Local Landmark Shipwreck in California Burnt Out for Instagram Photo

Feb 23, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Local Landmark Shipwreck in California Burnt Out for Instagram Photo

Feb 23, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Perched on a sand bank in Tomales Bay, CA, the ship nicknamed the “S.S. Point Reyes” has sat for a great number of years, left to rot and decay naturally.  The exact number of years it’s been there is something of a local secret, adding to the mystery of the wreck, which has been a significant local tourist attraction.

Sitting in the bay, and not the Pacific Ocean is the reason why the wreck has remained around for so long, and has been of great interest to photographers visiting the area, which has a long history of shipwrecks.

On Sunday night, it became of particular interest to one unnamed Instagram user who thought it’d be a great idea to start spinning red hot wire wool behind the boat for a photo.  As one might expect, this caused a fire which went on to consume about half of the wreck, and was still being battled by local fire fighters into Monday morning.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

The original post has since been removed from Instagram while we were preparing this post, however, the comments stated that the photographer who created this image is denying responsibility. The claims are that he just happened to be walking by with his camera while others were already “performing” around the boat.

Personally, I’m disinclined to believe these claims, as without somebody there holding a camera, I’m not sure what the point of standing in the middle of a bay spinning molten steel wool would be.

With the sun risen, and the fog beginning to clear, the true damage to the wreck has become immediately obvious, thanks to Facebook user Jane Vait.

Before all this happened, it was a fascinating sight to see and photograph, and there are a great many images on Instagram and Flickr to stand as testament to that.


Now, a Park Ranger has deemed the wreck unsafe, and it has been suggested that it will be getting removed.

While this was obviously a very public and popular spot, events such as this are one of the main reasons why many photographers keep their shooting locations a secret.

The vast majority of photographers are very responsible and thoughtful people, but it only takes one inconsiderate person to ruin it for everybody.

The feature image at the top of this article is from a screenshot from the removed Instagram post.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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52 responses to “Local Landmark Shipwreck in California Burnt Out for Instagram Photo”

  1. Mike Wilson Avatar
    Mike Wilson

    Fucking amateurs, all for the ‘likes’. Pathetic

    1. Jeremy Jackson Avatar
      Jeremy Jackson

      Agreed. Pathetic. Amateur. But…. you have never seeked “likes” for your superior photographs? I hate that this guy fucked up and caused a lot of anger toward light painters everywhere but I can’t help but feel like everyone responding to this is a hypocrite.

    2. Mike Wilson Avatar
      Mike Wilson

      Jeremy Jackson oh ofc i hVe, but i seek likes bu posting in fb groups not by vandalism ;)

  2. Karen Padilla Avatar
    Karen Padilla

    A real photographer doesn’t need to be destructive to get the picture. Hope he goes to jail.

    1. Lukas Prochazka Avatar
      Lukas Prochazka

      destruct a already destructed boat…interesting…

    2. Karen Padilla Avatar
      Karen Padilla

      It was considered a landmark.

  3. David Doyle Avatar
    David Doyle

    A F**k STICK…

  4. Belinda Bee J. Stap-Clements Avatar
    Belinda Bee J. Stap-Clements

    Very uncool :(

  5. Nick Karen M Avatar
    Nick Karen M

    As a wildlife and nature photographer, I am always cautious and careful to “leave it as I found it.” This is such a tragedy for not only photographers but for society in general. If we all blazed a path of destruction every time we went out on a shoot, there would soon be nothing but a charred wasteland for the next generation. It is at times like this we really need to ask the question whether it was worth getting the shot in the first place.

    1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
      Kay O. Sweaver

      Humanity should really be thinking about this with regards to all of our activities…

    2. Karen Padilla Avatar
      Karen Padilla

      Very well said.

    3. Jeremy Jackson Avatar
      Jeremy Jackson

      “Blazed a path of destruction”…. Was this artist going for a “scorched earth” thing then? I’m not condoning starting fires anywhere but it was clearly accidental. Maybe we should ban all steel wool photography then? What about the graffiti on one side? Was that also a “tragedy for society in general”?

      This is sad for sure. The way people on the internet sensationalize everything bothers me though. It’s as if minor accidents are catastrophic events. Relax

      1. Astro Landscapes Avatar
        Astro Landscapes

        People “accidentally” drive drunk and kill pedestrians, too, but that doesn’t mean they ought to get a slap on the wrist.

        I’m not saying the two are even remotely similar in gravity and consequences, but I do believe that we are not just a society of social media sensationalization, but also a society of embarrassingly lax consequences, always full of excuses and sympathy for someone who is being shamed by the internet masses.

        Because sometimes, people do indeed deserve the shame of social media crashing down upon them. It’s unfortunate, but true. They’re not even going to try and press charges on the instagrammer, since it would obviously be a pretty tough case to convict.

