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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.