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Careful with That Camera, Eugene

Taking pictures isn't generally considered a daredevil activity, but accidents can happen, and photographers don't always use the best of judgement.

Dom Sebastiao was king of Portugal back in the late 16th century. When the Rossio train station in Lisbon was completed in 1890, it featured a statue of the king as a key feature of its ornate architecture. From his niche between the two horseshoe shaped entrance portals, Sebastiao watched over the station for 126 years, until a tourist with a selfie stick decided he could get a better vantage point by climbing that statue. The statue broke, resulting in a pile of rubble. The guy responsible is being prosecuted. No word as to whether he got the shot he was after.

Sadly, this isn't the first statue versus selfie stick encounter in which the statue suffered a mortal wound. A student in Milan, Italy had the questionable judgement in 2014 to climb into the lap of a statue in a hallway of the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera. A 19th-century copy of the ancient Greco-Roman statue entitled the "Drunken Satyr," the museum exhibit lost a leg in the quest for the ultimate Instagram post. His inelegant efforts were caught in video by the museum's security cameras.

Sometimes though it's the photographer who loses. A story from 2015 claims there had been 12 people reportedly killed trying to take selfies to that point in the year, but only 8 reported deaths from shark encounters. Most of these selfie fatalities obviously resulted from falling, whether it be down a flight of stairs at the Taj Mahal, over the edge of a cliff in Hong Kong, or dangling over the side of a bridge in Moscow. But apparently two men died posing for a selfie of themselves pulling a pin from a hand grenade in the Ural Mountains. The grenade won. Further research indicates that this statistic from 2015 may not be quite true, but the fact that it even gets talked about online points to an underlying problem.

Friends don't let friends use selfie sticks. But perhaps that isn't really my point here today.

Even without a selfie stick, cameras can be dangerous. Photographers may not often literally go out on a limb to get a good vantage point, but a bit of extra effort to find a good vantage point can cause you to venture a bit closer to the edge of a cliff than is safe or otherwise tempt you onto shaky ground. Accidents from photographers approaching too close to bison in Yellowstone National Park occur far too often. You'd think visitors would get the message and keep their distance but they don't. Just do a Google search if you don't believe me.

And that's not the worst of it. People die every year when they are caught off-guard while taking pictures on train tracks. If you've never thought about it, trains are actually much wider than the spacing between the rails where their wheels run. Even folks who hear a locomotive coming often don't realize just how far off the tracks they need to be in order to be safe. I've shot on tracks that had been decommissioned, but it never occurred to me that active tracks could be that dangerous.

Some years ago I was in Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach's famous Haystack Rock and realized I was probably further out from the trail than was safe. The area is up on a bluff overlooking the water and rocks of the Oregon coast and is well worth a visit. On that day though, I came probably closer to sliding over the edge than I ever have. Sitting on the ground, I slowly inched ever further down the gradually increasing slope in order to see the beach below me at sunset. At first, I was no doubt quite safe, but when I later felt the gravel shift beneath me it dawned on me that perhaps I had ventured a tad too far off the trail and should very carefully work my way back up slope. That was an experience I don't want to repeat. Once was enough.

Even when I know I'm on firm footing though, accidents can happen. Partway up the road from Longmire to the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier, the road traverses the 700-foot span of a bridge crossing the Nisqually River as it flows from the snout of the Nisqually Glacier. The view from the bridge is a classic vista of Mt. Rainer. The river itself is some 600 feet below the roadway at mid-span. It's not uncommon for cars to stop at one end or the other and photographers to walk out in order to get good shots up the valley to the Mountain and glacier. Don't worry, you're not likely to fall off the bridge deck or get run over. The span has wide sidewalks along the side of the road to support foot traffic and guardrails to keep pedestrians safe. But that doesn't prevent gusts of wind from unexpectedly gusting down the valley. While I was bending over one day to get a different lens out of my camera bag, the wind caused my tripod to tip over and my camera did a face plant on that otherwise safe sidewalk. Luckily, the lens itself came out of it just fine, even though it did come off the camera body. The body though ended up costing me a good chunk of change to get the lens mount properly re-aligned. I was fine, but the word "ouch" still seems all too appropriate.

By way of full disclosure, the lens involved in my Nisqually bridge mishap did not have a protective filter on it. It did though have a lens hood and lens cap. It always puzzles me that some photographers put so much faith in "protective" filters. Just because a thin piece of easily breakable plate glass screwed onto their lens does in fact break easily really doesn't imply that without it a much thicker glass lens element would suffer a similar fate. Camera bags aren't made of glass for a reason. Lens hoods can provide at least as much protection as filters and likely more in most situations. There, I said it.

At any rate, when you go out with your camera, things can happen. Sometimes those things may well be of your own making, like climbing into the lap of a museum statue or inching too close to the edge of a cliff. Sometimes, the fault can be less self-inflicted, like a freak gust of wind. But regardless of the cause, it's still up to you as the photographer to take appropriate care and caution. Be careful with that camera.

Date posted: June 26, 2016


Copyright © 2016 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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