Lets get into a little photography safety. This is a topic I never considered until I got injured during a photoshoot at Lake Tahoe in USA. I have been in law enforcement for 24 years and never got injured. I have been doing professional photography for the past three years and got severely injured. Who would have figured? I sure didn’t.
A little about myself; I am a Slik Tripod Ambassador and do commercial and nature photography throughout Northern California. My wife and I love the outdoors and shoot together weekly. On our journeys, I have seen photographers and models take unnecessary risks to get that perfect shot. It’s all about being different and having a photo standing out from the crowd.
But how far are you willing to go? Are you willing to hang you feet off of a cliff? What about doing a back flip on the edge of a 1,000 foot granite cliff at Glacier Point in Yosemite? I have seen both and, I must admit, I got the WOW factor but then I said, why? A friend of mine had his tripod and his expensive camera fall off of a cliff because he got too close. I’ve had friends sprain their ankles walking without looking as they were shooting. Photographers get in the middle of roadways and train tracks to get fantastic shots without being totally aware of the traffic. Is this worth it? No, definitely not!
On September 30, 2016 I went to photograph the sunrise at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, California. I left my wife at the hotel so she could sleep in. I thought I’d go out and capture a few frames, then come back before she woke up. I was wrong, almost dead wrong.
The morning started great. I shot the sunrise with no one around. It’s usually very crowded so this time I really enjoyed the peaceful, beautiful, sunrise. I then packed up and headed back to the hotel.
As I drove by Eagle Falls, which was just around the corner, I saw no parked cars. I thought, since I have the falls all to myself, why not stop for a quick picture? I walked down to my favorite spot, which is two tiers down and has a great view of the falls. I set my camera bag on the ground and walked to the falls with my 360 camera to get a video of the falls.
As I got closer to the falls, I noticed that there was a low flow so I thought it would be a great idea to put the selfie stick over the edge for a spectacular video. I saw a 4” ledge with a rock next to it. My plan was to put one foot on the ledge, lean on a rock with one hand for balance and then put the 360 camera over the edge to get my shot. Great idea, until my weight was transferred to the foot on the ledge. My foot immediately slipped on the mossy slime. The next thing I knew I was in the middle of the flow falling down the falls. I bounced off the rocks until I landed on the ledge in the bottom of that section. Halfway down I remember striking a large rock on my left side causing me to straighten up as I had been falling to my left side. This probably saved my life as I never struck my head, which could have been deadly.
Once I landed in the base of that section of the falls, I did a self-assessment check. I was in shock and felt like my bell had been rung, numb all over and shortness of breath. My first thought was, I am conscious, good! Then I wiggled my toes and fingers and thought okay, my spine is good. The oddest thing happened next, apparently adrenaline kicked in because I got a burst of energy and decided to climb up the mountain, drive to the hotel and no one would ever know I fell. Then I thought about the important stuff, my gear. I picked up my 360 camera out of the water and remember being glad I wasn’t wearing my backpack with my photo gear or it would have been ruined.
I tried to climb out but I couldn’t, I was struggling, I became weaker and realized that I was hurt pretty bad due to my shivering and struggling to breathe. Based on my issues and trouble moving, I decided to find a place to lay down where my back was flat, feet slightly elevated and some head support. I found a good spot and laid down while continuing to shiver out of control. There appeared to be a problem with the left side of my body and I couldn’t move my left arm so I reached into my right front pocket for my phone. Luckily, I was able to pull it out of my pocket and I had cell service. I called my wife but was incoherent and didn’t communicate very well. She told me I should call 911 because she didn’t know where I was, so I did. Emergency personnel said they were on their way with an extended time of arrival. So, I just closed my eyes to ride it out the best I could.
Approximately an hour and a half later I felt someone grab my head. I couldn’t see who it was as I was in survival mode, basically in shock. It was the oddest thing, I heard an English accent say, “Don’t worry I’m a Royal Marine from England and a Medic. Emergency personnel are up top planning on how to assist you.” I was glad that someone was finally there to assist me.
Emergency personnel arrived a short time later and started to prep me for transport. I received two shots for pain and some blankets that didn’t really stop the shivering. They rolled me to my left side to place the backboard under me. As soon as they rolled me to the side, I screamed in pain, realizing I had broken ribs on that side. They secured me for the helicopter to airlift me from the scene. The problem was that the trees were in the way and the rope to keep me from spinning wasn’t long enough. Approximately two hours from when I fell, they were able to airlift me out to the parking lot at Emerald Bay.
Once we landed they transferred me to the Life Flight Helicopter. I was then able to see my wife for a brief moment and gave her a kiss. The medical staff had me sign a number of items electronically even thought I couldn’t move my pinky but I signed the best I could. Next thing I knew I was off to the Renown Hospital in Reno on another helicopter.
Once on board they gave me two more shots for pain and some hot pads. I finally stopped shivering and felt stable. While on the way I reached into my pocket again and retrieved my cell phone. I asked the medics if they could take a selfie of me. They started laughing and took the selfie. One Medic was so kind that he took pictures out the window so I could check out the view because I couldn’t move.
My injuries consisted of a fractured scapula, 5 broken ribs, fractured #2 and #3 vertebrae, compressed #1 vertebrae, tailbone fracture, punctured lung and slight bleeding from the hip. I stayed one night in the hospital, then was released. When I got home I quickly realized that it’s not just about broken bones. I was purple, bruised and swollen on most of my body. My knees and elbows were very sore also.
Although I had many injuries, I was very fortunate and was back to 100% in six and a half weeks. I still have some soreness but other than that I am back out shooting again. I am very lucky as the deputy who assisted my wife at the scene told me that someone died from a fall at the same location a week earlier.
I heard about these types of accidents and never thought it would happen to me. To be honest, I never wanted to be that guy, but I was. Please be safe out there because it happens so quickly. Be aware of your surroundings, have someone with you and enjoy photography safely.