Really Right Stuff Survives Icy Rapids in Iceland

I'm just back from Iceland, where I was leading a photo workshop and working on some new images for my forthcoming (and 37th) book, Evolution of an Image.

I'm currently processing those images and will share them with you shortly, but for now, I'd like to share my favorite story from the trip – an inspirational story, no less.

I will always treasure the opening image (taken by Susan Sammon) for this post, because this young guy from Finland, Miika Juntunen, rescued my Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head from the waterfall and rapids pictured above (photographed on a previous Iceland workshop).

Here's the story, illustrated with behind-the-scenes photos (taken through a bus window) by Camille Sindell, one of our intrepid workshop participants.

After taking a shot at a slow shutter speed (to create the silky water effect), I used the quick release lever on my RRS ball head to remove my camera and check the image, the highlight alert and histogram – as I always do to ensure the best in-camera exposure.

After checking my exposure, I was going to loan my tripod, the tallest tripod with the longest legs in the group, to one of my workshop participants, Ron Shue, pictured on the far left. Ron wanted the extra height (a great feature of my RRS tripod) to get what I felt was the best angle for the photograph, illustrated below by another photograph from a previous Iceland photo workshop.

While making the switch, a strong gust of wind blew over my tripod and tossed it into the rapids. My tripod, an essential accessory for my photography, rapidly started to float away.

Ron spotted my drifting tripod and tried to snag it with the legs from his tripod, but it was out of reach. Thanks, Ron, for trying!

The very important tip here, and one that I always give my workshop students. Never take your hand off your tripod. I guess I should have practiced what I preached to the workshop participants.

Did you catch the word "float" in the paragraph above? That's right! The tripod's legs stuck out of the water as it drifted downstream and allowed me to keep track of my beloved tripod.

Floating also proves that the leg joints are sealed and air tight. I don't know of any other tripod that offers this "live saver" (as in a life preserver that you'd see at a swimming pool) feature.

Miraculously (no other word to describe the situation), Miika, the young man pictured in the opening image, appeared and walked very quickly along the shore line – from the X (where my tripod fell into the water) to the arrow (where my tripod was eventually recovered).

Fortunately, the ball head got stuck in some rocks on the river bed, and with one leg still above the surface of the water, I finally caught up to Miika.

Miika offered to run back to his car, put on his fishing waders (waterproof pants that come to chest level), and rescue my tripod. While he dashed off, I watched the rubber foot of my tripod leg bob up and down at water level. My heart was sinking, and so was my tripod!

In a flash, Miika returned, walked rapidly into the ice cold water, grabbed my tripod and brought it to shore.

The Video
Here's a video of the rescue!

Yes, the moral of this story is: Never take your hand off your tripod. But the real magic is that there are many kind and caring and good people in the world willing to help strangers . . . with no goal in mind except to lend a helping hand.

There is a secondary moral to this story: don't skimp when it comes to choosing a tripod – because accidents can happen. Also, had I been using a cheaper tripod, which probably would not have survived the ride over and under the icy rapids and banging (smashing) on the rocks, I would have been sunk, so to speak, on my Iceland workshop – because my best slow shutter speeds shots awaited me on the ice beach near the glacier lagoon – one pictured below on the cover of Evolution of an Image.

Thank you Miika for saving my tripod and ball head – which still work perfectly even after being roughed up on the rapids.

Again, stay tuned for new Iceland images. They are some of my favorites!

Finally, Miika: send this post to your parents, they will be proud of you.

Explore the light,

P.S. For more of my worldwide travel images along with photo tips, see my latest book, Creative Visualization for Photographers.