Our 10-day Alaska Cruise on the Norwegian Pearl.
For the past year, my husband and I have had our trip to Alaska all planned out. After much research we chose to go in May since it was supposed to be less rainy and colder, so there would be no mosquitoes. I have done two other cruises to the Inside Passage and knew that I would be at the mercy of the cruise ship schedule. Meaning the focus was to be more vacation, less photography. Less photography, meant bring less gear. I opted to bring a smaller camera bag; the Lowpro Photo Sport 200 AW (expect a gear review in the future). This bag allowed me to take my camera and two lens, plus plenty of room for essentials and a small tripod.
Earlier in the year I was given the opportunity to try out Nikon's 28-300mm "travel lens." Overall I was pleased with the results and I decided I would rent one for our trip. Which meant, besides my 105 Micro, that was the "go to" lens for my vacation. I rented it with a discount from Borrowlenses.com a few months before our sail date and all that was left was to wait for our trip to get here and pray for good weather. It was my husband's first time and I wanted it to be perfect.
Now for those of you that are waiting for my hard lesson to consist of me being attacked by a bear or some other tale filled with cuts, bloods and bruises, I can thankfully say you will be disappointed. Our vacation was itself was absolutely perfect. We had sun and blue sky 11 out of the 12 days we were gone. We saw whales from our cruise ship, we got to hold live crabs, were surrounded by 50+ Bald Eagles as they dived into the water for bait fish and it was so sunny we even got a tan on our faces (it was still cold, so we were covered every where else LOL). My hard lesson has to do with my rented camera gear, which I will get to towards the end of my story. It may not be as exciting as a bear attack but I want to hit home how sad and awful the out come was for me. Now back to my amazing trip...
The one rainy day we had was unfortunately the day we visited Mendenhall Glacier and the Mother Nature had it out for me. I would take my camera out, get set up and it would start raining. So I put it away, hike a bit more, rain would stop, I set up again and you guessed it it starts raining. After 4 times I gave up. It was not meant to be. We hiked back to the shuttle, rains stops. After 20 minute shuttle ride back to Juneau skies clear, no more rain, beautiful light. Enough said :-(... keep repeating to myself you are on vacation, you are on vacation.
It was our first time cruising with Norwegian and over all we were not disappointed. We loved the food on board, they had many complimentary meal options. The staff on the Pearl were all great. The ship was not hard to navigate and had many quiet places for us to sit and relax. Our only issue was we did not feel the entertainment was up to par and the ship had crap for movies; thankfully this was an Alaska Cruise or we might have been bored out of our minds.
My next major photo location came when we woke-up to find ourselves in Glacier Bay on a beautiful sunny day. I would have preferred a few clouds but it was quiet stunning to witness the scenery with such clarity and to be able to see as far as the eye could see. Our most breathtaking glacier was the highlight of the bay, Margerie Glacier. We viewed the glacier from deck 12 or 13 and it was still taller then the ship! The scenery we were witnessing was simply stunning. I was feeling pretty good about the images I was creating.
On our actual trip my husband had one depressing issue. The night before we were to dock in Victoria he hurt his back out while pretending to lift me. I told him I had apparently hit up the buffet to much. We hoped with ice and sleep it would be better and he would be able to leave the boat the next day. Sadly to no avail, he was having a hard time walking and I left him behind while I went to ride scooters, visit the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens. I felt awful about leaving him but there wasn't much I could do. So I went and had a photo day on my own. I popped on the 105 Micro and declared it "Macro Day." Due to the scooter return times and our docking late morning I only had a few hours at the gardens and one hour with the butterflies. I could have spent all day at each place but didn't need to be late, or get lost (which I did) when it came time to return the scooter.
So anyways.. back to the I learned a lesson the hard way. Again trip amazing right? I was looking forward to sifting through my images upon our return. So as I mentioned before I RENTED a lens. It arrived the day before and I ASSUMED it had been checked and declared in working order. So we go on our trip and I am taking a ton of pictures with my small point and shoot camera, but occasionally I am taking the time to use my D610. I brought my DSLR mostly to photograph Mendenhall Glacier (as we know didn't go the best), Glacier Bay (highlight of the trip, hands down) and the Butchart Gardens in Victoria (where I only used my 105MM, thankfully). After the most amazing trip, with the most amazing weather we arrived home a few weeks ago and since I had the afternoon to myself what do I do... I clean the house! Then download my pictures.
On my initial inspection every thing looks good. Then upon second review I zoom in closer to pick my favorites based on sharpness and that is when all "ship" hits the fan. The short of it is I was sent a faulty lens. When shooting in the 28-60mm zone you get nice crisp pictures, I used that section 10% of the time. When shooting in the 60-100mm zone the far left 25% of the image look like you forgot to focus while the rest of the image in in focus. Then anything after that only the middle 25% is sharp. To put simply I was stunned, speechless and trying not to cry. If this trip had been 100% on photography I pretty sure I would have curled up into the fetal position and covered myself with a blanket hoping I was dreaming.
After a phone call, emails and a lens test (which almost didn't happen due to the tech some how not noticing the pile of paperwork attached to the lens) I got my money back and a $25 credit. I am very hurt that is all I was offered and won't go into detail on how I feel about only being offered a $25 credit as compensation for my sad ordeal. Overall service was great and the situation was dealt with swiftly, but there is no way the issue with the lens was caused by FedEx I feel this lens was not properly checked-in and was then sent out to me, the poor unsuspecting customer. So with this in mind, on to the hard lesson I learned. Don't ASSUME anything. If you are renting, borrowing, or even buying a lens; test it before you go. What if you don't have time? Make time. I cannot go back in time and fix my lens. I can't redo my trip. Every moment of your entire life cannot be recreated don't let broken equipment be the cause of you not having the ability to capture it properly. Thankfully for me the pictures will work for our scrapbooks and social sharing, but when it come to printing it looks like I will just have to go back to Alaska and create new and different memories. Who doesn't need a reason to go back to Alaska?
One last lesson for photographers...
Remember that when you are with your family it is not about creating images it is about making memories. So don't forget to get out from behind the camera and just live in the moment :-)
Everyone has a passion in life, mine is photography mixed with the great outdoors. Though such should come as no surprise since I grew up playing and getting lost in the woods of The Black Hills of South Dakota. Making it only natural that I feel most at home when I am surrounded by mountain peaks and the voices of the animals. I have always wanted to make a difference in this world, I just did not know how I could. I soon realized by documenting our planet I could share my joy with the rest of the world. It is my hope that with my nature photography I will instill the same passion and love that I have for Mother Nature into others. This world we live on is truly an amazing place, but with our personal lives filled with work and stress we often forget to stop and take in the beauty all around us.