The first day in GSMNP and the first attraction visited is Laurel Falls. The flow isn't quite as fast or large as I have seen in other photos but flowing quickly nonetheless. This was the first shot of the trip and after it was taken the excitement for what else the day had in store was building quickly.
I had purchased cheapo vinyl waders at Wal-Mart a day earlier but when putting them on I ripped a hole. As easily as they ripped I didn't invest in another pair nor did I buy the $40-$100 waders. With that said, I was upset at first that I couldn't get the low and close vantage point I was seeking on shots like these without getting completely soaked. A great photographer friend, Taylor Reed, reminded me of Ian Plant's motto, "If your lens isn't getting splashed, you're not close enough."
Climbing up rocks, off frame to the left, I noticed a platform area that stretched across, right into the path of the falls on the 2nd tier about 1/3 of the way down the photo. There wasn't any deep standing water, only a seemingly mild flow that dropped off maybe 6-7 feet behind me and 9-10 feet in front of me. I become excited because this angle may give a totally different impression of the falls.
Carrying my camera on the tripod in my left hand, the legs extended, two Lee graduated neutral density plate filters in my back pocket and my gear bag on my back, I step out into the flow in hiking boots. One step and next thing I know I'm lying on my back with water rushing against me. The tripod is still in my left hand and water is drenching the outside of the bag. My feet are hanging off the falls, water filling my shoes, pulling me. I roll to the right and use the tripod legs as a means to pull myself up, being certain not to slip on the slick rock again. I don't notice much water on the camera so I stand it up next to me away from harm and check my bag's contents. Luckily the water barely made it's way in and a few small things needed to be cleaned and dried. The filters in my back pocket even survived thanks to the strong resin plate material. My clothes are drenched from the waist down and a bit on my left side. I get up to grab the camera and notice small cracks all over the filter on my wide angle. When I fell I must have banged the camera against the rock. The filter rotates once threaded into the lens and each layer of it was smashed into the threads, rendering it useless. Any amount of twisting was impossible as something was needed to pry off the filter, maybe even damaging the threads on the lens. It was very easy to become pissed and the hike back down had me shaking my head and muttering at myself.
My Hoya HD Digital circular polarizer was toast. If I wouldn't even buy new waders, you could bet replacing a $200 filter was out of the question. Digging through my bag I remembered I still carried my old $30 Sunpak filter. Not the greatest quality, but better than nothing. Now all I needed was something to take off the broken filter without damaging the lens anymore than it already was. Getting back to the cabin, my father and I looked around for a pair of large pliers or anything similar. I opened the first drawer and found a can opener. With a few hard taps on the dented filter I was able to release some pressure from the threads but still couldn't twist. Placing the opener around the edge of the filter, much like a can, I was able to twist off each layer. Sparing the filter, saving the threads, and even better the lens; a huge sigh of relief was let out.
In hindsight I was pleased with how everything turned out. I could have badly damaged the camera or the lens, or even worse myself. Maybe if I purchased the waders I would still have the filter and no need to push my luck on a dangerous rock ledge. I looked just as wet as if I had stood in waist deep water so maybe i should have jumped in in the first place. Although, I chose to remain positive on the outcome and pushed on, having a great time in the park.