A Sea seeking Revenge

Posted by on Apr 7, 2013 in Location Guides | 0 comments

A bit of a different blog post this week, this time bit of a location guide to Woolgoolga as well as a tale on how my camera ended up being destroyed by the sea.  It happened mid-March on my way home from running our workshops in Coffs Harbour, when I stopped at Woolgoolga to visit a fellow photographer.  After having a coffee and catching up for a while, I was taken on a tour of the town and its sights.

Tree of Woolgoolga

Tree of Woolgoolga by Tony White
Infrared, 1/100s @ F11, ISO 200

Woolgoolga is a small town in New South Wales (Australia), about 40mins north of Coffs Harbour, population around 5000.  There is a large population of Sikhs in Woolgoolga, highlighted by The First Sikh Temple (in Australia) and The Guru Nanak Gurdwara (temple on the hill).  The Guru Nanak Gurdwara temple is seen by most travelers on their way through town, with wonderful architecture it is something I wish I had been there at the right time to photograph.


My tour of Woolgoolga started with The Guru Nanak Gurdwara, unfortunately the light was all wrong at the time, it is definitely a sunrise or sunset location. Next we took a drive down to the Woolgoolga Lake, which is a tidal lake popular with the local fisherman.  Both the lake and roads leading to them offer some interesting photographic opportunities, if you are there at the right time and can avoid getting the power-lines in your shots.  Unfortunately I was only carrying my infrared camera for the tour and the weather was rather overcast, so I only took a photos at a few locations.

Battered Tree

Battered Tree by Tony White
Infrared, 1/400s @ F11, ISO 200

From here we drove back and found a spot looking over one of the beaches, before going to the main lookout where Whales can be seen during Whale watching season.  The lookout provides a fantastic view of the complete coast and to nearby islands.  It was on our way from this lookout when we noticed that the shipwreck of The Buster was currently exposed.

The Buster was a 310 ton, 39 meter long steamer which driven ashore and wrecked near the mouth of the Woolgoolga Lake in March of 1893.  The bones of the wreck are usually buried under the sand, but king tides reveal it every few years for photographers to photograph.  The shipwreck is largely timber, which surprised me, as I am used to the wreck of the SS Dicky at Caloundra.  Even more surprising, though perhaps not considering the sand, but the timbers are largely still intact.

So seeing as the wreck was out, we headed back so I could retrieve my tripod, normal camera and other bits and pieces.  So after collecting my equipment we headed back to the Woolgoolga Lake which is the closest spot to park to walk to the wreck which is on the beach.  The pathway skirts the edge of the caravan park to the beach and avoids needing to slog through the sand.  Once on the beach the wreck will be easily visible, assuming it is out.  The wreck, when I was there, was not completely buried but enough was out to provide some interesting shots.

Upon arriving we saw that the water was just lapping through the wreck on the bigger waves.  I found a spot for my camera bag on the sand, using the built in all weather protection cover to avoid getting sand in the material.  I started with a few shots free hand, just exploring the wreck a bit.  With the water draining out of the wreck on the larger waves I could see some potential for doing a long exposure.  Unfortunately there was a tree caught in part of the wreck which ruled out some angles, leaving me with an almost front on position for the shot I wanted. Below is one of the shots I took whilst exploring the wreck.

The Buster

The Buster by Tony White
1/250sec @ F11, ISO 100, 10-20mm

To be able to do the long exposure shot in the middle of the day I needed to use my neutral density filters.  Neutral Density filters are grey pieces of plastic (or glass) that reduce the light coming in, allowing you to have the shutter open longer and capture the movement of things like water or clouds.  So using my heaviest neutral density filter along with a graduated filter (to darken down the sky), I placed my camera on the tripod with the Sigma 10-20mm lens.  I was using the 10-20mm lens as I wanted to be fairly close to the wreck and but still capture the wreck’s surrounds.  Next I headed to a spot in front of the wreck, the water was out at the time and the waves appeared to only come up around my ankles.  I had my tripod low so I could get a perspective we do not normally see.  With the filters in place it makes it much harder to get the focus, so I was using live view along with my Hoodman Loupe to get my focus.

It was about this time I noticed that the shutter speed was still not going to be what I wanted, so I would need to use an extra filter which I had in my pocket.  I was just standing up straight to get it out of my pocket when it happened.  With my back to the ocean, as I was focused on the front of the shipwreck, a wave bigger than all the rest struck!  Almost 120yrs to the day, the Ocean made an attempt to drive a man made object into the sand of Woolgoolga Beach.  The wave did not knock my tripod over, nor did it make it completely over it, but it did cause enough of a splash onto the camera and lens to leave it rather damp.

So I quickly moved to get it away from the water and checked it was still functioning, it was.  So I proceeded to use available towels to dry it off as much as possible after having switched the camera off.  After getting the camera dried off and drying the lens and filters, I prepared to return to my spot and try once more to photograph the wreck.  This time I was planning to keep a closer eye on the ocean and its malicious waves, to avoid a repeat attack.  So I moved back towards the spot I wanted to use, and flicked my camera on… nothing.  Nothing on either screen, I pulled the battery out, checked that the memory card… nothing.  It was dead.

At this time we packed up, thinking to get back to my friends place so I could put the camera in rice to try and absorb the moisture.  Unfortunately as it was salt water, corrosion was inevitable and with the battery creating an electrical charge the corrosion had already started in both the camera and the lens.  So there was really nothing to be done but contact my insurance company, luckily all of my camera equipment is listed and my policy has accidental damage that included water damage.  To complete the claim I had to get a repair report, to demonstrate the extent of the damage and costs to repair.  As it turned out the cost to repair was more than it is to buy a new camera and lens.  So now I am waiting to hear from the camera store which will be replacing my camera and lens, with luck I will have my replacements by the end of the coming week.


So a couple of things to learn:

  • always ensure to keep an eye on the ocean and the waves, especially if you have your back to them but are still potentially getting wet
  • make sure your insurance policy covers your camera equipment and salt water damage
  • always take a moment to stop and take photos, you never know if you camera might break

Woolgoolga is certainly a beautiful little town and provides numerous scenes to explore with beaches and rainforests close by.  So definitely worth a visit for those looking for a change of scenery.