How Far Will You Go To Get The Shot ?


This week’s blog is on a topic that seems to be more relevant in today’s digital photography era. Awhile back I posted an article on the Singh-Ray blog about an incident that had happened to me and I wanted to share some of t took place surrounding the event. So if you can relate to this story or have any similar stories please share with everyone here.

Low tide at Ruby Beach along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State

Low tide at Ruby Beach along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State

In today’s market, competition is becoming ever-increasing difficult due to the advancement of digital photography. The tools that have prohibited photographers in the past simply do not exist today. Changes in the digital era have transformed camera bodies into lighter, stronger, and more technical cameras that make things for a photographer much more simple these days. For example, cameras are being built that can withstand 10 foot drops, scratch resistant, water resistant, and can go underwater, while fitting in your pocket at the same time. Fortunately, quality of images has not suffered due to these technical advancements. In fact the bigger sensors have allowed some point and shoot cameras to produce images as high as 20’ x 30’s prints with exceptional quality. Because of this a photographer can now access areas thought to be too dangerous and inaccessible in the past.

A sea lion left alone near Depoe Bay along the Oregon Coast

A sea lion left alone near Depoe Bay along the Oregon Coast

Being able to carry a camera in the pocket and have two hands free facilitates easier access to places never reached before. Thus, a new sport of extreme photography is emerging. So then how far should we go to get that elusive image?

A rush of water breaks shore on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park along the Oregon Coast

A rush of water breaks shore on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park along the Oregon Coast

Whether it is landscape or wildlife photography, nature photographers are redefining the boundaries of what is acceptable when it comes to  “getting the shot”. Risky behaviors that put a photographer at grave risk are now considered part of the job to stand out in a market that is over saturated with the same images. Photographers are finding new ways to explore uncharted landscapes, by carrying equipment, which is smaller and lighter yet more feasible for the type of accessibility needed. Not only is camera equipment more convenient to carry, but also accessories such as Singh-Ray filters make it possible for images to come much closer to what the scene looked like originally. With the addition of filters that replicate conditions that help the camera capture a scene, photographers take more risks that bring in camera images closer to the original scene. Many images come straight out of the camera producing fairly flat and dull images but with the Singh-Ray filters, color is reintroduced back into the images by way of polarizer or color intensifiers. Other Singh-Ray filters allow longer exposures by blocking light to the camera’s sensor by way of different strengths of Neutral Density Filters. This has lead to a new avenue, where photographers push the boundaries of realism and create surreal images of other wise common nature scenes. When one combines this availability of new advances in equipment with photographers who have found new ways to be creative and innovative, nature photography takes on a new perspective of its own. With photography on the verge of continuous advancements, nature photography continues to redefine itself.  Examples of this are photographers who will wear full body dry suits to reach destinations such as waterfalls, caves, or even never seen before creeks. I also see many photographers who are willing to risk their lives in terms of getting ocean images. Battling oncoming waves, while treading water to reach new frontiers in terms of haystacks, arches, and coastal caves. If not swimming, kayaking into tides that could easily turn for the worse at any moment.  So I ask how far will we go?

A haystack on Ruby Beach along the Olympic Peninsula painted with light

A haystack on Ruby Beach along the Olympic Peninsula painted with light

The reason I am writing this is due to my own failure to recognize how far I would go. Browsing photography forums, I would constantly come across images that had defined new perspectives of areas previously thought impossible. While viewing these highly successful images, I began to recognize that I was going to have to engage in risky behavior if I was going to succeed. Needless to say, I choose not to head the advice of those close to me, and decided to jump right in and do what it took to achieve new perspective. As time past, I began to reconsider whether the ends justified the means. Would I continue to follow this dangerous path putting my life in jeopardy, or was I perceptive enough to realize the situation I was in. Several close calls with danger and having nothing after destroying three cameras, I needed to step back. My last incident was the wake up call I needed.  Wading in chest high water I treaded out to a headland where upon getting here I then dodged waves that were head high. After settling in on a position of the rock I thought would be secure, I set up my camera only to be met with the consequences I was bound to face one day. I was thrown by a ten-foot wave clearly off the rocks with my camera, lenses, and most of my Singh-Ray filters in the bag. After resurfacing, I grasped some air and tried to make for land. Not having any luck, I was thrown against the rocks several times before eventually another wave returned to me to shore. Standing there with no camera, no lenses, and the loss of my Singh-Ray filters, I asked myself was it worth it? For me the loss of my equipment left me with a sense of helplessness, and a question of how I was going to ever get back to where I was at one time.

A photographer stuck at high tide along the Olympic Peninsula

A photographer stuck at high tide along the Olympic Peninsula

Somewhere along the line in the last few years, photography changed into an extreme sport. Escalation of risky behavior has slowly increased making the appearance of the absurdity unrecognizable. Photographers will keep pushing the boundaries creating an exciting time for photography but a very dangerous one at that. Witnessing places never seen before, some photographers will succeed and never will look back. But I can’t help but look back and wonder at what point did I push things too far.


