Do You Risk Your Gear to Get the Shot?

Do You Risk Your Gear to Get the Shot?

Photography is a hobby/profession that can take a serious toll on your wallet. The cost of a lot of precision, technologically advanced equipment can lead you to be very protective of your gear (and rightfully so). Is it worth risking it to get the shot?

It can be almost instinctual to coddle camera equipment; after all, it's important to a lot of us and it's expensive, so risking it seems like a poor decision in general. I'm pretty protective of my gear, but I used to be so much worse, to the point that it was inhibiting me from getting certain shots. After all, a lot of the most interesting images happen when the elements aren't that great. I had a few experiences that changed my mind a bit. 

The Enjoyment

A few years ago, I went shooting with Dani Diamond and a few friends on a typical fall afternoon in northern Ohio: chilly, wet, muddy. Before the day was over, all four of us had had an accident of some sort. Dani's lens slipped out of his hand and bounced off a rock (and I do mean bounced). Zachary's remote release went for a swim in the river we were standing in and was done for. Bryan slipped going down a muddy incline and fell directly on top of his camera bag. I dropped a filter on a rock and watched it go floating down the river a few feet before I managed to grab it.

My filter floated away right after I took it off after taking this shot. (15 s, 17mm, f/13, ISO 100)

All in all, this might make it sound like it was a miserable day. In fact, we all had a great time. It was a fun day with photographer friends, full of laughs, learning, and exploring. Could we have waited for a pristine day to have gone out? Sort of. Such days are rare here, and even if we had had one, we would have passed up the sheer fun of playing in the mud like kids, challenging ourselves to get shots in less than ideal conditions. Sometimes, the challenge of getting the shot is just as enjoyable as taking the photo itself. I know I feel a certain satisfaction when the weather and/or surrounding environment are difficult to work with, but I overcome them to get the photo anyway. That's not to say we should put ourselves or our equipment at risk merely for the adrenaline of doing so, but I do believe there's an argument for taking calculated risks, particularly with gear. I know I would have missed a great memory (and some good images) had I stayed home that day. 

The Shot

13 s, 15mm, f/9, ISO 100

For the above shot, I knew I wanted to get very close to the waterfall and show off the leaves beneath the crystal clear surface as well. There weren't any vantage points that gave my desired composition from farther away with a telephoto lens, and I wanted to exaggerate the waterfall's size a bit anyway since it was somewhat small. All this meant I had to get really close with a wide angle lens. This meant wading into some very cold, waist-deep water while walking on slippery rocks covered in wet leaves. Here's a shot my friend took of me while I was working my way in, so you can see what I mean:

I was eventually up to my waist by the time I made it close enough to the waterfall.

Had I slipped, I would probably dunked my very not waterproof camera and lens in the river and cost myself a good chunk of change. Would I do it again? Definitely. It was the only shot I liked from what was a lovely scene. I would wear waterproof pants the next time, though. 

Reasonable Risk

I think what it really comes down to is a question of risk and reward, the exact balance of which is something that's personal to you, although I will say that I think a lot of us err on the side of being a bit overly conservative. There are things you can do mitigate that risk a bit, of course. I have insurance on all my gear, but that's not a perfect solution. Had I dunked myself in that river, I still would have been out the deductible on my policy, but that also would have been far less than the cost of replacing everything out of pocket. Insurance is a great thing to have, and at the very least, you should have liability coverage for your business to protect yourself and your assets in case someone trips over a rogue light stand or whatever.

Philosophically speaking, I think it's important to remember gear is meant to be used and enjoyed; it's the means to an end, not the end itself. Psychological studies show that we tend to regret things we didn't do more than things we did. That's not to say we should throw all caution to the wind and constantly risk our gear for every mundane shot. That would be just as silly (if not more so) than never taking out our cameras for fear of a stray raindrop or a scratch. But photography is about capturing what's visually interesting, and what's interesting is frequently something that might be a bit risky for our equipment, simply because it's something we're not used to seeing in everyday life. 

On a related note, none of this is meant to be a discussion of risking your health or safety to get a shot. Gear is replaceable; lives are not. I do think, however, that a lot of us (myself included) could stand to be a bit less cautious with our gear and bit more adventurous in exploring our creative impulses. Great art rarely comes from safe places.

What are your thoughts? How careful are you with your gear? Does it ever stop you from getting a shot? Let me know in the comments. 

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34 Comments

michaeljin's picture

Nope.

Not intentionally 😅
But my mkIII has been drenched with salt water from unexpected waves on more than one occasion. Still works luckily!
I'm more careful with my shoes, I hate having wet shoes and socks and I usually don't prepare to walk in water so I miss getting more dramatic shots

Alex Cooke's picture

Oof, I hate wet socks! That's the worst feeling. That's amazing your 5D is still working through saltwater encounters; you're lucky! :)

Jeremy Lusk's picture

That’s what insurance is for!

Andrew Leman's picture

Yup! I'm leaving the country twice this year and just got my stuff insured! Zero deductible too thank god lol

John Skinner's picture

Camera bodies are like BIC lighters. It's the glass I worry about.

