I'm a knowledge junky. I've always been a fan of photography tips and tricks, storing away bits of information that make what I do easier, more enjoyable, or safer. But what about things you shouldn't do?
I grew up with my dad drilling into my head the phrase, "better safe than sorry." It was often associated with various tasks around the home like electrical work, tree cutting, and general construction. However, that little phrase has saved me and my gear numerous times over the years.
After witnessing yet another camera crash to the ground from a poorly placed tripod (not mine), I thought it would be a good time to cover a few tips on things you shouldn't do when using your photography gear. Hopefully, these tips will save you some heartache. If you're an experienced photographer, you may already know these. However, if you're new to photography, you can learn from other people's mistakes before making them yourself.
Never Place Items on Top of Your Vehicle
Over time I've learned that the top of a vehicle is not a good place to set anything that you value. It's often much slipperier than you think and much more angled. It's also harder to notice things above your eye level than it is beside you. Occasionally this results in people forgetting it their items are there and either driving or walking off, leaving the gear to suffer a horrible fate.
I don't recommend ever placing items on top of your vehicle. If you absolutely must put something there, only do it if you're getting ready to leave, and only if you put your keys there as well, so you can't drive off without the items.
If you find yourself placing items on top of your vehicle, figure out why you're doing that and get more organized so that you can avoid it. If you keep doing it, you'll eventually suffer the fate of this avoidable disaster.
Never Place Your Tripod on a Hill With One Leg Downhill
When setting up on a hillside, you may be inclined to place your tripod with one leg downhill so you can stand between the two uphill legs. There are two problems with this.
First is that it dramatically reduces the stability of the tripod. The shorter rear legs reduce the side to side distance between the legs, resulting in the camera being easier to topple over to the side and downhill. If you place two tripod legs on the uphill side and the camera does fall over, it will have a much less distance to the ground as it falls to the side and back than it would falling forward and downhill. It will also fall towards you instead of away from you, assuming you're facing downhill.
The second reason is that less weight will be on the one leg, making it easier to slip downhill. It may be a little more inconvenient to work around that single tripod leg pointing uphill, but it will create a much safer and much more stable environment for your gear.
I will acknowledge that you could relatively safely put two legs to the uphill side on a slight incline with widely spaced legs, but it still means that if the camera tips, it falls away from you. Better safe than sorry.
Never Leave Your Camera Unattended in the Wind
I've caught several cameras from toppling over into the beach sand — all of them were the result of someone thinking that their camera was stable on their tripod. However, when the wind picks up, it doesn't take much to dump your gear into the sand, surf, or concrete. It happens all of the time! How many videos have we seen on YouTube where the unattended video camera takes a tumble?
I rarely shoot with the typical tripod setup. I almost always have my tripod legs splayed out, and I often shoot while sitting or kneeling. This is yet another reason to have a giant, sturdy tripod. There's a reason your tripod legs have multiple angle settings, use them, and make those legs longer! Wider is more stable, be sure to watch if there are other people around, as a wider stance increases the chance that someone will trip over them.
Never Set Your Camera Bag Down in a Busy Place
When you're looking through the viewfinder or concentrating on your subject, it's very easy not to notice someone picking up your camera bag and walking off with it. It happens all the time in busy locations and airports. It happens quickly and silently. Areas with many tourists are also a prime location for this as it's much less likely that you'll notice someone who isn't a local.
If you must take off your camera bag, hang it from your tripod or place your foot through the strap to prevent it from becoming nothing more than a memory. Setting your bag down in front of you instead of beside or behind you can make it much harder for someone to snag. Thieves are clever and quick, and it's even easier if they have an accomplice to distract you.
Never Leave Your Camera Bag Open and Unzipped
I've seen camera bags filled by a rogue wave. I've seen them tripped over, dumping all of their gear into the beach sand. I've seen them picked up while unzipped, dropping lenses onto concrete. It's not easy to see even when it's not your gear.
I have a personal rule; my bag always gets zipped up when I'm on location. I never stray from this rule. It's not about the things you think may or may not happen; it's about the things you don't think will happen. The guy that got his camera bag filled by a wave, that was the first week of January. That camera was his Christmas gift. The camera wasn't even out of the camera bag yet. He had his back to the surf, and one rogue wave filled it to the top.
Whether it's a financial disaster or just missed shots on a shoot, damage to your gear is never fun. Following a few principles and personal rules can help avoid heartache. Remember, better safe than sorry. Do you have any rules for things you never do? Let me know in the comments!