what not to do after you drop your camera in the lake

Even though “photograph old colleges” is #31 on my life list menu, I didn’t plan to bring my DSLR this trip. It would be my first time visiting Ed’s alma mater, Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and it was planned as a quick trip.

We went for a football game weekend – full of the traditions Notre Dame is so well known for. We’d be doing a lot of walking, and ND is a fairly large campus. While the 40D would certainly do justice to my desire to capture images, it (and my wonderful collection of lenses) is a lot to lug around.

Visiting colleges is what prompted me to buy the point+shoot in the first place. The day before Kristina and I left for Southern California to visit colleges of interest, I walked into my favourite local camera store, and said, “Tom, please help me.”

I had never held, much less owned a point+shoot. Truth be told, I was kind of snobby about it. They weren’t “real” cameras , and it was with real chagrin that I went in to buy one.

For that trip it made sense, though. We would visit at least six schools in an 85-mile range, and tour each one. We really only needed snapshots to help us remember the details of each, to keep them from all blurring together in our memories.

A pocket camera was perfect. Tom helped me choose this one. Even though it took a long time to get used to composing and framing photos by holding the camera out in front of me (and even though I still sometimes hit myself in the nose trying to see through a non-existent viewfinder), I’ve come to love and appreciate this camera for what it does well.

And I’ve taken some damn good photographs with it, to my great surprise and delight.

So, for the foodball game weekend, I planned to just enjoy being there, and to pocket the slim point+shoot, so I could capture the things that caught my eye, more for recording and documenting than for making artful photographs.

It was a lovely weekend, with highs of 80°F all three days – nearly unheard of in October – brilliant sun reflecting off the already fiery leaves, and a deep blue sky for background. College students frolicked with frisbees and footballs, alumni grinned in their ND t-shirts and shorts.

Ed took me around to his old haunts, marvelling at the changes to the campus in the last 20+ years, pointing out the things that remain the same. We made our way toward Saint Mary’s, the nearer of the two lakes on campus.

Throughout the day, I pulled out the camera, making snapshots, composing shots mostly on the fly. When we crossed the road to the lake, I was thrilled – the lake reflected the trees in their autumn colours, the sun sparkled on the water – it was brilliant.

Then I saw the swans.

Nana and Pop had a pair of swans that visited every year. Swans mate for life. Swans are special, elegant, magical. Swans are like unicorns, except better, because they are real we see them more often.

I had a perfect frame in mind for my photo, and stepped right up to the water’s edge, getting ready to crouch low to have maximum water and sky in my photo.

You know what is going to happen next, right?

With the tiniest little ploop, not even a proper splash, the camera was in the water.

And I stared at it in horror, as it began to bubble.

People, in case you had any doubt – cameras are NOT supposed to bubble.

I was behind a tree. Ed waited on the other side of it; he thought the splash was a rock or pebble. Then he saw me lean forward, stricken, my expression of horror unmistakeable.

“Was that your camera?” he asked, realisation dawning. I nodded as I stepped forward to retrieve it. Ed splashed right in and scooped it up, handing it to me.

In full panic, I hit the power button. The lens retracted back into itself. Water splooshed out.

Cameras are also not supposed to sploosh.

I turned the camera over, and popped out the battery and memory disk. Then I blew on the cavity where the battery had been.

Right. I blew on it.

That won’t be on the list of things to do if you drop your camera in the water.

Then I freaked out. Not only was it likely that I would not have a camera for the rest of the trip. I didn’t get the shot of the swans.

And I’m not even kidding when I say that this whole thing would have bothered me a lot less if it had happened AFTER I took that photograph.

A goodly amount of kicking myself followed. A while after that I tweeted, “Okay, so I just dropped my P&S in the lake. #iwasdistracted #therewereswans #andfallfoliage #willitblend”

Dotterface responded, with the encouraging message that I can still use my phone to take pictures.  While I suppose that is technically true, in that my phone has a camera, it’s just not the same.

Later, we talked about what to do when a camera (or other piece of technology) gets wet. Kristina has… um, quite a bit of experience with this, having laundered at least one phone.

It was immediately clear that I had done all the wrong things. This camera is a paperweight now.

In order to possibly save you from the same grief, I offer this list.

