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Thread: Tips for Safe Seascape Photography

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    Tips for Safe Seascape Photography

    In light of the recent rock fishing-related deaths and my own potentially dangerous encounter with the ocean, I felt the desire to compile and post some tips for safe seascape photography.

    Now, admittedly I do not practice all that I am about to preach, but my experience has prompted some thinking, I am much more conscious of the safety issues, and I will be putting some of these measures into practice. Knowing that I could get injured or killed and never be found again is a frightening thought, and it's not just myself to consider.

    So, here is my list of tips, in no particular order.

    (I will add to this list if I recall or learn any more safety tips.)


    1. Tell someone where you're going.

    It's a good idea to tell someone where you're going, especially if you're going at dawn, dusk or late at night when such places are more isolated, or if they're isolated locations in general.

    Many Sydney seascape locations such as Turimetta Head (Warriewood), "Canyon X" (further north of Turimetta Head), "Devil's Cauldron" (south of Whale Beach) and Cape Banks are quite remote, can take a while to reach, and can be dangerous to reach (Canyon X in particular).

    If you do get into trouble, it could be difficult if not impossible to find you, so tell someone where you will be and when. Arrange to call someone you know at a pre-determined time to check in and advise that you are safe and well, and make sure you do make the call.

    On that note...


    2. Make sure your mobile phone has sufficient charge.

    Ensure your phone has sufficient charge so you can make your pre-arranged call, or in case you otherwise need to make a call. Of course, if you're in a location with no mobile coverage (generally not an issue along Sydney's coastline), that's a risk which requires mitigation.


    3. Never under-estimate the power of the ocean.

    The ocean is very powerful, and its appearance can be deceptive. Don't assume that an area is safe because it looks safe. Study the ocean for a while; observe its patterns. It has a rhythm to it, and every so often, larger waves will come in. I've been told that every 40 minutes or so, a larger-than-usual wave (I'm hesitant to call it a rogue wave) comes in.

    Look for signs of recent water contact from splashes and waves as opposed to a previously high, outgoing tide.

    Be aware of the tide. Know its direction and when it will be high, as it could leave you stranded. I use the Manly Hydraulics Laboratory to check the tide, and I also have the Pocket Weather AU app on my iPhone, which sources data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and in the paid version, provides tidal information.

    Never turn your back on the ocean; a "rogue wave" can come out of nowhere and pound you. It happens very quickly. Keep an eye on the ocean and be prepared to retreat.

    Having experienced the fury of the ocean on more than one occasion, I can relate personally how powerful it is. The velocity of secondary water contact (ie, splashes after a wave hits a rock) can knock a person off balance. The volume of water can be huge, and will thoroughly drench a person and everything nearby.

    The danger also lies in the fact that the water must recede back into the ocean. The "rock current" can be quite strong, and its speed, combined with slippery rocks and unstable rock shelves, can sweep a person into the ocean. There could be jagged rocks on the shoreline, or submerged dangers. A strong swell can pound a person into those rocks and cause severe injury or death.

    Don't put yourself in harm's way; a fall or a powerful wave can mean the end of you.


    4. Watch your step.

    Seascape photography often involves navigating rocky shorelines, often in darkness or near-darkness if you're a dawn or dusk shooter. Dangers include uneven terrain, slippery surfaces from moss and moisture (some moss is black and hard to see), crevasses, rock pools and other pot-holes. It is not difficult to mis-step and scratch a leg, or worse, sprain or break it.


    5. Be visible, and be able to see in the dark.

    Wear high-visibility clothing in case you do run into trouble. Wear a battery-powered headlamp for navigation in the dark. This is far superior to a hand-held torch, as it keeps your hands free (which you need for balancing or carrying other gear) and also points where your eyes point. These are essential for navigation in the dark, and can also assist with autofocus.


    6. Protect your gear.

    As I've experienced, electronic equipment tends not to like being wet. Invest in a weather-resistant camera bag, and also carry plastic bags which can cover your camera in case it rains or in case a splash makes contact. Use zip-lock bags for smaller items you wish to protect from water (eg, mobile phones, GPS units, wallets, keys, remote shutter releases, memory cards, etc.). Bring towels, a chamois and other drying equipment in case it's necessary to dry yourself or your equipment. If you're not using some item in your gear, keep it in your bag; this will prevent it from being lost or damaged if water comes into contact with it.

    Insure your gear, and make sure your insurance policy covers accidental damage, and also covers your equipment while it's out of your home. Having it insured only while it's in the home is useless for a device that was intended to be portable.

    7. Go with someone.

    Seascape photography can often be a solitary hobby, but being alone in remote, dangerous locations in the dark can add to the general danger level. It is better to go with at least one other person. If either of you runs into trouble, the other can lend assistance.

