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Thread: Precarious Perches

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2002

    Precarious Perches

    I have never seen this topic discussed, but for me it is an integral part of doing large format in the field. For some reason I gravitate towards pictures taken from precarious perches. Either I am climbing up rocks and setting up on boulders, tripod on one, me on another, or working in streams stepping from wet, slippery, wobbly rock to wet, slippery, wobbly rock. Often when I am finally in place, I can hardly see the front of the camera to set the aperture and shutter. I am usually standing on a rounded boulder with no margin for movement in any direction, constantly reminding myself where I am, lest I become so absorbed in the image making that I take a step to the side or backward and into trouble. Considering the frequency of these situations, I have led a charmed life in that no harm has (so far!) come to my person or equipment. Surely I am not alone in my proclivity to precarious perches. Anyone been less lucky? (Maybe I don't want to hear!) - Martin (

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Aug 2004

    Precarious Perches

    In my opinion, one of the inherent benefits of getting up before dawn to go take pictures is that you usually have the scenery to yourself - and don't receive nasty stares from National Park staff or other authorities when you step over the "lawsuit railing" that keeps the stupid people from falling into the Grand Canyon.

    I can't count the number of times I've stepped beyond the railing to the edge - at some of the classic spots in America - Artist's Point at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Painted Wall at Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P., South Rim of Big Bend N.P.

    I too am probably living on borrowed time...but if God didn't want use to step to the edge he wouldn't of invented rise/fall movements or wide angle lenses.

  3. #3

    Precarious Perches

    Hi Martin,

    I just started with my first LF camera month or so ago, and I've already found myself in those positions. My first expedition to go out and get some B&W sheets exposed (my first B&W ever, actually) was on Whiteoak Canyon Trail in Shenandoah National Park. The upper falls are viewed from a very precarious location; the front leg of my tripod was about an inch from the edge, which juts out so that if you take a peek down, you don't see anything for what looks like a half a mile (probably just a few hundred feet but for the east coast that's about as good as it gets . Definitely not a place you want to make a mistake!

    And at the other places I chose to take shots, I always found myself balancing on some mossy, wet rock in the middle of the stream. It's definitely worthwhile to learn how to set your shutter speed and arpeture by feel, because it's basically impossible to walk out in front where you can get a good view. Maybe we should carry little mirrors with us.

    Many of the great shots I've seen of the Grand Canyon et. al. out west make me think "Where the heck was that guy standing?". I think it adds to the allure of the image, so it's definitely worth the risk.


  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Precarious Perches

    I think you describe my workflow perfectly. That's why we have Vibram, and hip waders ;-)

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

    Precarious Perches

    It's not only landscape shooting that sometimes gets your heart racing. My favorite subject matter is a series of abandoned and decaying grain elevators in this area and I often climb to the top of these places by way of rusted staircases that have had the actual steps removed to keep -- well, idiots like myself -- from getting up top. The one inch wide brackets that held the steps are still there and those are enough to climb up on, so long as you don't focus on the 70 foot void you're straddling. I haul my equipment up after me on clothes line.

    Even at the top of these places there's no real safety as the concrete floor is crumbling or even missing in many places. Several times I've had my concentration broken by the sickening sound of the floor cracking beneath me. So far, things have always held.

    Who knows whether our photos are actually improved by some of the lengths we go to get them. It makes us appreciate them more in our own eyes, though.

  6. #6

    Precarious Perches

    I'll second the decaying buildings one. Though I've never felt terribly endangered, there have been lots of times when I've thought my camera might not live to see another day. This photo for example, was taken on the burnt-out upper floor of an abandoned insane asylum. The tripod slipped while I was taking it down, and almost fell through to the floor below. I caught it though.

    But a brick fell and landed a few feet away from my friend downstairs shooting with a hasselblad.

    This is, of course, exactly what photography is all about. heh.


  7. #7

    Precarious Perches

    I've taken some chances but the grain elevator/rusty staircase thing makes me quiver. Most of my chances are taken in the wilderness, Mt Rainier park, I am always alone and last trip found myself picking my way down a steep slope on a slippery dirt track to get to the Emmons morraine. once at the morraine you have to hopscotch your way across boulders ultimately perched on one. Then there is always the danger of the odd lahar sweeping you down the morraine in 20+ft of mud and rock.

  8. #8

    Precarious Perches

    I , too, have put myself in a few situations that, in retrospect, were by no means safe in order to get the shot that I wanted. That also includes scrambling around on terrain that isn't exactly easy even when you don't have a pack full of gear with a tripod strapped to it.

    Recognizing this -- as well as the fact that I'm not going to stop -- I've started learning about the basics of rock climbing and its equipment. My plan is to have some of its safety protection gear with me -- and use it. A couple of locking carabiners, quickdraws, rope and other safety items are going to be going with me in the car from here on out and, if I feel the need to play in the rough, at least I know I've taken at least a few precautionary steps and am doing so properly.

    Would this approach be helpful to everyone? Maybe, maybe not. It's a bit more weight to carry, but then I can eat a few less cheeseburgers to make up the difference. FWIW, its been a fun thing to learn this new activity to augment my photography, and, IMHO, I do have a bit more peace of mind with which to concentrate on doing what I love -- shooting film.


  9. #9

    Join Date
    Sep 2001

    Precarious Perches

    Here's a moment to reflect on all the photographers who have died trying to get the right picture.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Mobile, AL

    Precarious Perches

    Back in 2000 I spent a week out in Utah & Arizona hiking and photographing in the parks. Some of the trails were rocky and steep but they didn't give me any problem. The next week returning to work I slipped and fell in the hall leaving the building. Fractured my left leg in 5 places. I have to say that the great indoors can be more hazardous. Just be careful while making your photos and have fun while you are doing it. By the way, do you mind if I take out an insurance policy on you?


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