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Thread: Is That Image Worth Your Life?

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    Is That Image Worth Your Life?

    It has been suggested by one of the Forum members that I write an article on the dangers of the industrial environment to the budding photographer. Many of you have never been exposed to the industrial environment and especially one which is in decay and this poses a danger.

    Many of you have seen the stark and surrealistic images taken in derelict building, factories and other industrial landscapes and considered these places as a source of inspiration. Whilst these images can really set the creative mind afire, the dangers posed by these sites to the photographer need to assessed before entry. I’m trying to make people aware of the risks and to take necessary precautions. In some instances the risks are just too great and I will explain why under each danger topic.

    When you go anywhere outside of your normal day to day, get in the habit of doing a risk assessment before you enter the unknown. I don’t mean you have to have formal written document, just stop and think about what you could come across first. Look for signs of what the site used to do and this will give you a clue to the hazards you may face and yes there will be hazards, I can guarantee this. Some of the hazards you need to think about are:

    Chemicals previously used on site – they could be toxic and Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) or they can have long term effects such as causing birth defects, weakening the bodies systems or causing cancers. Steel drums rust and spill contents wherever they stand. Chemicals can also be in powdered forms which can be blown about the site. Be cautious in what you pick up or handle.

    Asbestos – I give this its own special category as this deadly product is everywhere in the Australian landscape. Asbestos can be found in everything from roof and wall sheeting (fibro) to insulation materials in furnaces and electrical equipment The Worksafe Standards permit 1 fibre for every 2 litres of air space as being acceptable in the air you breathe, but you still need to understand that it only takes 1 fibre to get stuck in your lungs to be susceptible to Asbestosis and Mesothelioma 10 or more years later. Whilst you can easily see asbestos materials, it’s the floating fibres which pose the danger. These fibres are between 0.3 to 0.5 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) so small that you cannot see them except maybe just as a dust mote in strong sunlight. Once disturbed, asbestos fibres can float in still air for hours. At this size the fibre is too large to be expelled from the body by normal breathing and too small to be expelled by coughing.

    Unstable Structures – brick walls where timber frames have rotted away can collapse, old machinery mounted on frames that have rusted or stairways rotten or rusted. Don’t trust your life to any structure – stay on the ground, don’t climb ladders or stairways.

    Live Electrical – Just because the site is derelict doesn’t mean the power isn’t connected somewhere and with factories the voltages can be a lot higher than just 240 volts. Also remember that a combination of electricity and old chemicals can equal explosions or chemical fires. Don’t touch what you don’t understand.

    Other Services – The same as electricity, piped gas services and water may still be connected and live.

    Confined Spaces – These are places where the air you breathe can be or is contaminated. Most of the killer gases that can be found in confined spaces are odourless and will overcome you in seconds with death following a few seconds later. Do NOT enter pits or tunnels or other confined spaces unless you have gas detection devices as a minimum. If you don’t understand then don’t go in.

    Slips trips and falls – Derelict sites are not renown for their cleaned tidy floors. It is normal for debris to be scattered everywhere. Remember there may be trenches, pits and other holes in the ground which have been covered by debris. Watch your footing.

    Who You Going to Call – If something goes wrong, what are you going to do? Do you have to rely on yourself? do you have an exit strategy? Ensure your mobile is charged and in service, alternatively let someone else know where you are and stick to what you told them.

    I’m not saying don’t go exploring and getting that award winning image but be cautious, understand the environment your in, be informed and aware of the dangers it poses. When I was young and indestructible SCUBA diving and underwater photography was my outlet. In those 20 years I’ve had many of close calls and I’ve hauled body of one of the dive group from the sea – he didn’t make it – I hope you don’t have to do the same. Stay safe

    This is a pretty quick overview and I could go on for days in detail - I'd like to see others advice too

  2. #2
    Moderately Underexposed I @ M's Avatar
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    Very well written Mark , it never hurts to have a reminder of the perils and pitfalls that can accompany even a seemingly "harmless" pursuit such as photography.
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    Awesome post Mark, you have performed a great service to those of us who occasionally, for one reason or another, do stuff without thinking it through a little, sometimes you get away with it, sadly sometimes you don't. As you correctly state, think about it a bit first, and if you don't know find out?

    I do a bit landscape and always have in the back of my mind to be on the lookout for chemicals, some of the older farm chemicals are pretty nasty so I'm extra careful near old buildings, or tips, any old bags or rusty tins I stay right away from.

    anyone else got a safety tip for what they do ?
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    Put together very well Mark - you obviously know your stuff.

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    Very well thought through and very well put together. Thank you for the effort and concern that you have shown for others.

    Posts like this should be placed in a permanent position at the top of the appropriate forum (stickies I believe is the term) so that they can be viewed as a reminder or warning to new members. Mods, for consideration.
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    It's not only the dangers of any misfortune that we should be concentrating on, there's also the concept of trespassing too!

    I've missed many photo ops, because I tend not to trespass onto other peoples' property, and especially if there appears to be any element of danger involved.. I'll just try to get a shot from afar.. hence my need for a lens between 80-300mm!

    And I'm not just referring to dilapidated/abandoned property.
    Too many times I wanted to get to a location in the middle of a paddock.. only to be held back by those infuriating cows!!