  1. Put the little strap from the camera on your wrist. EVERY TIME. Most of the time is not all the time, just as mostly dead is not all dead.
    My camera is ALL DEAD.
  2. When you retrieve your camera/cell phone/whatever from the water, change nothing. Do not press a button. Do not turn it on or off.
    Touch nothing.
  3. Remove the battery. Yes, you can do that. That generally involves a manual catch or lever or door, not an electronic switch.
  4. Remove the storage – protect your data.
  5. Place the camera and battery – not the storage disk – into a 2 lb bag of rice (or 5 lb if you need more coverage).
  6. Seal it into a ziploc and leave it that way for 48 hours. Do not peek. Any moisture in there will be drawn out into the rice. This might work. It might not. But it’s the best chance you have at this point.
  7. Share kindness and generosity with everyone you meet. You won’t be busy taking photographs or sending texts, now will you?

Okay, so there is no technical reason to do #7, but it’s a good idea anyway.

We walked the perimeter of the lake. From the other side, I captured the photo above, using my phone. I wasn’t trying very hard. I was sad and distracted.

And still? There are swans. So, it’s pretty awesome to me.


Update: Ed pocketed the battery for me at the time. I kept meaning to ask him for it – it will likely fit a new point+shoot if I get another. Later, he was doing laundry from the trip, and put stuff into the dryer. We couldn’t figure out what the thumping sound was. Oh, but I bet you can. We are so good at this.


about the photo

This whole post is basically the story of this photo, so just the facts, ma’am.

HTC Incredible | Retro Camera app | Little Orange Box filter by Urbian


  • I have been wanting a DSLR for ages now. I had considered getting an old school 35mm, but I realized, no, I really need the D part of that DSLR as I’m somewhat of a novice. A snob novice.

    I broke down two weeks ago and bought a point and click. (I got a Nikon S6100.) I’m glad I bought it. I know it’s not going to be enough for me, but it was a decent price. It thinks I’m a moron.

    So thank you for the tips on what to do, if I ever do that. And here’s hoping you get another one soon. (And thank goodness it wasn’t the 40D.)

    • Em, thank you for stopping by and commenting. I used an old film 35mm for twenty years before getting a DSLR.

      Two of the best D features are: freedom from film and developing costs (once you’ve sunk the cost of the initial purchase) and instant feedback.

      Being able to take a gazillion pictures when you are learning about it, AND see immediately if the pictures are working, if you are achieving the effect you are looking for, is a tremendous tool.

      And the cool thing about a point+shoot is that you can develop your eye – composition, framing, looking for the light – without worrying about getting too technical.

      I think it’s sort of like learning to drive on an automatic – just getting the rules of the road down, and navigating with other cars – before you concern yourself with driving stick.

      YES – I am SO grateful that it wasn’t the 40D. Enough said.

  • Silica-based kitty litter is even better, if you have it around. It also has no dust and will not mold (but not as handy in no-cat houses).

  • you are so amazing.

    i love swans too. I love that they mate for life, i love that they snuggle, i love that a pair visited nanna and pop’s every year and nanna would keep and eye out for them, and talk to them.

    And i also love that they are magic.

    I have a concern about a detail shared in your post: It seems that you do not believe that unicorns are real. To be fair, unicorns have learned to be shy and weary of people (rather wise i think) and therefor sightings are extremely rare. Though i would like to reassure you that they are totally real, as real as love and magic. (which i also have complete faith in)

    I love that you made the distinction about mostly dead, and all dead. I have indeed also had electronics that followed the princess bride rules of aliveness. My phone was revived in the dehydrator. poor little guy. i learned that back pockets are not good places to store cell phones, especially not when you are in need of using a tiny public can. oopsidoodle. 🙂

    love you millions.

    • I have been going through my site and replying to comments I missed. It’s a good way to get back into my scatterbeams community and remind myself how much I love writing here. I saw this comment, and am duly chagrined that I have slighted unicorns in this way.

      Please note the corrected text above. Thank you for your clear belief and shared faith in magic, love, and yes, unicorns. This is one of my favourite things about you.

      I enjoyed this book. You might, too: Rampant. It is another take on the unicorn mythology, bringing it into contemporary Italy, with killer unicorns. (Spoiler alert: there are five kinds of unicorns. Not all are killer unicorns. Not all are sparkly and benign, either.)

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