Friday, June 5, 2009

Main Salmon River - Photo Gear for the River (Trip Video)

Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to go down the Main Salmon River in central Idaho with Jared Hopkinson's Sawtooth Adventure Company. We rafted 82 miles through the wilderness on BIG water and only saw two other parties in five days. It was truly special to have the river all to ourselves - to see the place at its best! Here's a quick video documenting the trip! Thanks to everyone who made this trip happen - I really appreciate being able to tag along. If you'd like to look at the still photos I've posted them on my flickr photostream.

Since this is a blog about photography I thought it would be fun to talk about the equipment I used to shoot video and photograph the trip. This trip was unique to shoot for a couple of reasons. First of all, we were going down a river. A big river. The flow levels for the trip oscillated between 60,000 and 80,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) while were on the water. For anyone unfamiliar with river running, that's HUGE water. For a little perspective compare it to the Colorado River where it flows through Cataract Canyon - considered to be one of the ultimate big water rafting trip in North America - "The Colorado River reached its peak flow for 2009 in Utah's Cataract Canyon on May 26. The river was flowing at a raging 52,000 cfs. Cataract Canyon is known for it's exciting rapids and "when the river reaches flows over 50,000 cfs the rapids are awe inspiring" says veteran rafting guide Walker Mackay."

Catch that? The Colorado was at 52,000 - we were at 60,000 - 80,000. We were going down the Main Salmon the same week, but at even higher flows. So, I needed a strategy to keep my camera gear dry. My solution was a multi-camera approach. I ended up taking three cameras in total. I took my trusty Nikon D200. The D200 is my main body that I shoot almost everything with. It's a great camera and I know it very well. If it was waterproof and shot video it would be all I needed. Unfortunately, it is not. And its expensive, so dunking it in the drink wasn't an option. If a boat flipped, or I swam with it in my hand I would be out a huge chunk of change. But I wanted to capture the action of whitewater, so I needed a camera I could take risks with. I pulled out my old film camera, the N90. The N90 is an awesome, lightweight, relatively inexpensive camera that I hardly ever use anymore because digital has become the medium of choice. I also threw in my "fun" camera, an Olympus SP550UZ. This camera is not great as a still camera, but it takes decent video, and it was free (so I wasn't real worried about it getting wet).

To keep everything dry when I wasn't using it I used a Pelican 1450 dry box. The 1450 is great size for cameras, fits both my bodies, a couple lenses with a little room left over for goodies like memory cards, cords, etc. It's still small enough to move around easily and can be strapped to the top of an oar frame on a raft, or even onto a center tube on a paddle boat if you want. I also brought along a variety of dry bags for little stuff that wouldn't fit in my Pelican case.

To keep my film camera and video camera dry while I shot out of the boats I used a little splash guard made by KATA (E-690). I was very impressed with this little gadget. You can slip your hand in the right side to access your camera controls and things still stay very dry. We splashed through some pretty big waves and my cameras came out dry.

While I handheld my camera a lot of the time I brought along a small light tri-pod, the Velbon CX470. Its nothing special, but its light, very ridged and I've been banging it around for about 5 years (there's something comforting about using gear that jI have used a lot in the backcountry). I also took a the Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp. If you're into action sports photography or just finding new angles and unique perspective for your photographs check these things out. I read about them on the Strobist blog by David Hobby and you can buy them from Midwest Photo Exchange. Check 'em out, they're awesome!

So, that's about it. Sounds like a lot to lug around on a backcountry trip. But rafting is a pretty luxurious way to travel through the wilderness. And aside from the Pelican case, I could have carried it all in a small backpack. No problem.

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