they said no, at this point I was sweaty and run down with a bandana on my head, I wouldn’t have given myself a ride.

I did have my phone though; I called my group seeing if they were close so they could pick me up. They were still about 30mins away. I checked the map. I was about 2-3 miles away from my car, I figured I would start walking up the road. It would be easier than the trail and a car might pick me up, so for the first time in my life I started hitchhiking.

On my way up the road, the sun was beating down pretty hard but there was a small breeze. I saw a few turtles on the side of the road and helped them across. As I got to the top of the first hill I saw a pretty nice landscape and decided to stop in the middle of the road and take a few pictures. I snapped 2 and kept moving. About half a mile up the road there was a rest area, it had a big sign with one particular symbol on it: a water fountain.

I didn’t remember if I dropped to my knees at the sight of the fountain but in my memory I did. I could not drink it fast enough, the fountain was right in the sun and couldn’t stand there and drink it with the sun hitting me to I grabbed a zip lock bag that I had and filled it with water and chugged the whole thing. It was incredible.

After resting a bit longer I decided to keep going, calling my friend to see how close he was. They had finally made it, another half mile down the road. His vehicle pulled beside me, I didn’t realized how stressed I was until I got into his car and it all melted away. I was actually safe. Such a weird feeling, safe, you don’t know how it feels until you get it back.

We went back to the “castle” and met up with the rest of our party, told them the story and how I had gotten this one picture that if it turned out would have been worth it. It was pretty dumb to think that but, in hindsight I think it kept me going. I snapped a few more pictures and said my good byes. I stopped at a gas station and got an energy bar and 32oz Gatorade.

Later that day my friend invited me to a BBQ and we played Dungeons and Dragons (nothing to do with the story)

A few days later I got my pictures back form the lab. I quickly put the cd in the computer to look at and it was incredible. The blue sky reflecting off the water, the green trees all around and a thick fog just above the water I was so happy to see it and it turned out just as it was.

Later I sent it back to the lab to get a high resolution scan and blew it up 16x20 black and white. It’s beautiful.

I was so caught up with getting the perfect picture I forgot to prepare for the actual part of getting to the picture; I truly believe I could have easily died that day but maybe it was to share this picture with everyone or just luck.

Be safe out there; don’t forget to prepare for everything not just your pictures.


Nestor Martinez

Columbia Store Manager.