Photographers walking backwards – and falling over (study)

It’s a staple gag for any slapstick movie. Trying for a wider shot, a photographer walks backwards (without looking) and trips over something. Amusing perhaps, but on occasions dangerous too. Odd then, that in the academic literature on safety and ergonomics, there a very few scholarly studies of this ubiquitous syndrome. In fact, there may only be one – in which certified professional ergonomist Dr. Kenneth Nemire, of California, set up a practical experiment to investigate.

Two researchers asked passers-by to photograph them, but then added a request that the building behind them was to be kept in-shot. A third (unseen) researcher was recording the events on video. Later, the videos were analysed to see how many steps the photographers took backwards, and whether they looked behind them*.

The research project revealed that although the majority of the 39 participants did glance behind them before walking backwards, a significant proportion (13%) of them didn’t. Not a high percentage perhaps, but bearing in mind the number of people across the globe taking snaps on any given day, that’s still a high number of potentially amusing (or maybe not so amusing) mishaps.

As Dr Nemire points out ; “Stepping backward without looking is as dangerous as walking forward while wearing a blindfold.”

Reference: Walking Backwards Without Looking: An Observational Study in Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, Volume: 56 issue: 1, page(s): 685-689, December 2016.

*No photographers were harmed during this study.

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