Is Photography Risky?

Hawk on the offense

Recently I read a post by a well-known photographer who listed reasons why photography can be a risk. I agree on creative choices made, being vulnerable to criticism or some of the day-to-day course of actions, but he missed the real-life risks many photographers take while shooting in remote locations of animals that really can pose a threat. Many nature photographers take extreme risks with weather, location, or animals encountered. Maybe this was not his point, but I thought it worth a mention.

I don’t mean to belittle putting your work out there for accolade from camera club judges and instead getting biting criticism, but there really is no comparison to actual physical risk. Face a polar bear on the sea ice or lion on the savanna and then we are talking risk. No judge would intimidate me if I got those shots and lived to tell!

Now and again you do run across animals that pose a threat on occasion.


I was talking to a few professional photographers in Pennsylvania about this very subject recently.

In my home state, I have grown rather complacent when traipsing around the mountains and woodlands. I go about my business forgetting that where I grew up, there are actually creatures that can pose a threat.


Where I live now, these animals would be very rare. Eastern Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Water Moccasins are found in PA and I often forget that until I am in a place where they might be hiding. The panic hits me where the logs and rock outcroppings no longer perk my photographic interest.


In PA I have run across black bears on occasion, and once I startled a bear cub. Now that was very scary since I had no idea where mom was located.


Riding my horse in the woods one time, I came across a mountain lion in a tree, and had my horse not sensed it in time, I may have been a kitty snack.


Another time I came across a mountain lion that was apparently hit by a car just lying on the side of the road. I quickly left that scene since it may have only been stunned. That or a great trick to snag some dinner.


In PA I can’t tell you how many coyotes and skunks I encountered. Sure a skunk won’t eat you, but it sure can make life miserable for a while.


I guess if your specialty is macro photography, you don’t often think about bodily risk.

In WNY, we just don’t run across that kind of creature. In this post, I have mostly docile critters I ran across this past year.


While photographing eagles recently, I never thought it could be dangerous, but was told of one eagle that attacked several people, putting one photographer in the hospital.

That’s his finger the eagle is chewing on below! Just kidding.


Speaking of risk, I think physical risk should certainly be listed. Not just the fear of a frail wounded ego.

On GWGT – The Nikon D750 in Crop Mode.

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35 Responses to Is Photography Risky?

  1. connie661 says:

    That’s why I take pictures of gardens. What a spectacular hawk shot!

  2. Debra says:

    heh I totally agree that while criticism can be hurtful it doesn’t actually rate against a physical threat. I haven’t been threatened by an animal in all these many years but I have had to deal with slippery mountain slopes and some scary whitewater. I don’t want to get into details but as a woman in my experience I’ve found animals are less of a physical threat than men.

    • donna213 says:

      I tend to agree, some guys are mighty shady. I am not one for white water rafting, so no fear of me being washed away! Mountains are another story. Got caught in an avalanche in Utah while skiing. It is fortunate I am a good and fast skier. Riding down moving snow is quite a feeling.

  3. Bernice says:

    Beautiful pictures! I am into no risk. 🙂 I live in WNY and there are a lot of great nature trails that are much easier than the trails in NH. I have learned to appreciate the area a bit more. 🙂

    • donna213 says:

      Thank you. In WNY we don’t have much to fear, yet I did hear black bear are in certain areas, yet are still rather rare to see. I was living in New England (RI) when I was younger and yes NH does have some great trails. I skied a lot while there.

  4. patricksgarden1 says:

    Hey Donna,
    Try growing up in Australia with about 90% of the world’s most poisonous snakes and spiders. Best story happened when I went on my first and only hunting trip on Pop’s farm on the edge of the outback with my uncles. We were following the trail formed by sheep as they go to watering holes. All of a sudden one of them yelled out “Paddy, stop walking right now and don’t look down at your feet or else” I heard a gun shot and looked down to see a dead red belly black snake mid-stride between my legs. Google the name to see a vermillion red mark about 2″ X 3” on it’s underside. When snakes were killed only when they threatened someone but it was fun to see my grandfather lay them over a barbed wire fence for a kookaburra to eat. That fact desire make into T

    • donna213 says:

      I don’t think I would leave my house knowing there are so many poisonous snakes. Snakes are my main fear. When little, I fell into a dead log filled with hundreds of garter snakes coming out of hibernation (I think since I was only five). That image is still fresh in my mind and haunts my dreams. I was always told of the Copperheads on our property, so that is what I thought then. My dad killed a few of them and the Water Moccasins (cotton mouths). You were very lucky you were warned to stop in your tracks. I think the gun shot at my feet would have haunted me for life if I was in your position. That snake is scary looking in strike position. It is also rather pretty for a snake with that bed belly. I did a post on the Kookaburra on Nature and Wildlife Pics. It was at our local zoo and you enter the exhibit to even pet them. They are really cool birds and they get extra points from me for eating snakes.

  5. veronetravis says:

    Beautiful pictures! I don’t take risks, don’t even go out alone to remote areas, since I am a woman. Love your hawk photo, and the owl with the tufted ears.

    • donna213 says:

      I do go to state parks by myself, but have been lucky not to run into shady characters. I would not venture into unknown parts by myself though. Those owls are cuddly looking, yet themselves could do some damage. I have a post coming up on GWGT talking about banding them. Actually they told us that the Snowy Owls rarely do damage to humans with their talons. The trapper caught them bare-handed. I myself took the course for rehabilitation of injured wildlife, and when I found an injured Great Horned Owl once, I handled it with welder’s leather gloves. Funny thing, it did not try to bite or claw me though. I boxed it up and got it to the vet, then the rehabilitator.