        IMO, if you do something this bad, accident or not, you deserve to get booed off the internet, at the very least.

      2. mistercrowley Avatar

        So, what if it wasn’t a boat? What if he started a massive forest fire as a result? Does it make it any more/less careless? I would think that common sense would have kicked in before lighting an incendiary material on top of a flammable wood surface but that’s just me. This person was looking for attention via social media, well, they certainly got it. Now a landmark that has been visited and appreciated by many is ruined all by one assclown.

        And yes, steel wool photography should be banned. It is gimmicky and unoriginal. A real photographer doesn’t need to add artificial sparks in front of popular landmarks to make a good photo.

      3. Sigh Coexboyfrend Avatar
        Sigh Coexboyfrend

        The grafutti is gone.

  6. Dave Cox Avatar
    Dave Cox

    Fucking hipsters!

  7. Cecil Smalley Avatar
    Cecil Smalley

    Cue my inner Red Forman : “Dumbasses!”

  8. Hannah Metzler Wheeler Avatar
    Hannah Metzler Wheeler

    Very sad, he could have photoshopped it in instead. He should go to jail and pay a huge fine

    1. Todd Blaisdell Avatar
      Todd Blaisdell

      If you photo shop it, it’s no longer light painting.

      1. Mike Avatar

        It is also not arson.

    2. Lukas Prochazka Avatar
      Lukas Prochazka

      pay for what? buying a new old rusted boat? :D

  9. Marc Stokes Avatar
    Marc Stokes

    idiots, i was just planning to drive up next week too

  10. Sam Avatar

    As a photographer and a pyromaniac this is so very sad, steel wool is…. well anything around that can catch fire will. Its not like there wasn’t a bunch of water around. Ass Hats.

  11. Steve Avatar

    Some people have no respect for anything. This idiot should be fined into bankruptcy and then thrown in jail.

  12. Yohan David Avatar
    Yohan David

    Michael Herana bro weren’t you just here?

    1. Michael Herana Avatar
      Michael Herana

      I was! Fucking idiots. Dam IG “photographers”. :(

  13. Rob Eves Avatar
    Rob Eves

    Well that’s a shame. Such is life I guess.

  14. ThatsWhatWasSaid Avatar

    Such a shame. This was destroyed by a photography fad that was old five years ago.
    I’d wager a bet that the person responsible was:
    1. Under 25
    2. Using a Sony mirrorless
    3. Has plenty of pics with their feet dangling off of stuff
    4. “hashtag” lived authentic
    5. Has even more pics of their friends with their backs to the camera

    1. Cedric Gall Avatar
      Cedric Gall

      Im around 25, own a sony camera and like to shoot my feet dangling off stuff sometimes. I do not burn stuff for fun’s sake and the brand of my camera does not mean I’m wreckless.
      Stupid is the term you’re looking for, and your prejudice is ridiculous.

    2. Cody Avatar

      Weird, you described me yet I dont remember burning a boat down.. Steel wool was and is the worst photography trend to come. Nothing good comes from fire in nature.

      1. Sigh Coexboyfrend Avatar
        Sigh Coexboyfrend

        Actually fire is essential to a healthy forest.

  15. Nam Ing Avatar
    Nam Ing

    Dear John,

    Before you write an article accusing people of such a crime you should digg into it more deeper.

    You got it wrong.

    If you take the time to contact the photographers, you would learn that the picture of the steel wool spinning was taken on Saturday night. Those photographers didn’t spin. They were there before shooting the boat, later some kids-young adults came and start spinning, the photographers told them not to do it, but the kids proceed to do it any way. When they were done and gone, nothing happen. The fire occurred only the next night…those guys who took the spinning pictures have nothing to do with the fire. It’s two separate events but the mob mentality don’t care they just want to lynch the good photographers.

    1. Sean Avatar

      And you got this info where?

      1. Nam Ing Avatar
        Nam Ing

        I know one of the photographers. I go out to shoot with him a few time.

    2. Rona E Philpott Avatar
      Rona E Philpott

      The fire the ‘next’ day still was most likely from the burning of the steel wool – that stuff can smolder a while! The photographer should come forward then, and prove the naysayers wrong – also why would some ‘random’ kids/young adults just spin the burning steel wool around just because. No reason to do that, I believe in my opinion, that the photographer arranged it. I do not see the photographer’s name anywhere, just yours saying he/she didn’t cause the ‘fire’. So I repeat what Sean – said – “And you got this info where?”

      1. Nam Ing Avatar
        Nam Ing

        If you go to the FB page of West Marin Feed, and scroll down and look for Doris Meler, she took a picture Sunday at 12:35pm and she said no smothering there.


