My wife tells me to “be careful” every single time I leave the house, whether it’s to chase down a house fire in the middle of the night or run the weed eater in the front yard. I appreciate it, because it’s probably the best advice anyone can give. It’s also hard advice to take in a world of dangers, from the current coronavirus to the guy across the parking lot who is smoking while he fuels his car.
Consider this headline:
“Woman falls off cliff while posing for photo to celebrate the end of lockdown.”
I know. How could this ever happen? Oddly, it’s not the first time. In 2018, a couple died in Yosemite National Park under very similar circumstances.
These kinds of tragedies are usually connected by the same behavior that creates distracted driving: looking at a screen or in a viewfinder instead of maintaining our situational awareness. We need to look up and look around. If you don’t, you end up falling into water fountains in the mall while gawking at Snapchat on your phone.
I like to think I am careful, and Abby’s daily reminders are good for that. I am in the habit of looking behind me when I am making pictures, both so I don’t step on anyone, and so I don’t step off a ledge or into a hole.
I have taken a few chances in my day for the sake of a photograph. We all have to take a few chances and break a few rules to make good images.
One that comes to mind, and still scares me to this day, happened on my first vacation to Utah in November of 2002. I was already and experienced hiker and outdoorsperson, but it was my very first visit to the epic National Parks in and around Moab, Utah.
On that sunny day 18 years ago, I took an unnecessary risk. For some reason, I decided I was going to be different and photograph the iconic Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, from behind. I crawled along the sandstone to a point below the arch’s south face, looking up at the feature in the deep blue autumn sky. It mostly escaped my notice that to my right was the abyss, a 300-foot-deep canyon. I was about a step-and-a-half from the edge
My hiking shoes clung obediently to the slickrock as I adjusted focus and exposure, first with my Nikon FM2 film camera with a fisheye lens on it, then with my Minolta Dimage 7i digital camera.
Only after I was finished making pictures and started my egress toward safety did it occur to me that I was too close to the edge, and the rock under my shoes was far too steep.
Possibly the stupidest thing about this stunt was that Delicate Arch, like most iconic features in the world, had been, and has been, photographed uncounted times over the years, and there is little chance you or I will be able to come up with something new.
On the other hand, maybe Delicate Arch is lucky for me. Abby and I got married there two years later.