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safety for photographers, their gear and their models


  • photographers often place themselves and their subjects in hazardous situations without adequate safety risk assessment and management which would probably have them fired from a usual workplace for disobeying standard OH&S policies and procedures
  • each week we hear of bloggers dying or being seriously injured in recklessly attempting to gain those extra thousands of Instagram followers and keep their blogs “exciting”, but there are also more insiduous health risks of which many are not aware.
  • even apparently minor abrasions or wounds to the legs in rivers and oceans can result in nasty bacterial infections which require special antibiotics to treat.
  • do you have insurance for yourself (eg. travel insurance), and will this cover you for your “high risk” activities
  • do you have public liability insurance?
  • the international traveling model or photographer
    • international travel increases risk due to unfamiliar situations and cultural expectations and behaviours compounded often by lack of sleep and exhaustion
    • international travel represents particular problems in that the traveler is unlikely to be able to receive free or discounted health care, and it may be that travel insurance may not cover particular circumstances such as high risk activities or perhaps even work-related injuries, potentially leaving the injured substantially out of pocket unless they have their own insurance to cover this scenario - which unfortunately many don't.
    • this also makes potential legal cases far more expensive as they tend to be long drawn out affairs requiring travel back to that country.
  • PREVENTION is FAR BETTER than CURE when it comes to TRAUMA
  • trauma is not a word to be taken lightly, even simple trauma events can result in life-changing long term disabilities - even just a foot or ankle fracture, let alone a serious head injury from a 2m fall onto boulders or being involved in a motor vehicle accident, falling off a cliff or having serious wounds from an animal or human attack.
  • most photographers hire a model for a single shoot at a time with no ongoing employment contract, this means the model or the model agency if that who is to be paid, is an independent contractor and NOT an employee of the photographer, and as such, by law in Australia1), the model or agency usually bears responsibility and liability for any poor work or injury sustained while performing the task.
    • thus the model (and agency) should have their own insurance to cover injury / disability and public liability
    • HOWEVER, if the injury occurred in a registered motor vehicle then health costs and rehabilitation costs may be covered by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) as part of Australia's compulsory Third Party insurance scheme with the motor vehicle registration (exceptions to this include if the accident happened on a work related event and the injured is an employee in which case the state WorkSafe or equivalent may cover it instead)
  • the photographer, by law, would be expected to provide a reasonably safe place to work
    • The model may have a case of suing the photographer on the grounds of negligence but this is likely to be a costly, long drawn out process and any benefit to the model if successful may be dependent upon whether the photography has public liability insurance which covers the alleged negligence or whether they have money. Such action is also likely to require the model to declare income to the court and this risks a claim by the tax office for un-taxed income if the model has not declared this income to the tax office.
    • a birth photographer dropped her lens cap from her pocket into the gaping vagina where it was not discovered until some weeks later which may be leading to legal action - see here
  • property damage or loss
    • usually the most expensive components of a shoot is the photography gear, and the photographer will hopefully have that insured.
    • if there is property damage to third parties then public liability insurance may cover this.
    • if a model suffers damage or loss to their clothing, props or other items, then depending upon the circumstances this may be partly or fully compensated by the photographer to maintain good will
      • however, it would be unreasonable to expect the photographer to pay for a lost or damaged smartphone which was not part of the shoot and the photographer was not involved in the damage or loss (if however, the photographer provided a “safe” storage and it was stolen from there, then perhaps the photographer should compensate)

Animal attacks

  • most animals will not attack humans unless they, or perhaps more importantly, their offspring, are being threatened or hurt eg. bears
  • some animals will prey on humans in an opportunistic manner - eg. crocodiles, lions, sharks, etc.
  • the large animal which causes the most deaths to humans is surprisingly, the hippopotamus
  • but there are also small animals, often venomous ones which pose great dangers for the unwary or unprepared such as:
    • venomous snake bites
      • Australia has most of the world's top 10 most venomous snakes - but they will generally only bite humans if we step on them or try to handle them or get too close to them.
    • venomous sea creatures - jellyfish, stone fish, cone shells, etc
    • venomous spiders such as the Sydney Funnel web
    • insects - mosquitoes,, ants, bees, ticks, etc which may cause life threatening allergic reactions, or transmit diseases such as malaria or dengue fever, and the many encephalitis viruses
  • BE AWARE of these risks, take precautions (eg. bring snake bite bandages or, EpiPen if anaphylaxis is a risk) and know the FIRST AID principles

