I can remember my father telling me one of his biggest frustrations about getting older was not physically being able to do the things he was able to do when he was younger. At the time, I never really understood or appreciated that frustration. Now that I am in my mid 40’s, I am beginning to understand. This does tie in to photography, I promise.
My entire adult life, I’ve always felt like I did when I was in my late teens or early twenties. Whether it was working hard or playing hard, I didn’t think too much about it. I used to take a lot of risks for the fun of it and survived doing a lot of (what I view now as) really stupid things. Being that I never felt like I really had grown up, I still tend to do a lot of really stupid things. Like taking risks to get the shot. I don’t condone risking life, limb or freedom to get a photograph, so I’m going to leave out any specific examples where I may have put myself at risk for a photograph.
At this point in life, I’m fully in touch with my own mortality and my fear of injury (or arrest) stops me from going places with my camera to get the shot. You wouldn’t see me climbing to the top of a bridge or up a TV transmission tower now like I may or may not have been known to do when I was younger. How it usually plays out now is that I try to get a shot by doing something that I don’t view as risky and something unexpected happens, or almost happens. I have two examples of my brain wanting to get the shot more than my body was able.
The Broken Tale
The first happened during the winter, and is a lovely two-part tale. Or tail. The long story made short is that I had taken my 5-year-old daughter sledding. I had my camera with me, on the sled, because I wanted to get amazing and memorable sledding images. I had my own cheap plastic toboggan that disintegrated quite nicely when I hit a rock underneath the snow, with my tailbone. I knew instantly that it was broken. At least I got a decent shot of my daughter sledding, right? The shot below was taken as I lay there in agony trying to figure out how to get up.
I visited my doctor a few days later and he confirmed it was broken and that it was going to hurt for a while until it healed. My appointment was finished just before sunset, and his office is rather close to Pomham Lighthouse, and I had my camera, so off I went. I arrived and noticed the tide was low. “Cool,” I thought, “now I can get right down to the water’s edge!” My common sense didn’t tell me that “Hey dummy, I bet those green moss-covered rocks down there are wicked slippery and you have a broken tailbone,” until I slipped on them. Down went both my hands to protect my tailbone. I got up with holes in my glove liners and scrapes on my hands and while my tailbone avoided a direct hit against the rocks, it didn’t feel that great. But, I was where I wanted to be so I got my shot. Driving home with a re-injured broken tailbone and cuts on both of your palms is not a pleasant experience. But I got the shot, right?
You would think that I would have learned already.
Shoulder, Shins, and Scrapes
As most of you know, I shoot at the ocean quite often. I’m also in the water quite often, usually intentionally. A recent shoot at Point Judith in Narragansett was one of those occasions where I ended up in the water, only partially planning to. I arrived before sunrise and found several other photographers standing in a line in the exact spot I want to shoot from. My options were to stand higher up on the land or stand in the water. The composition from the land was not pleasing to me. I had my waterproof boots on, so I decided I would stand in the shallow water to get my sunrise shots. The water was several inches deeper than it looked. Within seconds, my waterproof boots filled with cold seawater. The thing about waterproof boots is they do a great job keeping water from getting in, but once it does, it has no way out. So now I had what felt like full milk jugs attached to my feet while I was trying to plant my tripod in a good stable location.
That’s when the first unexpected wave hit me. I was standing in water about shin deep and didn’t think a wave could hit me at waist level. I had cold seawater in my ear and all over my glasses, not to mention some good heavy drops on my camera. I’ve been hit by bigger waves while shooting. I checked the lens and filter…clean. Good, I’m not moving yet. I shook the water out of my ear as best as I could and dealt with the large saline drops on my eyeglasses. I fired off a few more shots until the next big unexpected wave got me. I moved back on the shore at this point. I took a few more shots, but again was not happy with them. I decided to go back in the surf.
This time, my trusty boots slipped on a seaweed covered rock under the water. I stumbled as I tried to brace my fall, twisting my torso to keep my camera backpack out of the water. I put my right arm down against a large rock to stop myself from going under. My left leg was wedged between rocks and scraped hard against them as I fell. What I felt immediately where the scrapes on my shin and palm and the burn of the seawater in those wounds. Then I felt the cold water on my entire right side up to my shoulder. Lucky for me, none of the other photographers saw my graceful moves! I pulled myself up and out of the water and back onto dry land. I immediately checked all my gear. Everything was in working order. The shot I had taken right before falling in was the one I had hoped for. I took a few more shots and then packed up for home, after draining the milk jugs attached to my feet of course!
In the days afterwards, I noticed my right shoulder was sore. Now here I am 2 months later with an upcoming appointment to look at my rotator cuff, all so I could get the shot. It’s unlikely the photo will ever sell to cover any medical expenses. Even if it did, what I potentially lose by having this injury is not worth it.
The moral of the story here is to really know and accept the limits of your abilities if you want to get a shot that may be a bit risky. While you may end up with an amazing one of a kind photo, the risk of permanent injury or worse isn’t worth it.
~ Bryan Bzdula