And yes, just about every shoot when I place remotes out there, it's usually because it's in a place unsafe, not people friendly, or at angles I can't achieve standing. It's part-n-parcel with the gig.

Motti Bembaron's picture

No, I won't.

Wolfgang Post's picture

My camera has seen dusty volcanoes, splashes from rain and got a good amount of bumps and knocks. Luckily nobody told my camera gear that it's not dust proof, weather-sealed and whatnot. My lenses feel good with a hood on. So it all keeps working.

Standing waist deep in river using your camera on a tripod to get a great waterfall image shows dedication. Doing this while wearing your backpack full of expensive camera gear that does not float shows something else.

Alex Cooke's picture

Yep, we all make mistakes, and I realized that afterward. Thanks for the kind words on the image! :)

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

My biggest pest has been sand. I always explain to those who want to hire amateurs, INSURANCE!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

We take serious percautions and use a lot of nylon rain / dust covers. But, sometimes you can’t help it. The dry season in Tanzania is the worst we’ve seen. It’s everywhere. I mean everywhere.
Wouldn’t trade the experience for a moment though.
(FYI. Writing a review an a bunch of covers now!).

Timothy Gasper's picture

Does flying to other countries count?

Simon Patterson's picture

It depends which country you're flying out of.

Pradipto WP's picture

I have gears for the situation like that, the cheaper ones. That's why i have multiple cameras, flashes, triggers, etc.

Only with my burner A9.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Yes and no.
I've hung expensive cameras out of the back of fast moving cars to do tracking shots of motorbikes. Just a few inches from the deck. The risk is calculated though but there's always a risk.

On the other hand, I have sacrificial cameras too, I bought a load of cheapo Canon DLSR with kit lenses for long term time lapses in an automotive car plant. After a year they were shot, corroded, lenses pitted from stray weld spatter. They were factored into the price though so no issue.

Eric Salas's picture

Risk means you don’t have insurance

Eric Salas's picture

You can get cancer from being in the sun too but you don’t think about that.
If you’re a professional, you should have insurance and you shouldn’t be worried about if you should get the shot or not... you just get it.

Simon Patterson's picture

Lovely images, Alex. I'd say the risk was worth it, but it's easy for me to say because they weren't shot with my gear!

Alex Cooke's picture

Thanks, bud! Really appreciate that! :)

Rayann Elzein's picture

I'm just wondering....... Why didn't you take off your backpack before going into the water?

Alex Cooke's picture

I have lapses of common sense sometimes!

Rayann Elzein's picture

It can happen to even the best of us haha :-)

Will Murray's picture

I'm enjoying the articles that you are publishing, Alex, and also seeing more of your work :)

Alex Cooke's picture

Thank you, Will! I'm really enjoying having more time to write them! :)

Duane Klipping's picture

Absolutly. Every time you hand your equipment there is risk. I set mine up on a tripod in water quite often and never give a second thought that the tripod could tip or fail. I could miss a step and forget to lock the plate on the camera.

All sorts of things could go wrong. But if you don't take the risk you will never get the shot you want. I put my gear in no place I would not put myself physically in.

You spend the money for the gear and become afraid of risk you should not have got it. New car is another good example spend that money but never drive it because of the what ifs.

Tim Gallo's picture

Yeah, lots of time. Mostly film cameras though, but sometimes with good glass...

I shoot in desert twice in this past two month, few old af lenses lost to sand, but they were brought with that purpose... shot in the northest part of japan, in a blizzard... nikon f100 stopped focus properly somewhere in the middle of the day, the rest of the shoot was done on f2 with old zoom lens and, man, that is the beast of camera, it work like clock even with snow gradually getting inside everytime i changed the film ;)

and recently I lost contax g1 and my glasses to a sea wave. whats funny is that g1 somehow managed working to finish the roll, and even exposed it right, and as soon as the last shot was done it died... film mixed with sea water produced images out of this world ;)

user-206807's picture

One day while I was photographing for a large company in northern Italy, I had placed myself and my dear Sinar F, in a much more precarious balance than I thought, above a machine with large rollers used to transport fabric.
By tilting the front standard of the camera the lens that was not properly fixed fell off.
I leaned over to catch it in the air, leaning on the tripod that supported the view camera.
This tripod also losing its balance, I was falling in turn.
Fortunately, my assistant, quick as lightning, caught me by the belt, and as I was saving my lens and the camera mounted on the tripod he was also saving me from a fall that could have been really catastrophic!

If this is not risking your gear, and your life, to get the shot!!!

John Ellingson's picture

I buy gear that has as much protection as I can get. My gear are tools and like other tools I take good care of them and used them hard. My cameras will get dings, dents and scratches as do my lenses. Back in the day when photography was my full time job you could tell the professional from the amateur because pro gear was always dinged, dented and scratched -- but clean, frequently serviced and worked. I am as careful and cautious as I can be. At the same time I use my equipment to get the shot I want. It is useless if it can't do that.

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