Not long ago I received a comment on one of my waterfall photos from my most regular commenter A.Barlow. He asked me whether I’d ever almost dropped my camera into any of the waterfalls that I’ve visited.
This got me thinking about how many times that, not only have I almost dropped my camera, but in the process to save my camera, almost tossed myself into the raging rivers around these waterfalls as well. So grab your coffee and listen up because here is the truth about a landscape photographer and what he or she has to endure when looking to snag that perfect photograph.
Weather – The Most Unpredictable Danger
So you’re packed and ready to go get some photographs of Trap Falls. Today right? Wrong!
Downpours all day long, high wind warning in effect and blah blah blah you get the idea right? Mother Nature has decided that you’re not going to be photographing a waterfall today; in fact you’re not going to be doing much of anything today. Today’s the kind of day that you’ll be making yourself a hot cup of tea and spending the day inside catching up on your backlog of unedited photos.
Weather is one of the most frustrating aspects of photography and it doesn’t even have to come down to rain or shine, but just a small amount of clouds in the right place at the right time of day can make for an AMAZING sunset and then those same clouds in the wrong place at that very same moment can make for a complete non-sunset.
So far though, weather doesn’t sound that dangerous right – just a bit inconvenient. Well, there is a great amount of danger involved in weather as well.
Think about hiking to the top of a mountain in autumn to get some foliage shots from the peak. If you get stuck in a sudden and unexpected storm, or even just a random squall, you could be in some serious trouble. Mountain tops in early fall can reach temperatures below freezing well before any of us on the lower land and if caught you could be spending the night completely unprepared for those cold temps.
Another example, think about traveling into a field in the Midwest to photograph one of those amazing super cell thunderstorms, what if your forecast was a few miles in the wrong direction and you ended up right inside the storm instead of photographing it from a safe distance. Talk about an electrifying experience!
I’ve been lucky enough to only be caught in a small downpour once, sure it was miserable getting wet and having to toss my camera in a bag, but I made it out alive.
Weather of course can be the best friend of the photographer too, creating amazing rainbows, cloud formations, and epic storms that all present worthwhile photographic opportunities, which are the reason we risk these dangers. It’s just important to know that they exist.
Timing – The Least Obvious Danger
There are many aspects to photography that require perfect timing, but it’s never truer than in landscape photography. Inside a studio you can mitigate the harsh effects of natural light by using various flashes, reflectors and shades to get the perfect result every time. You can, in most cases, control your subject’s movement or position to an exact location. This sort of control goes flying out the window when you’re in Mother Nature’s playing field.
When photographing landscapes it’s important to realize that 90% of the day the light just is not perfect for photography. Sure it’s possible to use lens filters or fire off several brackets in the middle of the day and use HDR to convert the shot, but the truly inspiring shots come just after sunrise or just before sunset.
But how does this timing result in danger? Well it might not be as obvious as you might expect, but due to these times of the day you’re going to be doing most of your traveling in the darkest and coldest parts of the day.
In order to get to your location before sunrise you’ll be hiking there well before the sun breaks the horizon, if on the other hand you plan to photograph near sunset, you’ll be returning to your car by flashlight. A lot of the time these locations are not easy to get to in the light of day, let alone in the dark of night.
I’m not much for waking up before the sun and therefore have little experience on the early end of this timing, but I’ve hiked back from grabbing a few sunset shots in the dark and it can be quite nerve-racking even when you’re familiar with the area. There’s just something about the woods that really starts to creep me out after the sun fades.
And Terrain – The Most Dangerous of this Trio of Dangers
If you’re going to be a dedicated landscape photographer you’ve got to make sure you’re ready and able to hike up wet rocks and steep hillsides. The unique photographs will often come from the path less traveled, which means, you’re going to be doing some serious hiking.
Anybody can drive to Niagara Falls and take a photograph of that amazing wonder of the world, but not everyone is going to be willing to hike two miles into the woods of western MA to find Royalston Falls plunging a modest, yet beautiful, 40ft into a cavernous gorge. It’s all about your dedication level as a photographer and what you’re willing to do.
So yes, I’ve been lucky in a sense. I’ve yet to smash, submerge, or catch fire to my camera. I’ve yet to break a bone, sprain a joint, or severely cut myself in the process of getting to a location. I haven’t gotten lost or been stranded without food and water, but these things can happen and it’s important to realize that us landscape photographers are subjected to these dangers every time we venture out into the wilderness.
In my short time as a landscape photographer I’ve begun to realize the importance of taking my time, shoring my footing, and always having another person with me. My girlfriend is getting very good at yelling out “John be careful!” just before I step off a cliff, or into a river or walking straight into a tree. I’d recommend anyone venturing into the wilderness, for any reason, to bring a friend or two to help keep an eye on you. We photographers often spend so much time looking through that viewfinder that we forget about our surroundings so it’s always good to have that second pair of eyes watching your back, because one wrong step and you could be in some serious trouble.
How do you protect yourself against the dangers of landscape photography? Have you ever lost any gear or injured yourself in the process of grabbing an amazing shot? I’d love to hear the stories from the dPS crowd!
John Davenport is an inspired amateur photographer specializing in landscapes around Massachusetts. He posts daily photos on his blog Phogropath and has a weekly waterfall post every Wednesday. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.