Enviromental contagions and allergens

  • shooting in dilapidated buildings is a great opportunity for many photographers but doing so comes are considerable risks if one is unprepared:
    • falls from broken supports, stairways and flooring, and hidden dangers such as wells full of water
    • soft tissue injuries from the many sharp objects - and risk of infection and tetanus
    • industrial sites are often contaminated with various poisons
    • inhalational risks:
      • asbestos
      • dry pigeon droppings may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis which if recurrent may result in permanent lung disease
      • leptospirosis from rat urine
  • self-created inhalational risk shooting models with throwing flour, etc into the air
    • there is a risk of permanent lung disease from inhalation of certain types of airborne particles
  • exposure to toxins in lakes

Electrical and thermal injuries

Falls and drownings

  • subjects just love to pose on top of boulders, cliff edges, at the top or bottom of waterfalls, and on ocean rock platforms which have the added risk of the occasional massive rogue wave sweeping them into the ocean
  • most rocks when wet are extremely slippery - ankle injuries, head injuries, broken arms and even falling into the current and drowning or being taken over a waterfall are significant risks
    • in 2014, a female UK backpacker fell to her death in Kings Canyon, NT trying to get a selfie2)
    • in 2014, a French student plunged 40m to his death at Wedding Cake Rock in NSW’s Royal National Park
    • in 2016, at least 70 people were injured when a freak wave hit the Figure 8 Pools in NSW
    • in 2017, the body of a Sydney teenager was found at the base of Wedding Cake Rock after she had gone missing during a bushwalk.
    • in mid 2018, a female blogger fell into a river at the top of a waterfall, her two male bloggers dived in to save her but all three perished over the waterfall
    • in 2018, a 20-year-old man died while trying to take a photograph at a notorious sea cliff known as The Gap near Albany in Western Australia
    • in 2020, a young British tourist died after she fell from a cliff at Sydney’s Diamond Bay Reserve, only 5 months after a local lady also fell and died 3)
    • in Dec 2020, a 38yr old lady fell to her death from Boroka lookout in the Grampians whilst taking a selfie4)
    • in Jan 2022, 21 yr old hiker dies falling 700feet taking a selfie 5)
    • in Aug 2022, Nate Yeun, a well-respected nature photographer, was found dead after falling from a cliff in Hawaii while out hiking.
    • in Feb 2023, two young men died in separate incidents a week apart whilst crossing wet rocks at the top of Gibraltar Falls waterfall near Canberra 6)
  • rocks are very unforgiving objects when it comes to crashing your skull against them
  • when shooting at sunset, remember to bring a good head torch for the walk back to the car in the dark!

Poisoning or suffocation

  • 3 killed at Instagram influencer's party by suffocation with carbon dioxide when 25kg of dry ice was dumped into a swimming pool for fog effect 7)
  • a GoPro photographer in Florida died in 2022 when a beach sand dune which he was at the bottom of, collapsed and trapped and suffocated him.

Road trauma

  • photographers often push boundaries, drive in unfamiliar areas, often at high risk times for animal impacts (at sunrise, sunset, at night), and often get distracted by navigational issues or potential photographic opportunities they note as they are driving past.
  • make sure the driver is not the one being distracted and slow down in high risk times
  • if stopping the car for a photo:
    • make sure it is safe to do so and that there is minimal risk of the next car hitting you
    • many roads have steep ditches - it is easy to roll your car over the edge if you get too close!
  • NB. rental car hire insurance does NOT usually cover you for driving at night outside urban areas, nor for reckless driving
  • in 2019, a 36 yr old well known storm chase photographer hit a deer on a highway leaving his car immobilised on the highway so he sought safety by going into the roadside ditch to await help, unfortunately a car swirved to miss his car, ended up in the ditch and killed him.
  • in Australia, kangaroos account for 90% of car impacts with animals, swirving to avoid the animal can result in a more serious accident by hitting a tree or on-coming car at speed or having the car roll over.

Human attacks

  • bad people with theft as their goal
    • an extreme minority of people purposely attack photographers to gain their equipment even in Western countries - this may be at gun point
    • photographers have been murdered at some popular tourist sites at sunrise when there are few others around - eg. in the USA
    • in 2022, a wedding photographer was attacked by two men all in black trying to steal his camera gear at gun point during a wedding in broad daylight at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts8)
  • impoverished countries
    • when your camera gear equates to one year's salary to these people, expect that some people will attack you for your gear - this may be with planned attacks by local gangs or solo opportunists
    • it pays to take discrete, small gear such as Micro Four Thirds system and not flaunt your wealth - or even display a mobile phone in public!
  • angry people
    • taking photos of people without consent or behaving “offensively” can make some people outraged enough to attack you - you need situational awareness so that your behaviour does not create offence
  • opportunistic predators
    • if you are careless with your expensive camera gear, don't be surprised if someone tries to steal it - and if caught in the action, there may be a violent altercation in which you may come off second best!
  • high risk environments
    • eg. war zones, human conflict