    Having a mate with you can also be handy if you encounter other dangers, such as aggressive, drunken fools out in the streets (or partying in an isolated location) after a Saturday night on the turps. You're less of a target to would-be attackers if you're not alone.


    8. Dress for the occasion.

    It is essential to wear shoes which both provide grip, and can get wet. Hard-core rock fisherman have metal cleats on their shoes which provide good grip. I personally have a black pair of Dunlop Volleys which have good rubber grip, are inexpensive, light and can get wet. I throw them into the washer and dryer with no problems.

    Now, I have slid on rock shelves whilst wearing these; they're possibly not the most effective shoes for rock-hopping, but they do a fairly decent job.

    Wear shorts, not jeans or other heavy long pants. I wear shorts even in the winter. There are two benefits. Firstly, you can be knee-deep in water without having drenched clothing. Secondly, if you do get swept into the sea, it's less weight to restrict your mobility or weigh you down. The down-side is that your legs are exposed to the cold, and to sharp rock edges which could scratch or gouge you.

    A light weather-proof jacket is a good idea, too.
    Last edited by Xenedis; 23-05-2010 at 8:30pm.

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    Member David's Avatar
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    That is an excellent posting, at least one positive that came out of your horror weekend mate. The only thing I would add to the PROTECT YOUR GEAR section would be to have Insurance cover for all your gear in case all your careful planning gets trumped by nature and an accidental outcome occurs.
    Comments and CC welcome..

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    Quote Originally Posted by David View Post
    That is an excellent posting, at least one positive that came out of your horror weekend mate. The only thing I would add to the PROTECT YOUR GEAR section would be to have Insurance cover for all your gear in case all your careful planning gets trumped by nature and an accidental outcome occurs.
    Good point; I've added it.

    Thanks.

    (Insurance is something I really need to seek.)

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    Excellent post John.

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    very good advice .......

    during a recent outing to shoot a sunrise I had a fall while getting to my location, it was not a bad fall, just a bit bruised for a few days, and I was lucky to be with company. If I had fallen on the rocky outcrop, and been by myself, who knows what the outcome would have been with the incoming tide..... you just never know...... later at coffee I discovered that another member of our team almost went for a swim that was not planned. The lesson here would be as stated above always go on location with company........ safety with numbers

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    Quote Originally Posted by Big Pix View Post
    during a recent outing to shoot a sunrise I had a fall while getting to my location, it was not a bad fall, just a bit bruised for a few days, and I was lucky to be with company. If I had fallen on the rocky outcrop, and been by myself, who knows what the outcome would have been with the incoming tide..... you just never know...... later at coffee I discovered that another member of our team almost went for a swim that was not planned. The lesson here would be as stated above always go on location with company........ safety with numbers
    I absolutely agree.

    I think we as humans tend to take our own health and safety for granted. I know I do.

    It's only when you take time to stop and think about the sorts of scenarios that could eventuate at an isolated location, that you get a scare and become more concerned for your own safety.

    I thought about the possibility of being swept into the sea at Kiama last week, and it's very frightening to imagine myself in that situation, way down below in violent, heavy seas, possibly being pounded into the rocks, with nobody to rescue me or even know I was there.

    It really doesn't take much for a fun, innocuous shoot to turn into an absolute nightmare.

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    To add to my warnings above, I invite you all to read Brent Pearson's blog entry (and watch his accompanying video) about the rough seas he encountered at "Devil's Cauldron".

    http://brentbat.wordpress.com/2009/0...-this-at-home/

    I've shot at this location with Brent, and when we were there it was quite calm, but a location like this, which is quite remote, can certainly get wild.

    The video shows some significant splashing, and you get to see a series of large waves blowing huge amounts of spray right at you -- from the camera's point of view.
    Last edited by Xenedis; 23-05-2010 at 10:34pm.

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    The original thread in which I related my "incident" at Kiama is no longer accessible.

    Here's a new thread containing my story:

    http://www.ausphotography.net.au/for...ad.php?t=67130

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    The sea is a pretty powerful thing and this is probably similar to the dump at Kiama.

    This little wave is hitting the rock-ledge and has to be the best part of 50 metres high. I decided not to get too close...


    Catherine Hill Bay 18 Sept by peterb666, on Flickr

    That's the northern end of Catherine Hill Bay and every wave was doing that as I looked on.

    The same weekend as the Kiama 'incident', 5 people were washed off the rock-ledge at the other end of Catherine Hill Bay but it was relatively calm when the above was going on.

    The next morning and the Northern end was calm but the Southern end was giving a reasonable show.

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    It does pay to be very careful - especially pre-dawn. I often use my hiking stick, or if I have my monopod that does duty as a walking stick. I find the extra stability is helpful when negotiating tricky rocks and slippery bits, especially when burdened down by gear.
    Odille

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    Take a towel

    Good advice!

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