    3. morozgrafix Avatar

      According to description of this photo, Matt Grans is claiming to know the person who is responsible for the fire. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattgranz/25098942332/

      1. Nam Ing Avatar
        Nam Ing

        I also talk to Matt after he post this picture on FB…indeed he knows one of the photographer, however, he haven’t talk to that photographer.

        1. morozgrafix Avatar

          Matt stated this: “I know one of the two people who accidentally set this landmark, and iconic photo location ablaze. He thought he was being careful, but physics took over and the unthinkable happened. The old shipwreck burned. He feels terrible and has admitted to his part.” I feel that that this person needs to contact authorities and provide information on what has happened there.

          1. Nam Ing Avatar
            Nam Ing

            That was my point, I contacted Matt after his post…he based his statement on what he read not by talking directly to the person that both of us know. That photographer has been talking to authority…but they already said “We won’t investigate something when there’s no evidence of a crime or actual damage,” he said. “This was already a derelict vessel. I don’t know how you can damage something that’s already broken.”


  16. Anthony Mehlhaff Avatar
    Anthony Mehlhaff


  17. Angelina Rose Lane Avatar
    Angelina Rose Lane

    So sad

  18. Todd Blaisdell Avatar
    Todd Blaisdell

    Wow, someone starts an accidental fire, on an abandoned boat, and most of you are ready to burn him at the stake. What a country.

    1. Jeremy Jackson Avatar
      Jeremy Jackson

      He’s clearly a witch. Burrrrn him! But in all seriousness, if you’re going to sling sparks on a wooden structure, you should probably survey the location before leaving.

      Either way, he made a mistake. So this mistake upset some other photogs. Does that mean light painters are all ignorant baffoons with no “taste” for “proper” photography? Personally, I find traditional portrait and landscape photography boring. Guess I’m another no talent wannabe then. Ha!

    2. Astro Landscapes Avatar
      Astro Landscapes

      Heaven forbid, the internet choruses a “shame on you!” at someone for doing something extremely irresponsible and disrespectful.

      It’s this “don’t overdo the shaming, it was a harmless mistake!” that eventually leads to crap like that “affluenza” event in Texas.

      So, let the internet show its rage. If that’s the worst that this person has to experience, I’d say they got off easy. Arson, in California at least, is a felony that is punishable by up to three years in state prison.

  19. Rick Avatar

    Apparently this has been going on for a while. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=921361747972120&set=p.921361747972120&type=3&theater This may have turned into a case of serious one-upsmanship which ultimately resulted in the fatal damage.

    BTW, several posts on the technique are pointing back to (where else but)… DIYP.

  20. Mark Gregg Avatar
    Mark Gregg

    Lol his image is getting some exposure all tho it’s been & being tarnished by all the know it alls out there & burning down this poor unfortunate, just like all of us photographers out there, passion down! Yes I understand that this is a bad outcome, this person I’m sure wouldn’t have been thinking “Hey, gonna go set an old boat on fire & make it look like a photog accident” IMO this was a accident that could have been prevented easily & this where instead of getting all fired up & turn into that keyboard warrior maybe ofer some guidance so other new budding photographers won’t make the same mistake! e.g. If I go out to a location for light painting I think of safety first then my impact with the environment & the what if’s. If I am going to use any kind of sparks or flame a fire extinguisher is part of that kit & I don’t do sparks during summer unless it’s in a controlled environment, the beach. So bad mistake, first time I’ve heard of this so be considerate to the fellow photographer! ;-) ??

    1. Astro Landscapes Avatar
      Astro Landscapes

      That’s the point. They weren’t thinking, period. They need to start doing so.

      It shouldn’t take the burning down of an icon for people to realize something like this, either.

      What’s happening is, common sense is becoming increasingly absent from society, period. And we’re giving excuses for it, saying “it’s OK, this is how people learn, just a slap on the wrist will do, it won’t happen again…”

  21. FriktoFacto Avatar

    The one minute of fame syndrome. Or rather the selfish Bas***rds syndrome.

  22. chip renner Avatar
    chip renner

    Whenever I shoot steel wool I always do it during or right after it rains.I also bring a fire extinguisher .Guess they know who did it.Unfortunatly any ship wreck will gradually fall apart with time.

  23. Michael Ward Avatar
    Michael Ward

    What a drag. I loved that old boat, and have some great photos that I took in the past.

  24. Mark Avatar

    We see more and more of this needless destruction of interesting landmarks and wonderful treasures. This disregard for property weathered or not it is still an Icon. I have been hiking in National Parks recently only to find the remains of vandalism which us usually followed by closures of many interesting areas. I just do not agree with they were not thinking!!! IF you cannot think stay home……