News Columns & Blogs

Danger Douse

People do dangerous things.

If you're thinking "duh," then you're probably not one of the numerous callers and letter-writers who get angry when we run a photo of kids riding bikes without helmets or the various stunts people do to entertain themselves.

I touched on the subject last year, and after shooting a few such situations in my three years here, I've come to expect complaints in certain situations.

So when I spotted some swimmers at the Two Rivers Park boat launch on Monday, that was one of several thoughts that popped into my head. The first?

Holy crap.

I stayed in my car for a minute before approaching to see what they were up to. I do my best to minimize my influence on situations I photograph. Sometimes, the prospect of having your photo in the paper makes people want to show off — doing things they probably wouldn't have if I hadn't shown up.

Seeing Chris Gresham, 16, climbing up a sign on the dock spurred me to run over in order to capture his sketchy dive, which his step sister Kaytlyn Daniels, 17, was photographing for Facebook:

Chris and his friend Jordin Grimm, 16, kept jumping for a bit

before Chris pulled a move that caught me off-guard and in a bad position to shoot his cross-dock dive:

They surprised me again by swimming under the docks,

but the craziest thing was when the boys walked onto the mess of stuck debris along a dock to try and free a log:

I couldn't believe what they were doing. The former lifeguard in me wanted to stop them with an urgent smattering of high-volume expletives. The documentarian in me fought that urge, and I didn't think they were traipsing out onto temporary land for my sake.

Shortly after I arrived, Jordin's mother Amy Grimm had suggested that he also dive off the sign Chris had for my picture. I told them not to do anything for my sake — to just do what they would have been doing if I didn't show up. This time, she was telling them not to walk around on the debris because it wasn't safe, but doing little to enforce that request.

Maybe I would have done differently if one of their parents hadn't been there, but I let them be, nervously photographing them until they freed the log and tried balancing on it while pretending to be Spiderman:

And splashing around it some more:

When I talked to photo editor Bob Brawdy after, I kicked off the conversation by saying that I had found a feature that was sure to generate some angry letters. He suggested I call local water safety advocate Mark Allen for a comment to include in the cutline. We ran the photo of Jordin catching himself on the dock while Graham is walking on the debris because it's an unusual scene and also because of how crazy dangerous it seems.

Mark agreed.

"The problem with walking on that debris is you could fall through and then you're enclosed in there and you're stuck. It's like ice. No ice is safe ice. When you're walking out on debris like that, you don't know where it could be thin and you could fall through," Allen said.

To date, we haven't received any complaints about the photo. I'm guessing the safety warning deterred people, but who knows what lurks in the hearts and minds of readers? The Internet does, it seems.

On Wednesday, Jose Mejia drowned at Two Rivers Park near the swimming area. An online comment on the breaking news story read:

There was a picture in the Tri City Herald online showing two people on a dock at the two rivers park. They were moving a log out of a subsequent log jam that had accumulated. The text under the picture specifically warned about the dangers of swimming at two rivers park and how everyone should wear a life jacket.

It seems that some people forget that humans have a very difficult time breathing underwater. In my entire life I have never met anyone that could do this.

This is a horrible tragedy that could have been prevented. It should not matter if you are an excellent swimmer or a beginning swimmer just please make sure to wear a life jacket anytime you are in the water. This goes for being on a boat as well. We all know they may not be the most comfortable thing in the world to wear, however they do save lives!

Many families will be affected by this drowning today, a drowning that could have been prevented.

While the specifics this reader mentions aren't really accurate (there's no mention of life jackets or warnings about swimming at Two Rivers Park), the correct sentiment is there.

I think it's safe to say that if we hadn't run Mark's comments, somebody would have complained about our irresponsible photo publishing. While I still contend that running photos of people doing dangerous things isn't an endorsement, including explicit discouragement from safety experts is easy enough to do.

But as Wednesday's tragedy shows, no matter how much safety information and equipment is available, people will still do dangerous things.

In other dangerous water news:

Brian Blanco has an interesting guide to hurricane coverage over at While I always assumed photographing hurricanes was bound to have numerous complications, seeing it all spelled out by a seasoned severe storm shooter brought the myriad issues into focus.

Getting things in focus may be a whole lot easier at Christmastime. After hearing rumors about a focus-free camera months ago, newcomer Lytro said a consumer-priced compact model featuring the new sensor technology will be out by the end of the year. Currently, it's easy to adjust color balance or levels after shooting a photo, and soon you will be able to adjust focus as well. Read more about the technology and the business behind it here, or pop on over to Yahoo! News if you've already hit your paywall.

Needless to say, there's been some hand-wringing from photography who decry the further dumbing down of photography and the death knell of making a living from making pictures. I imagine the same grumblings arose at every significant technological leap, though this one does seem to be one of the biggest jumps made in photo development.

Pun sadly intended.

As a child of the digital era who's never developed his own film (for shame!), I don't share that perspective.

First, it's not like focusing is all that hard with modern camera equipment. True, not having to wait for slow autofocus in the new camera, which sounds analogous to consumer point-and-shoots, will make capturing in-focus images easier. But it's not like sharp focus is what elevates a photographer to the professional level.

Second, the definition of "in-focus" is decidedly flabby in some of the example images. True, they are only previews of an unfinished product, but I was surprised while playing with the Joker image on the Yahoo! story. After several clicks on the Joker's head, I thought the Flash object was screwed up until I realized that the soft maniac was supposed to be in focus.

I can see future generations of this technology, incorporated into professional-level equipment, further eroding the sports photography market, and this innovation will undoubtedly shrink the habitat for all professional photographers as the ability to create "good enough" images is made even easier. There's still no substitute for creativity, drive and experience, however, and there will always be a need for pros who have those qualities.

The bar is just going to be raised higher.

Speaking of high bars, photographer Claes Axstål has a crazy lighting rig he uses to flash aircraft for mid-air photography. Pretty cool stuff. And finally, in a First Amendment photo reversal from last week's scary news link, Ft. Lauderdale agreed to continue allowing photos to be made in public.

Who says there's no good news anymore?


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