Recently a young woman died while having her picture taken on railroad tracks in Texas as reported by PetaPixel. Unfortunately several people a year are killed in this manner. It got me thinking about all of the dangerous places photographers put their “clients” in to get “the shot.” I know you want to take pictures there, but is loss of life or limb really worth it?
We read about the tragedies of train tracks because of how common they happen, but there are several other dangerous situations which we may never consider or think about. While I am not a person who believes any loss of life is unacceptable (Nothing is perfectly safe) I am opposed to such loss for something that is so easily avoidable.
Why Do People Take Pictures in Dangerous Places?
Several factors drive people taking pictures in risky and unwise locations.
- Lack of knowledge or education.
- Client requests and “demand.”
- Competition with other photographers.
Everyone with a camera is now a photographer, or fauxtographer as they have been called in the industry. Having a camera does not a professional make though. I am not here to put down or belittle those who are just starting in the industry (I was once there), I am here to say that lack of education is bad, and in some cases fatal.
I put this under carelessness because the photographer in question has not cared enough to educate themselves or their clients about the dangers and liabilities. Don’t be fooled either, a liability release will not protect a photographer who putting his or her client in harms way (negligence). Please understand, early in my career I fell prey to this tantalizing temptation of using a dangerous location to shoot.
Professional photographers should educate their clients about the dangers and safety concerns before they snap a photo in a dangerous place.
Clients will sometimes request such locations. In the Central Valley of California it is popular to take pictures in Almond orchards. The white flowers are beautiful and the rows of trees give a nice symmetry to the image. While most farmland isn’t fenced in the areas surrounding Bakersfield, it is still private property and thus, trespassing. Since some clients don’t want to be shown up by the photos their neighbors got, they will commit to getting images in a place which may not be safe.
I try not to do the same things other photographers have done. First, it isn’t creative, its stealing. I am not talking about using an image to get some inspiration for an idea, but bald faced copying. Second, it doesn’t set me apart from other photographers in Bakersfield. I have resolved to not shoot clients in places I believe may be dangerous. As an experienced professional photographer in the Central Valley, I have that luxury. New photographers may not feel so fortunate and feel pressured to take pictures in a dangerous place or risk loosing a sale to another photographer down the street.
What Makes a Place Dangerous to Take Pictures
There are so many ways we can be harmed. The human body is amazingly resilient, and simultaneously frail. A few things are more likely to cause injury than others though.
As mentioned above, almond orchard photo sessions are very popular in the area near me. They pose the problem of pesticides. I don’t know that I would feel comfortable taking my son or other small child in an area regularly sprayed by chemicals to kill weeds and bugs. Toxins can be in other popular photo places too though. Those abandon buildings make for cool grungy photos, but may have asbestos, lead, mold and other potentially harmful substances. Worst part is how difficult it would be to prove an injury sustained while on a photos shoot in such a location. Not a good place to take pictures.
High heels and steel grating to mix. Often I advise clients to wear heels because of how it will make their legs look. Walking in heels is challenge enough for some women, let alone standing on a ledge (even only a couple feet) to get the perfect photo. A fall from a two foot ledge in a pair of heels will likely result in a sprained ankle, if not a broken bone. Railroad tracks are another bad place for such foot wear. There is no way to run over gravel in a pair of heels, a trip will happen.
When two objects collide, something breaks. If it is a train with a human body, the results will not be good. Trains plow through cars like butter, and cars are made of steel and other metals. Trains are not the only collisions to worry about though. A “deserted” highway can pose a risk if a car comes out of nowhere. But even the gym can be dangerous. A 300 pound barbell can cause some serious injury while trying to get that dead-lift photo.
Underwater photos are amazing and surreal to look at. Humans are naturally drawn to water. A woman in 2012 lost her life as the wedding dress she was wearing became water logged and she subsequently drowned. I am not saying one cannot do photos in, around, or underwater, but it takes much less water to drown than most people think.
We all know water and electricity don’t mix. While it seems like common sense, water makes for such awesome photos. Combine this with the commonly used studio strobes running 120V, and it is a recipe for disaster. It is easily mitigated, but should be considered in any photo session involving water and powered lighting.
A photographer at WPPI once told a story of a curling iron which exploded (manufacture defect) and resulted in her getting electrocuted. While hopefully a rare incident, curling irons, hair dryers, and even lighted mirrors can all pose a risk. It is the photographer’s responsibility to make sure there aren’t frayed wires, shorts or other such problems with any of the equipment they use or let clients use.
Why These Are Dangerous
These things are dangerous because of our complacency. Humans are notoriously bad at judging risk. Some things we under judge and some we drastically over judge. Trains are a great example of such poor risk assessment. Most people think they will hear it coming and be able to get out of the way in time. The fatalities would indicate otherwise.