4 Things You Should Never Do With Your Camera Gear

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.

Even a slight wind would blow this camera off the top of my Jeep.

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.

This bag is just waiting to be tipped over or filled with sand.

Conclusion

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!

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20 Comments

Tony Tumminello's picture

Hah, totally guilty of #1. Never done it with anything like a cup of coffee or anything, but the *one* time I put my camera on the roof of my friend's car to get in....I forget about it because I'm messing with my bag or something. The predictable outcome happens.

Steffen Jahn's picture

Always put your camera down to the lowest surface - from there, it can´t drop any further.

Jens Sieckmann's picture

Agree. Once, I put it on razor sharp volcanic rocks. It didn't fall but tipped over to the backside with the display: scratch!

Michael Dougherty's picture

I once pulled my unzipped camera bag from the back of my car and watched my brand new D800 land on the concrete parking lot perfectly upside down. Besides the horrific sound, there was broken glass everywhere. Just for kicks, I sent it to Nikon repair who quickly repaired it for less than a couple hundred dollars. Whew.

Jan Holler's picture

About the same happened to my then brand new Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. I took my backpak out of the car flipped it elegantly to my back and out it flew. The zipper was not fully closed. It landed way behind me on the concrete. Although to my surprise no glass was broken it was unusable after it. The back of the lens was heavily dented and the zooming got stuck at around 16mm. Nikon told me it would cost me around $1100 to fix it. I went back using the 17-35mm f/2.8 again. Some month later, I disassembled the lens, fixed the dent in the inner barrel and ordered on ebay the back element for 30$. The lens is working fine since then. It just has a different serial number.
Lesson learned: Check your bags carefully after packing and get an insurance.

Tony Clark's picture

Yes, I made a stupid mistake once and I'll never do it again. I was shooting in a Home Depot late one night and extended the flash head a bit far from the pack and it fell over. Luckily, it only broke the tube and no cosmetic damage. I think that one cost me $200. Most of the time, it is easily preventable but aren't most of life's lessons?

Nitin Chandra's picture

In short, no shortcuts or temporary measures...Oh, do remember to plug in a charged battery and an SD card :)

Blake Aghili's picture

Also don't put camera on the trunk of the car and then pop open the trunk with car remote !!! Camera falls on the concrete ! LOL

Deleted Account's picture

Absolutely great advice. Heed them and avoid a lot of grief. Life will be more pleasant.

I'd suggest always having the keys in your hand when you are about to shut a door that will lock itself.

But oh man, don't put stuff on the roof of the car. Be especially careful when getting into a cab or limo.

H. Mob's picture

This is teaching common sense, you can't teach common sense!

Deleted Account's picture

You have to think about possible outcomes, estimate probabilities of a mishap, consider the cost of the consequences, and then make your choice. It does require a bit of thought. Good habits can be surprisingly inexpensive yet save you a whole lot of grief.

Mike Dixon's picture

This is a good point. There are times I weigh the risk vs reward, and do something that has some risk but many rewards, such as entering the water, climbing a hill, etc. I think the key is that you give it thought, plan out an approach, and take precautions. That alone will prevent most mishaps.

Jens Sieckmann's picture

Never walk around with your camera (on a tripod or in your hand) on slippery ground like wet rocks.

Viewfinder Journey's picture

Great article. Guilty on all accounts.

Sam David's picture

My sin is working on surfaces on which I really can't see what is truly below me. No more walking through a snow covered woods or field with too much gear and a model in tow. No more shooting models on sandbars or beach edges when I don't know the winds and tides. No more watching the model through the eyepiece on stone stairs. The other commentators' notes on the sound of shattering glass is all too familiar.

Kristian Wannebo's picture

Typo:
"If you place two tripod legs on the >uphill< side and the camera does fall over,.."
Here, it should be "downhill", right?
( Or, one leg uphill.)

P.S.
I once forgot my folded Superikonta in its leather case on my car.
It did survive.
Never again!

Mike Dixon's picture

Yes, thanks.

dean wilson's picture

When I was researching for a new tripod a few year back I read the pros and cons reviews of customers. One thing that stuck with me is most were ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ stated that it was a fantastic tripod and the reviews that rated ⭐ all has the same issue. Losing parts of the tripod while hiking. Apparently these one-⭐ people never read the instructions:

"We recommend that tripods and heads are transported in the supplied bags and cases so that any loose items are retained whilst transporting them." -3 Legged Thing

I don't use the bag, however I do check that everything is tight frequently.

Rob G's picture

> items on top of your vehicle ... and only if you put your keys there as well

Even then. My car only has a fob and push button start, not even an (unnecessary) "insert fob here". It'd be entirely possible to start the car with the keys on the roof too.

TiredoftheBS !'s picture

Don't believe that is true, try it for fun, the car should not start.