When shooting images near the ocean sometimes it can be tough to get the tripod to stay still. So if you like to close enough to get the action of the waves crashing onshore it is nice to set up the tripod along the shore. The problem is the tide comes in and moves your tripod as you are shooting your image and you get nothing but blurry images. To avoid this did your tripod in as deep as you can while the water is out. I do not like to go to deep when I do this but it really helps when I am trying to get sharper images from my ocean shots. Also think about carrying a separate tripod specifically for the ocean that is on the heavier side so that movement is minimized. I like to use a tripod that can take a lot of salt damage and keep going. For this purpose I do not spend a lot of money on my tripod that I am going to be using at the beach. As soon as I finished I often need to remind myself to find somewhere to rinse the salt water off the legs. This is important and should be done as soon as possible !!!!

Thanks for another week and in the meantime

Happy Shooting !!!

Tide moves onshore at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City along Oregon Coast

Tide moves onshore at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City along Oregon Coast

~ by kevinmcneal on January 27, 2009.

7 Responses to “How Far Will You Go To Get The Shot ?”

  1. Great article, I read it on the singh ray blog when they posted it there but it was worthy of a reread.

  2. From the first time I saw G Rowell hanging off a mountainside I new photography had changed… Insight into the minds of this style of photograph is a great change of pace.. we all cant go there and a lot of us shouldn’t, but its nice to know someone will and even for those there is a limit. Thanks

  3. Something like that I would have done few years ago. Now that I’m married, my family comes first. I would not risk it.

  4. So I disagree that extreme photography is becoming a new sport. I would argue that people involved in extreme activities now have access to better equipment.

    I’m into snowshoeing, skiing, and backpacking — and I love to get glorious mountain shots. And I bring along a lot of camera gear. There are a few risks I’ve taken, and I’ve pushed my physical limit — but none of that was purely for a photo. It was for the experience. A great photo is just icing on the cake for me.

    While I generally draw the line at risking my life or equipment for purely a photo — I do get annoyed at people who don’t draw that line and not be physically prepared for some of the challenges or have the proper gear to do it safely. At Yellowstone this summer, I saw some people were chasing a grizzly bear mother and its cub with their cellphones attempting to get a picture. (All sorts of stupid behavior seems to occur at national parks at any sort of wildlife sighting.)

    Though, it’s possible to reach Oneonta Falls in late October without a dry suit… it’s actually warmer than mid-summer. 🙂

  5. The risk takers have always been, and will always be out there. We all have to find a balance between risk and reward in our lives.
    Another great article, thanks Kevin.

  6. Let me start by saying how much I love your photographs and appreciate the pain you went through taking them.
    If asked I would always claim that I would never risk my life for a photograph, but sometimes I find myself in strange situations. I think that I always get so excited that I fail to recognize the danger. With a camera in my hand I enter a different state of mind. Stepping closer and closer to the danger. With age comes wisdom. I have become much better at not being stupid with a lens in front of my face.
    Nobody is pushing you but you. Don’t be stupid.

  7. Wow…another great topic Kevin. I think if you’re smart you ask yourself that question each time you head out. I think my first real grip with overstepping my boundary came about a year and a half ago, when I was just getting back into photography…I foudn a rather large waterfall, located on some private property, and has a history of injuries occuring there. I went out alone…and tried to get to the base of it, not knowing where the actual trail down was. At one point I lowered myself down a 8-10 foot cliff to a ledge, I thought would be the second tier in a staircase like descent to the base of the falls. When I landed on the second ledge I discovered it was a 30 ft drop straight to the creek below me and the 10 feet I had just descended was full of crumbling earth and loose roots that pulled out whenever you tried to use them for leverage.

    I was STUCK.

    I spent about 40 minutes in the fading evening light FREAKING out…the only way I ended up getting out was to throw myself over another small ledge onto a bunch of poison oak bushes…which if nothing else, have pretty solid root systems.

    I made it out of the canyon…but it was real dicey for a bit…and I ended up with a horrid case of poison oak as a reminder.

    I still take risks…all the time….I just calculate them…and take as many precautions as possible. I always try to move independently of my gear, so if I go down in the water…my gear is already placed. I move the gear. I move myself TO the gear. I wear the best foot gear I can afford. I’ll go barefoot if I need to really feel my footing. I bought a dry bag for my camera gear.

    I research my shooting locations heavily…I try to scout without gear before I go with gear. I also realzie that death is permanent. amazing shots can be had anywhere…it’s what’s in the photographers head that makes the shot…not so much the location….if it’s too risky to get where you WANT…force yourself to nail the scene from another location.

    I’m always going to push myself..this is what I love to do…and it’s in my nature to do it…I just owe it to my family and myself to take every precaution possible…to tweak a quote from Ed Viesturs…’Getting the shot is optional….getting home is mandatory.’

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