  6. While riding a horse alone in Wyoming, my horse came to a sudden stop and up ahead was a moose and calf, crossing the trail, just ahead. IF it wasn’t’ for the horse, I would have never seen this pair until we were in the danger zone. Stopped dead and holding my breath, we observed and luckily the moose pair strolled off into the woods, danger averted. Phew! No way for photos that time!

    • donna213 says:

      Momma moose would have been dangerous I am sure. I once came upon a resting, big, rutting buck once while riding my Arabian bareback. They are very skittish horses by nature. My horse did not see it and they were nose to snorting nose for about 1 minute. I was waiting to be thrown up in the trees, but both animals backed away slowly then the buck turned and ran. I was so relieved. You were lucky not to be that close. I doubt the moose would have backed off. It was a nice sight to see though I am sure. Not every day there is a moose and young.

  7. alesiablogs says:

    I have noticed in the news in the last couple of years a few occurrences of the novice photographer wanting to take a photo and dying from the attempt. I wonder what category that would “fall” into? Speaking of fall, I am afraid that is what happens to these photographers trying to take the ultimate selfie or a over look of some great scenic site…It makes me sad, but it is a problem I don’t know how anyone can fix.

    • donna213 says:

      I know what you mean. A few years ago I saw some real idiots at the falls taking selfies while out on rocks in the rapids. One slip and over the falls they would have went. They are not photographers though. A seasoned photographer accesses the risks most often.

  8. patricksgarden1 says:

    Sorry Donna,
    Sorry for the interruptions but always trying to keep the index finger I type with on my one working hand from hitting the ‘Post Comment’ button. But to continue…
    The fact that kookaburras eat dead snakes didn’t make it into folk song ‘Kookaburra sits in the Old Gum Tree”. Good idea to prevent:
    Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
    Eating snakes on the fence, as you can see
    DTW gum tree is a eucalyptus tree with a thick sticky substance like chewing gum.
    Hope you enjoyed my second post, my dear friend.

    • donna213 says:

      You know I never heard that song when I did the post on the Kookaburra. One blogger from Australia told me all about the birds. I am glad you finished your thought. I do like those birds.

  9. bittster says:

    Scary that you’ve run into mountain lions no just once, but twice! Was that in NY? I always thought the game commission was of the opinion there were no lions in NY.

    • donna213 says:

      The mountain lions were in PA. One in western PA (the presumably dead one – no blood was visible) and one in Mohnton PA (the hungry one in the tree). We recently got black bear in WNY. I never ran across them though. Other photographers did. Two years ago, I ran across a rattlesnake on a trail at Hawk Mountain. It was sunning itself right in the middle of the trail. I went nowhere near that snake. No picture was worth me getting close enough.

  10. Lyle Krahn says:

    Great post adorned with some fantastic photos. I especially enjoyed the finger joke! You’ve had some unusual encounters that could affect neck hair! I like to think I am aware of risks and take reasonable precautions – I have felt the most unsafe with encounters with large dogs. I’m guessing the stats would bear that out.

    • donna213 says:

      Thanks Lyle. I almost left that photographer a link to your website to see some animals that make photography have risk. The bears you photograph are amazing, and I think I would take up carrying a firearm if I lived there.

  11. I agree with you about mentioning the risk factor.
    I’m grateful for that horse and for mom bear not being close by!!! 😉
    One thing’s for sure, when photographing nature, it’s very important to be alert at all times.

    • donna213 says:

      I was astounded the photographer went on and on about risks that were rather mundane. He even mentioned shooting with a lens not meant for the subject being photographed as a risk. He is a well-known and respected photographer too that I follow. He just surprised me this time. Thanks Marina. I was grateful too.

  12. You didn’t mention bugs ! Bugs are dangerous, especially ticks. Funny as I haven’t had any of these close calls that you had, but thank goodness you had a smart horse. 🙂 Great meeting you.

    • Meaning..great to meet your new blog ! It’s awesome. (I can be such a Helen Keller sometimes.)

      • donna213 says:

        Bugs can be dangerous to those allergic too. I was bitten twice last year by baby ticks, so I guess time will tell if they got me since the disease does not always show up right away. One of the bites never really healed either. It was early in the season and I had no idea the insects were out yet. I am subscribed to your blog from this one. Glad you stopped in.

        • Thanks Donna! Ticks really got me down last year as you may know. Picked up two ticks in the woods in 30 degree weather. Go figure. They’re out there and can find you. Good luck with being Lymes free.

          • donna213 says:

            Same temp here when I got bit. I had no clue they were out so early. Are you recovered fully? I have a friend that has had Lyme for many years and was severely affected.

  13. Your photos are stunning and I agree about the risks. I have seen photographers who would stand in bone chilling water for hours so that they could get just the perfect light or catch the optimal flight pattern. The images are always so stunning, but I have a real appreciation they come at a cost.

  14. You really are a gutsy lady! 😉

  15. When we watch nature shows we always think about the risks the photographer is taking….gutsy!

  16. Ashley says:

    What a great post Donna! It was a wonderful read, and I loved your pics especially your angry hawk, those actions shots are real gems, and difficult to come by, well done!

  17. aussiebirder says:

    What a wonderful read Donna, with stunning pics! The angry hawk is a classic. It is very difficult to get birds with emotion like that, well done! Thanks again for I am learning heaps about your birds.

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