Every moral has a story. Every story has an end. Every battle has its glory and its consequence
Ben Harper

Recently there has been a lot of talk among our circle about cameras, lenses, fresh angles and fish selfies. It reminded me of a time before selfies. Let’s go back to that time before selfies, shall we.

What a glorious time that was. But it has an end.

I forget the year exactly, but I was in the Drakensberg on assignment for Getaway magazine. The second generation (or was it the third wave?) of DSLR technology was all the rage. The megapixel race was in full swing. We’re talking the 10.2 megapixel epicness of the Nikon D200 and its peers. I was proudly rocking one of those in my kit, alongside a D70s as backup. Cult camera that, I still have one in my collection**. Back then both belonged to the magazine, of course. As did the three 2.8 lenses (in a full zoom spectrum) I was carrying to capture the magnificence of the ‘Berg. And the three-way Manfrotto tripod (only time you see those nowadays are at sports matches or when the video guys are working interviews).

Root of the problem
I handed in my final assignment at the University of Stellenbosch’s journalism department on a Friday in early December 2004 and walked into Getaway as dinky intern the following Monday. I was expecting to make coffee and write the odd advertorial, but that Thursday I was on a flight to Reunion Island, a bag of self-rolled Velvia 50 film in my camera pack and the words of then editor David Bristow ringing in my ears: ‘film is cheap, flights not. Don’t bring me shit photos’.

I owe ‘DB’ everything for giving me that break, instead I paid him back by spending four years as photojournalist on the mag trying to turn every assignment into a fishing trip. (Sorry bru).

That ‘Berg jaunt was one such a trip.

As I mentioned, it was a time before selfies, but the ‘self timer’ was popular. At least with fellow mag pup Scott Ramsay and I. He was the absolute master at setting up a shot in some faraway location; solo; which then featured himself.

Self-timer countdowns in the Kamberg
Self-timer countdowns and skater shorts in the Kamberg.

His recipe was simple: Compose frame; know where in it you need to be; 20-second self timer. Run, scramble, climb to your spot. Act natural. All while counting down from 20 in your head.

This was a right out gamble back in the good old days of Fuji Velvia film (not long passed then), but digital gave us the freedom to do it – just delete the image and tweak the composition and exposure if it didn’t work. No worries. Run, scramble, climb, fire another frame… Young and dumb, living the dream as travel journos.

Too much ‘time’ to go fishing
Anyway, Scotty was coming back from his trips with some real crafty self-timer imagery and I was trying my utmost to imitate some of what he was producing on my assignments. So in the Berg I set up some scenic stream fishing shots. Why not? Steady tripod in the river, sure.

*Insert face-palm emoji here
*Insert face-palm emoji here. For oh, so many reasons. (Obviously never made it to print).

I’m more afraid of loving, than I am of being scorned, but I will keep on trying, though I have been forewarned

It ended in disaster, as you can imagine. No glory, helluva lot of consequence – the untimely, watery demise of that D200 and a 16-32mm. I spent the rest of the trip with the camera in a bag of rice and shooting on the trusty D70s (6.1mp and good for a full-page magazine image) go figure.

Another one
Another one from before disaster stuck. Probably would’ve been better if the card died with the camera…

I was obviously never going to live that down at the magazine and while some found it ‘funnier’ than others, the then art director, Rob House, thought it particularly amusing. To the point where he commissioned the freelance illustrator he was using at the time, to create this for me:


It was handed to me with some ceremony at the company year-end function, as far as I remember. Embarrassed much… I learned a few valuable lessons (I’m a bit more careful where the tripod goes nowadays, but I still stick it int the water) and got a pretty cool keepsake for the fishing room wall.

I never met the artist or worked with him, which is a shame. ’DAN’ if you’re out there, get in touch buddy.

Every story has an end


**I dunked my own D70s in the Smalblaar years later under very different (lesson-learnt) circumstances. That day I took off the lens, and slid out the battery and card (water ran out of all slots). I left it on a rock to dry and then did the hairdryer (cold setting) trick back in Cape Town. Left it in a bag of rice overnight. The following morning I put the battery in and turned it on. That camera still works today (same battery). It has pride-of-place in my collection and while I don’t shoot with it, I charge the battery from time-to-time and fire the shutter to make sure it doesn’t seize up.

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