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The Saddest Photo I Ever Took

The saddest photo I ever shot. Yes, it's technically'll find out why in the article below.

March 2, 2020 was easily one of the worst days of my life — the day I took the saddest photo in my life.

It should have been a good day. I was on the Big Island of Hawaii and COVID-19 had not yet been declared a pandemic (though it would be in a matter of days). I was living the photographer’s dream, shooting some of the best scenery, sunrises and sunsets on the planet.

My wife and I were joined on the trip by two friends who had never visited the Big Island; we were anxious to show them our favourite places.

One of the those places was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, billed as “A beautiful garden in a valley on the ocean.” The garden is located about 30 minutes outside of Hilo and five years previously my wife and I had thoroughly enjoyed visiting it on a sunny, warm day, taking in the lush vegetation, exotic (to us) species, waterfalls, oceanscapes and tropical birds. We spent four or five hours in the garden and felt we had easily gotten our money’s worth. It seemed a good idea to take our friends to the garden so they could experience it as we had. Mother Nature had other ideas.

It had been threatening to rain all morning, but we had only been lightly sprinkled while visiting nearby Akaka Falls. When we got to the botanical garden the skies were grey but there was no rain to speak of. Until we paid our admission and entered the garden. Almost immediately the skies opened and we were engulfed in bucketing rain. Torrents fell, forming small rivers and lakes on the pavement beneath our feet. We huddled beneath a shelter with other visitors, hoping the rain would pass quickly. It did not.

All of which is just to set the scene for the tragedy yet to unfold. That came when we decided that if the rain would not relent, we would suck it up, get wet and find a way to enjoy the afternoon. Which was fine, except for one crucial mistake.

I was a Pentax shooter at that time. One of Pentax’s claims to fame is how well their cameras are weather sealed. I had previously profited from that weather sealing in conditions under which no sane person would have continued using their camera. On one memorable trip it rained so hard I had to pour what seemed like a litre of water out of my camera bag. My camera wasn’t fazed at all, happily continuing to work while dripping wet. I scoffed at the rain covers other photographers used. Who needed them?

That’s what I expected in the botanical garden as well. It was raining hard, but it was nothing my camera hadn’t been through. The camera was weather sealed, my lens was weather-sealed and I kept all of it close to my body so it wasn’t directly exposed to the rain. Despite these advantages, I finally decided I’d put the camera away in my pack — just in case.

Too little, too late. When I took my camera out of the bag later that afternoon it wouldn’t power up. Reasoning the battery might be dead I put in a fresh one. Still nothing. Getting desperate, I took out the memory card and battery, took off the lens and set the camera near a fan to dry out. If I had brought desiccant bags I would have tried them, but in their absence I thought a fan would help.

The next morning was March 2, 2020. My camera had been open all night and seemed dry. I put the lens back on, slid the memory card back in and inserted the battery. Gingerly, hoping against hope, I turned the power button.

Success! My camera powered up as usual, though the rear LCD screen had some odd jitters I had never seen before. Nonetheless, I aimed the camera out the window toward the ocean and took one shot. But that shot was its last; the power went off, the screen went black and despite my best attempts to dry it out further, charge and recharge the batteries and (for good measure) whisper to it encouragingly, it never again powered up. It was, for all intents and purposes, an expensive black brick. My K3ii had been a workhorse for years, never complaining about cold, heat, humidity, sudden falls or rain. But it hadn’t reckoned with the rains of Hilo.

For the rest of my holiday I resorted to using a GoPro which, while satisfying for making videos while snorkelling, will never be my first choice for still photography. Not even close.

Back at home, and thrust suddenly into a world of lockdowns and restrictions, I realized I had a choice to make. I couldn’t be without a camera, but what camera would I get to replace my now-ruined Pentax? How would I make that decision?

It took time and a lot of soul-searching, but I eventually made a choice I was happy with. I’d like to tell you all about it…but that’s a story for another day.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens...scene of tragedy...

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