With smart phones becoming more like professional cameras by the day, and the price of high-tech photography equipment lowering every year, it seems now everyone can be a professional photographer (at least in their minds). Capturing a beautiful sunset no longer requires a bag full of heavy equipment and that cool shoot you saw on instagram can be replicated without a tripod and lighting team in tow.
With that being said, the number of injuries and incidents at popular photography sites escalated seven-fold between 2014 and 2017, while the latest figures for last year are still unconfirmed. We’re hurting ourselves in the quest to ‘capture the moment’, get the best photo we can or even copy an image we’ve seen circulating on social media. Dubbed ‘selficide’ by the media, increased reports of accidental drowning, falling from heights and round-traffic accidents all linked to selfies or photography signal a shift from being able to enjoy the moment, to needing to prove to others you were there. Specific locations such as the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona are steadily garnering a reputation for being a death-trap for unaware tourists looking for the ‘perfect shot’. In fact, the average death rate at the Grand Canyon hovers close to the 20 person mark, claiming the lives of both adventurers and package holiday visitors.
Simply because we may have the means to get a great photo, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. Not only can we endanger ourselves, irresponsible photography can cause undue harm to the environment and wildlife on location. Animals injuring themselves (or even dying), while trying to get away from people taking selfies with them is not unheard of, and while less common, historical artefacts are now being barricaded to stop damage caused while scaling and scrambling to get ‘the shot’.
Although most of the time it’s clear what’s appropriate and what’s not, it’s important to remind ourselves of the responsibility we have as travellers to protect the locations we visit. Here are our tips of what not to do next time you’re tempted to cross the line in search of the perfect feed.
- 1. A long way down
It might seem obvious but scaling a building or cliff often isn’t the best idea. Falling from a height leads the way for selfie-inflicted injuries, be it from the ledge of a scenic vista, a rooftop balcony or off a bridge. Make sure you’re not climbing over the edge to take any dangerous selfies, always look where you’re putting your feet before you shift your attention to the camera and try not to lean forward to correct the angle of the shot (move your arm instead!).
- 2. Animal welfare
Our poor furry friends are not having an easy time of it at the moment. Think of this seal who fell off a cliff trying to escape tourists, or the baby dolphin who died of shock after tourists were passing it round for photos. It’s not a pretty picture but unfortunately it’s an issue that we’re facing as a by-product of both over-tourism but also a lack of general awareness of how our actions impact the environment. If you see an animal in the wild, make no sudden movements, try not to startle it, definitely don’t feed it, and do use your zoom function.
- 3. Do not enter
See a sign that says ‘do not enter’ / ‘do not cross’ / ‘danger ahead’ / ‘no trespassing’? Respect it. Climbing over railings, scaling fences, or even stepping over a poorly constructed barrier or rope that are placed there to protect you is disrespectful to the authority who is trying to stop you from hurting yourself (not to mention clearly disregarding your own personal safety). Appreciate the view from where you are without putting yourself in harms way and set an example for others who come after you.
- 4. Road rage
Unfortunately, many of life’s iconic shots have been taken from the middle of the road (think The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover or Eagles’ Best Of album cover). Sure, the picture may be slightly ‘off’ if you’re not dead centre in the road, but perfect symmetry worth your life? Road accidents caused by tourists clamouring to capture an iconic shot in the middle of the road are numerous. Don’t be a statistic. Cars have the right of way in the majority of scenarios, so don’t expect someone to stop or slow doesn’t just because you’re there. If you’ve driven to the location, ensure that your car is pulled in enough on the hard shoulder and don’t run in or out of the road (even if no one seems to be coming).
- 5. Monkey see, monkey do
People are more likely to do something reckless if they see someone else doing it first. Don’t be the person following someone else off the cliff, or more importantly be the bad example for others. If you safely scale a cliff ledge to take a great shot and post it on Instagram, who’s to say that someone who sees your photos won’t try to take the same shot but lose their footing and fall? Taking personal risks is one thing, but advocating them to others for the sake of engagement on social media is irresponsible and a heavy burden if something goes wrong. If you see someone doing something dangerous or against the site rules (including climbing barriers, feeding animals or ignoring signs), be the person who says something. It might not make you any friends but it’s the right thing to do and increasingly important given the rising problems.