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Digital photos take dive, survive

Published June 30, 2003

Compact Flash storage cards for digital cameras are not meant to go swimming. They're really not meant to go swimming in saltwater. And the digital images certainly shouldn't survive such a drowning.

But mine did.

It started with a family cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. My wife, son and I love the water, and we were eager for the chance to go snorkeling in one of the best places in the world to look at coral, fish and other marine life.

As a professional photographer, I'm used to lugging tons of gear and a handful of Compact Flash cards to record our images. The cards ensure that I have enough storage to shoot as many photos as I want.

But keeping tabs is a chore in itself. Did I shoot on this one, or was it that one? Did I format it? Where did I put it? My wife and I have had many a discussion as to the whereabouts of these cards, not much bigger than a postage stamp. So she hates them.

I use a Canon G2 digital camera on vacation instead of lugging all my pro gear. On the ship, on the way to the beach and the first few minutes on the beach in Cozumel, I took some pictures. While we were looking for a place to store our stuff, I changed cards.

I put the Lexar 128-megabyte card in my shorts pocket: right pocket for clean cards and left pocket for cards that have pictures on them. It is a system that works well, at least most of the time.

When I got to the beach, the color of the water just struck me. It was the most gorgeous turquoise I had ever seen. I got my snorkeling gear on, took my son's hand and headed for the water.

We cruised around awhile looking at fish and coral until we came to a platform about 100 yards offshore. My son, Sean, 10, had gotten tired. My wife, Kit, stayed with him at the platform while I cruised around some more.

When I got back, Sean was going crazy. He screamed that he had found sunken treasure on the bottom, but could not get to it. So I dove down about 25 feet. Sure enough, there was a gold-looking coin on the bottom. It turned out to be a peso. But in diving for the peso, the Compact Flash card slipped from my pocket.

Later that day, I started looking for the card. I tore my camera bag apart and searched the stuff we had taken to the beach. When we got back to the ship, I tore the room apart. I did it twice. Still, no card. Then I remembered putting the card in my pocket. Worse than replacing the card was losing the images of that gorgeous water.

The day after I returned to work, one of our photo technicians called. He sounded confused. He had a woman on the phone talking about Mexico and a photo card. Kathy Goings of Weatherford, Texas, had my card. Her husband, DeWayne, had found it while diving in Cozumel. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.

And here's a valuable lesson: When the Times went digital in 2001, we made plastic labels that included a phone number, photographer's initials and a reward note for anyone who found a lost a card. It has paid off on numerous occasions.

DeWayne, a 17-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department and a diver who was on another cruise ship when we were in Cozumel, sent the card with a nice note.

As soon as I got the card, I put it in freshwater and let it soak for a day, changing the water a few times to get the salt off of it. Then I put it in a warm spot in the office with good air flow. The next morning, I inserted the card into a card reader, and a folder showed up on the computer screen.

I pulled the folder into Photo Mechanic, which is image viewing software. There were my images! If this had been film, there would have been no hope. I would have been a sticky, slimy mess.

Instead, I have my images and a mental note to make sure I check my pockets before I go swimming.

- Skip O'Rourke is a Times photographer in Brandon.

[Last modified June 27, 2003, 09:53:24]

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