July 29

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My 5 Worst Injuries as a Pro Adventure Photographer

By Dan

July 29, 2010

Marty Bell kayaking, Upper Narrows, Cache La Poudre River, Near Fort Collins, Colorado

Adventure photography is a dangerous business. By it’s very nature, it means that you’re often putting yourself out there into extreme outdoor situations where you could likely get hurt. It’s amazing that we don’t get hurt more often. That said, there have been a very really great adventure and expedition photographers who have lost their lives while practicing their craft, most recently, accomplished underwater photographer Wes Skiles who died while filming in the ocean off the coast of Florida.

I consider myself lucky. In all my years photographing sports like rock and ice climbing, backcountry skiing, mountain biking and mountaineering, and traveling to remote and exotic locations, I’ve only sustained a few very minor injuries. (I’m knocking on wood right now!) In fact, for all the extreme locations I’ve put myself in while trying to get the best vantage points, it’s a wonder that I haven’t done more damage to my body. I’ve come close to falling off of numerous cliffs, and I’ve come within inches of being stepped on by trail runners, ridden over by mountain bikers, smacked in the head by ski poles or being run over by vehicles in other countries more times than I can count. (Again, knocking…)

Anyway, here’s the list. I’m sorry it’s not more exciting. Actually I’m not. I feel pretty good about it.

1. Cold Fingers. It seems that the older I get, the colder my fingers get. Do you think it has something to do with the fact that I recently moved to Alaska? Shooting in the winter has always been a challenge for me in this realm. I go through a lot of chemical hand heater packs and do a lot of arm swinging.

2. Frostnipped Nose. Another winter injury. This one happened last winter. I was out shooting landscapes while looking through my camera on my tripod at 10-below, and…well, let’s just say that I found a new use for the Live View feature on my DSLR. Lesson learned. Try not to press your nose against the LCD screen. I can just hear you other Alaska guys laughing at me right now.

3. Twisted Ankle. I’ve done this more times than I can count, usually when I’m walking or running along a rocky trail with my camera in hand and looking around for a way to get the shot, or scoping out a really great vantage point. I should probably pay more attention while I’m walking.

4. Chipped Tooth. This is the only permanent injury I’ve sustained during my photo career. It happened when I was photographing a Junior High School football game (my friend’s kid was the running back on the team). I was standing on the sideline, shooting a running play on high speed continuous mode with my super heavy duty Nikon F5, when the biggest kid on the other team was suddenly blocked and pushed right into me. His helmet slammed into the front of my telephoto lens, which smashed the F5 body against my face and sent me crashing towards the ground. As I was getting up, I felt something in my mouth that felt like a pebble. It turned out to be part of my front tooth. Hey, the kid was really big for an eight grader, he probably weighted 145 lbs, which is more than I weigh!

5.  Bruised Ulna Nerve. This was by far the most painful one ever. I was standing a rock at the edge of Upper Narrows on the Cache La Poudre River in Colorado while photographing whitewater kayaking. At one point, I slung my camera around to my side and jumped from the rock back to the bank. The momentum of the jump and sudden landing caused my Nikon N90 to swing forward and hit the inside of my elbow. The metal bladed lens hood on my 17mm lens slammed into that soft spot right by the funny bone with a great deal of inerta, which pinched my Ulna Nerve. That’s the nerve that causes those weird funny bone feelings. A searing shock wave of fire and pain instantly shot down my arm from my elbow to my fingers and numbed the entire ring finger and pinky side of my left hand. The damage wasn’t permanent, but nerves take a VERY long time to heal and my hand was all numb and tingly feeling for many weeks afterwards.

So remember kids, it’s always safety first, unless it gets in the way of making a great photograph. Then anything goes. Just use good judgement and be careful out there!

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.


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