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    Yes well done Mark. Thanks for your time on this. Let us look for an appropriate place to post it.
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    In the Country at Farm Sites

    The farm structure you really need to watch will be two short sets of fence rails (cattle race) about 1.5 to 1.8m apart leading to a pit that may or may not be there (filled in). There may also be an open sided roofed shed just at the start of the rails. Sometime all that will be left is a rectangular depression in the ground. These are old live stock drenching sites where the animals are driven through a bath of fairly toxic chemicals to combat parasites such as ticks etc. The bath is just a hole excavated in the ground so the chemicals soak into the earth and contaminate the soils for sometimes hundreds of metres in the surrounding area.

    The chemcials previously used were Dieldrin (toxic to touch/inhalation) arsenic (a heavy metal and very toxic) and DDT - Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (Very toxic with a half life of 15 years).

    If the soil is dry, the wind can blow the contaminated dust and you get to breath it in. Once a heavy metal or DDT enters the body into the fat cells, it never leaves - your poisoned pretty must for life.

    On the up side the various departments for agriculture have been trying to remove these sites by digging them out for the past 20 or more years but there are still sites they know exist and quite probably a fair few they don't know of.

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    Thanks guys - its great to see that the thread wasn't a wasted effort. I just hope the "indestructibles" give it a quick glance.

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    mmmm good advice...

    Thanks mark.
    More care to be taken...

    also, with abandoned places in farm situations, some advice that works for me is to ask the neighbours who owns it and get some history on the place, its interesting info also!
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    Thats some really good advice, thanks for taking the time to write it up

    :-)
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    That is great info, thanks for pointing it out. In addition to that, the hazards exist while shooting landscapes, etc, making sure you don't step on a snake, fall in the river or something. I always pack a first aid kit, with a couple of compression bandages, because of the poor service in the bush I take a digital phone and a cdma phone, hopefully I can get service from one of them.

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    hmm this wasnt directed at me by any chance was it?... haha :P
    i was only in the shack thing for like 1 minute!

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    Quote Originally Posted by chelseahunter View Post
    hmm this wasnt directed at me by any chance was it?... haha :P
    i was only in the shack thing for like 1 minute!
    Well sort of but it wasn't really directed at you, but your little exploration highlighted the need as many members have virtually nil industrial experience or the knowledge to recognise a dangerous situation.

    See my PM

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    Quote Originally Posted by chelseahunter View Post
    hmm this wasnt directed at me by any chance was it?... haha :P
    i was only in the shack thing for like 1 minute!
    I agree with MarkW and what he has offered us members Chelsea, we should all look out for each other and just as we share our photographic tips and techniques we should pass on any 'gotchas' we know about or have encountered, as photographers we can at times get ourselves into unfamiliar surroundings and maybe overlook the dangers that someone more familiar with the site would immediately know and recognise, its all about being careful and looking after #1. It shouldn't be seen as a burden Chelsea, just something we automatically do to try an avoid injury or worse ..................... you could break your camera?

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    heh heh. Nah really thanks guys, it has been handy. I wouldnt usually think twice about where I go to take photos, but next time I will be more observant about where I go.

    thankyou

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    A great warning to all photographers.

    I reckon most PJs (Photojournalists) should give this a read as well as I know a few who will put the shot before their well-being - not cool.

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  18. #18
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    I agree about the diving dangers and support the need for vigilance at ALL times. I did a lot of u/w photography and have logged over 500 solo dives around Sydney myself. But here is a little blurp I wrote as part of a 'Bird photography how-to' for another site some time ago. This is specified to stuff I do experience, but it can be applied everywhere.

    Common sense and anticipating events is a must. Even if they do not happen.

    SAFETY TIPS AROUND WATERWAYS

    Working around water presents its own dangers. While it may sound far-fetched, photographing in, around and near water can kill you by the way of drowning, so you should always exercise extreme care when around lakes, seashores, dams or creeks etc. All it takes is a careless step and a slip into water, combined with a head striking a rock or anything heavy enough, could have tragic results. So take care, watch your step and you will still enjoy the experience. I do take a lot of care around water as I tend to dive right in (no pun intended) because as far as I am concerned, being as close to the subjects as possible, within their own environment is always going to get the best results photographically. There have been many times when I chose NOT to step as I deemed a situation precarious, and there were times, when I lost my footing momentarily in the river while carefully wading in shallows and I suddenly stepped into a smaller hole.

    Needless to say, in the harsh Aussie sun sunscreen is a necessity - NOT an option. However, by the time the sun gets high up and strong enough, you ought not to be photographing, but scouting out locations for shooting perspectives, collecting branches to use as perches if you are setting up a shoot and so on. Alternatively, if it is overcast, you could keep shooting, but the sun’s UV rays will still penetrate through cloud thus don’t be slack with UV protection.

    Stay safe!

    And hereby I am wishing you warm light.

  19. #19
    http://steveaxford.smugmug.com/ Steve Axford's Avatar
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    I think you need to learn about the environment you go into so that you can do it with your eyes open to the potential risks. Sometimes I do go into risky places for a photograph, but sometimes I dare to cross a road to, or drive in a car too. A very good friend of mine, who is now dead, once said that life is what you do with it, not how long you spend in it. I'll certainly do my best to survive as long as I can, but not at the expense of living.

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    Have just stumbled across thia post, and a truer word has not been spoken.

    Between Nimmatabel and Bombala there's an old abattoir. It's a huge, dank building of up to four levels. The concrete floors are full of holes, which are covered with old straw and newspapers. Stairwells have no handrails...some stairs are suspended on their own not even attached to walls.

    Lord alone knows what chemicals were used in the plant, which is now owned by a farming family which uses it to store heavy machinery. Nonetheless. such structures can provide good photo opportunities. One just has to be aware of the environment!!

    A good thread. Cheers
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