I am a landscape photographer on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. My subject matter usually consists of beautiful tropical sunsets and serene waterfalls. This article is about how to handle yourself while photographing an emotionally challenging situation; the mental process of containing your own emotions while expressing them through your work; and how to be a professional and stay safe in trying situations.
Here is a little background on why I chose this topic. On April 15th, the north shore of Kauai received 30 inches of rain in 24 hours. It was a mass flood event and many homes were damaged or destroyed. The north shore of the island is currently isolated due to 12 landslides blocking the road. I am not a photo journalist but was given the opportunity to enter the disaster zone to document it before the roads were opened. Below are some bullet points on what I learned from the experience.
Be Prepared for Anything
Think of any possible survival situation you could be in and prepare for it. My camera bag was exploding with gear and personal items I might need. I packed a 24-70mm and a 100-400mm lens. I should have packed an additional prime lens, as my 24-70mm repeatedly had unexpected connection errors. My pack also contained food, first aid, two liters of water, running shoes, water shoes, a spring wet suit, emergency space blanket, and a goal zero lantern to charge my cell phone if needed.
Keep Under Control
Try your best to always keep yourself under emotional control. I saw heartbreaking destruction and experienced insane adrenaline rushes. It was a roller coaster. I felt pressure to get as many photographs as possible. When my lens started to malfunction, I almost had a panic attack. This is where I forced myself to pause, take a deep breath, and refocus. I almost had to emotionally detach myself from the situation to regain my focus. There is a balance between your own internal emotional battle and capturing the scene around you.
Be aware of your surroundings and be extremely cautious. Do not rush. I experienced quicksand, power lines, sink holes, debris, etc. Try not to look through your view finder – see the big picture of what’s going on around you. Be aware of the conditions, the weather, and the people. Always have an escape plan in mind if you have to get out.
It is important to not get in the way of officials or volunteers. You may actually need to put your gear down and help out. Do not go into places that could put your life at risk. It’s really not worth it. Understand that your purpose isn’t to capture an award-winning photograph or make any money, but help document and show the world the reality of what is happening. Be prepared to be flexible, as your plans will change constantly. Be 100% selfless and leave your ego behind.
Have you gone through a challenging situation while on the nature photography trips? If so feel free to share your own stories in the comments below.