getting lost or incapacitated in the wilderness

  • many areas are without mobile phone access, and it is incredibly easy to get lost (your smartphone battery runs out and you didn't bring a map and compass) or incapacitated (eg. by a fractured ankle, allergic reaction, heart attack, snake bite, or a vehicle breakdown)
  • getting stranded in a hot environment runs a massive risk of dehydration and heat illness
  • getting stranded in a cold environment runs a risk of hypothermia
  • be prepared

protecting your gear

  • consider insurance for your gear
  • consider taking the minimal gear you need
  • consider avoiding highly priced gear if you don't really need it
  • consider purchasing highly weathersealed gear where possible for outdoor use
  • theft
    • never put your camera bag down in crowded places
    • avoid displaying your camera gear unnecessarily or in high risk places
      • eg. in regions of low socioeconomic circumstance or high crime rates
      • cover you gear when it is your car so it is not visible to those passing by
      • leave the least possible gear and other valuables in your car when you are leaving it unattended especially in shopping centres and tourist destination / hiking car parks
    • consider avoiding use of rental cars in high risk theft areas such as San Francisco as theives identify rental cars as likely to contain tourist valuables 9)
  • damage
    • always close your camera bag after you have finished accessing it
      • wind may blow it over and the contents fall out
      • sand, rain and sea spray tend to enter in very easily and often unexpectedly
      • lenses and cameras have a habit of pushing open partly unzipped zips while you walk which can allow them to fall onto concrete
      • an open bag also invites opportunistic theft of the contents in crowded places
    • water damage
      • camera gear generally does not like a lot of water as it may cause irreparable damage unless it has very high weathersealing rating - even then being submerged in water is likely to destroy the gear
      • this is a massive risk when shooting with a tripod near waves as waves vary in size, tripod legs can sink in the sand or slip on rocks
      • even with a weathersealed rated camera, ensure all the doors are closed properly and a hot shoe cover is in place to avoid short circuits as per your camera manufacturer's instructions
    • salt and sand
      • these are a nemesis of cameras and lenses - avoid at all cost, but if you do have them exposed, wash them thoroughly immediately afterwards if there are weathersealed, otherwise take a more judicious approach to cleaning
    • unattended camera falls
      • never leave your gear on top of your vehicle - you tend to forget its there and drive off!
      • avoid camera straps
        • they have a tendency to be dragged along or caught when sitting on benches resulting on a fall to the floor
      • tripod issues
        • don't leave it unattended in the wind, they have a tendency to fall, especially in sand at beaches
        • ensure the tripod is readily visible to others and positioned so that you or others do not trip over it causing it to fall
        • ensure the tripod is set up well balanced and stable with legs as splayed out as possible
          • on downhill slopes, don't place one leg down hill, but instead place it up hill and use the two other legs downhill widely apart for greater stability
      • tripod mount issues
    • front element of the lens
      • this is continually at risk of getting dirty (dust, sand, grease, finger oil), scratch damage from careless cleaning in the field and worse, direct trauma from vibrational rubbing on objects during travel or even direct impacts
      • ensure your lens cap is on and your lens is protected adequately during travel, preferably in an appropriate camera bag
      • consider using a protective filter which can be removed for critical shots
      • a lens hood can also help protect from inadvertent contact with fingers
    • rear element of the lens
      • this is often more important to keep clean and free from damage as it may have greater impact on the images
      • immediately replace the rear lens cap after changing lenses and ensure it is securely on
      • keep lens in an appropriate lens case where possible
  • sensor dust
    • avoid changing lenses where possible, especially in dusty environments
    • check for dust regularly by shooting at the sky at f/16 to show up the dust
    • if dust is present, carefully clean the sensor as per usual sensor cleaning techniques

Criminal laws in various countries may impact

  • extramarital sex is a criminal offence in Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the Philippines
    • although tourists are unlikely to run into issues as these generally require someone to report it to police (and in Indonesia, they can only be reported by a spouse, parent or child of that person), it may affect the LGBTQ community who live together whilst travelling as same-sex marriage is generally not recognised in these countries.
  • street photography of other people may be a criminal offence in some countries
    • it may be a sex offence in some countries such as South Korea
photo/safety.txt · Last modified: 2023/11/14 09:40 by gary1

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