Photographer Loses $11K Worth of Gear and Almost His Life After Falling Into River

A river

A wildlife photographer lost $11,000 worth of camera equipment and very nearly his life after falling into a river while shooting wildlife photos.

Seasoned shooter Piotr Beigaj from Poland had a harrowing experience while capturing cranes in a nature reserve in Gdańsk on March 9. After finishing the photo session, he was returning home when he saw a tree trunk in a river that he thought he could use to check out a potential vantage spot for capturing the river’s kingfisher.

However, when the photographer stepped on the trunk, it snapped beneath him, and within milliseconds, he was submerged in water that was 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).

“The water completely engulfed me,” Beigaj writes on his website. “Immediately, it found its way into my boots up to chest level. I don’t need to explain to anyone who wears boots how dangerous it is to have them filled with water.”

Beigaj had been shooting cranes before the life-threatening incident.

The photographer says that his body weight doubled within seconds and he immediately let go of his tripod that he’d been carrying on his shoulder in a desperate bid to grab onto something so he could keep afloat.

Despite being almost 6 feet tall, he couldn’t touch the ground and his camera backpack prevented him from turning around and was dragging him further under the surface. He tried to grab the reeds but pulled them out of their roots. He began to panic.

Realizing he was stuck, Beigaj tried to slow his thoughts. He needed to rid himself of his backpack and boots but with the current pulling him toward the center, he had to hold onto the side so he wouldn’t drift.

With no bushes or trees to grab onto, the side was impossible to climb out of. Beigaj spent 30 minutes in the water and started to feel the effects of hypothermia, he wondered if this is the end.


Not Today

Beigaj realized that his camera backpack could be his savior. “It was filled with so much water and already weighed around 33 pounds (15 kilograms) with the gear so I thought I might be able to use it as a shoreline anchor.”

He struggled to push the backpack on the shoreline, trying 10 times before it eventually got onto land. Losing feeling in his body, Beigaj gently pulled on the backpack carefully so as not to pull it back into the river. After more painful minutes in the water, he managed to drag half his body out of the water and eventually all the way out.

As he came to on the shore, he opened the camera bag that just saved his life and looked at his two-month-old Nikon Z8 and 800mm lens, both were ruined.

But given the gravitas of the situation, the gear was irrelevant as Beigaj struggled to walk to his car where he quickly undressed and turned the heaters on as high as they will go.

flooded sensor
Water in his Z8 sensor.


Beigaj says he is a bit embarrassed by what happened but wants to share his experience so it can be a warning to fellow photographers.

“I’m almost 50 years old. I’m an athlete who has practiced many disciplines in life, which helps me physically. I’m a sailor and swimmer, I’m physically strong and mentally resilient,” he says. “However, on that day I made EVERY possible mistake!”

Beigaj says he should never have stepped on an unknown obstacle with a full pack of gear. He says this situation could have been avoided had he simply taken off his backpack or used his tripod to examine the log.

Nobody knew where Beigaj was that day, an important lesson: always let someone know your location. Especially with Air Tags and GPS technology.

Water damage to the the Z 40mm
Water damage to the the Z 40mm.

Perhaps the most painful lesson is his loss of equipment: A Nikon Z8, a Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3, and a Nikkor Z 40mm f/2. His carbon fiber tripod floated off down the river.

“The camera equipment damage was irreparable. Water between the sensor and the filter, a dead motherboard, flooded EVF — that’s the end for the camera,” he says.

“The theoretically waterproof Nikkor 800mm was totally immersed in freezing cold water, it fogged up between non-disassemblable lens groups and the electronics are dead. The rear block responsible for stabilization and autofocus isn’t even considered repairable,” he says after sending his equipment to a camera shop.

Beigaj has started a fundraiser for his broken gear on Polish crowdfunding website Zrzutka.

More of his work can be found on his Instagram and wesbsite.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos. All other photos by Piotr Beigaj