Safety first

On September 10, an 18-year-old Israeli tourist fell to his death while taking a selfie at Yosemite National Park. He was at the top of Nevada Falls when he tried to take a picture of himself, lost his balance and plunged 820-ft to the bottom.

A 2015 report found that selfies now lead to more deaths than shark attacks. Part of the problem is that when someone is taking a selfie, quite often they’re looking up while holding your phone high above themselves in order to get in the background or for a more flattering angle. It’s a posture that can cause one to lose their balance. Another complication can be that people are concentrating on taking the picture of themselves that they aren’t paying attention to things like their footing or their surroundings.

While photography isn’t necessarily a hazardous endeavor, there can be other dangers when taking photos other than selfies.

My wife is the self-appointed “safety officer” of our family. When our kids were younger she made sure that they avoided dangerous places of situations. They were lessons that they learned well.

On a recent trip to San Francisco with my now adult son and daughter, we visited the Sutro Baths ruins along the coast. My son and I explored a dark tunnel bored into the seaside bluffs. At the south end a metal barricade allowed access to the tunnel but blocked people from venturing to some precarious rocks just outside. The fencing at the north end let people to see out onto the ocean but kept people from going all the way through the tunnel. I thought about skirting around each obstacle, which I could have easily done, but my son assumed the role of safety officer and convinced me from doing so.

Photographers are always looking for a different angle or new vantage point to take their pictures and sometimes they can get into dangerous situations. Sometimes they don’t realize the extent of the danger or even willing to ignore or circumvent the warnings.

In 2012, 52-year-old instructor at St. Francis High Kathy Carlisle was photographing a moving train from an adjacent track when she was struck and killed from behind by another train headed in the opposite direction in Sacramento.

More recently in August, 63-year-old Jiyoun Park of Lodi, died after he fell from a parking structure in downtown Lodi while taking pictures. Apparently Park was leaning over the edge when fell about 40-feet to the street.

In both these cases being aware of and alert to one’s surroundings could have prevented these tragedies.

It’s never recommended to take pictures while on railroad tracks. The dangers are numerous. Trains are big, lumbering machines and can’t swerve out the way, nor can they stop on a dime. Photography often takes our full attention and one’s can be concentrating so much on taking the picture one can lose track on what’s going on around them. It’s likely Carlisle didn’t hear the second train due to noise from the first one. If you want to take photos of a train do it well away from the tracks. Try shooting at a crossing where there are warning bells lights and crossing arms that can alert you to an approaching train.

As people age they can lose some physical abilities and you may not be able to do something that you did when you were younger. On my trip to San Francisco, near Fort Point I scrambled down some rocks to take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. On my way back up, I realized that I wasn’t as spry and agile as I used to be and had to carefully climb out with focus and thoughtfulness in my actions. I don’t know if something similar happened to Jiyoun Park in Lodi but it could have been a factor.

I always advocate a going out to take pictures with what I call a “photo buddy.” They can be fellow photographers or someone who’s there just to keep you company. It’s fun to go with a friend or group of friends on photo walks. More importantly, they can look out for you and you them.

The phrase “safety in numbers” is true with photography. Your photo buddies can alert you to unsavory characters and help to keep them at bay. They can advise you on the safety or hazardousness of a location or situation. Finally, if you do get in trouble, they can give aid or call for help.

Whether you go with a group or alone, when taking pictures it’s always good to have a situational awareness and to be able assess the risks to minimize any danger that might potentially occur.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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