Landscape photography is one of the most accessible genres of photography. As long as you don’t live in the middle of a city or sprawling suburb, it’s easy to just go outside and start shooting. I was always drawn to the natural world, so landscape photography was an easy path for me, but sometimes, the most rewarding shots are well off the beaten trail. That is why I’ve made a list of safety precautions you can take to reduce the risk you take and to minimize your impact on the environment.
Leave No Trace
Many of the tips I include in this article come either directly from this set of outdoor ethical principals or are inspired by them. Whether you’re a hiking buff or an occasional nature taster, I would strongly recommend reading up on this. Here is the Wikipedia page, but there are tons of organizations out there who specialize in Leave No Trace training. The basic principles are as follows:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Learn How To Read A Map
If you’re going off trail, it’s so important that you know how to navigate safely. Try to plan your shoot using an app like TPE or Photopills. Not only will these apps give you accurate daylight hours, but you can also get a great idea of the terrain you’ll encounter. With that said, however, GPS fails and phones run out of battery, so you should always have a physical map and a compass. Technology is amazing these days, but nothing beats a hard copy plus the knowledge of how to use it.
Let Others Know
After you’ve decided on a location, tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Even if it’s just a quick text, just do it. It only takes a few seconds to do and it could end up saving your life. Plus, your mother hasn’t heard from you in ages.
Check The Local Weather
This is pretty obvious for landscape photographers. But take note of temperatures during certain times of the year if you’re trying to catch a sunrise. When you’re up early, you’re groggy; maybe you’re running a little late, so you're not thinking about what you’re doing, and boom, you hit a patch of black ice. Take your time and know the conditions.
Be sure to check the tide times if you're headed to the coast. A long exposure with a receding wave is a staple among landscape photographers, but if the tide is coming in, you could end up in a situation where, because you’re focused on the water in front of you, you haven’t noticed that the incoming tide has cut you off from the land. I know this from experience or should I say lack thereof. Lesson learned for me. I got wet up to my waist, but it could have been a whole lot worse. Which takes me to my next point.
Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks
It’s not worth it. I live near the Atlantic Ocean, so I’ve experienced an out of the blue, freak wave on a couple of occasions. In the moment, it’s quite exhilarating, but looking back at it, I could easily have been swept out to sea. Not too long ago, a man died near where I live while trying to get a shot from the bottom of a set of cliffs. One person told me that they immediately thought of me when they heard the news, which, apart from the tragic loss of life, was a sobering thought. Also, be mindful of the people who might have to come to rescue you; many of whom are volunteers.
Bring an adequate supply of food and water. Apart from keeping you alive, it’s very difficult to be creative on a hungry stomach. Even if you’re only going for a short, three-hour hike, bring something with you. Protein bars are packed with, well, protein, but some of these are full of sugar and could keep you going a bit longer if you’re in trouble. Water is of course vitally important and should be compulsory if you’re going into a hot, arid environment.
Another obvious one, but I’ve seen people go out in windy, wet weather with no rain-proofs and sporting jeans. In changeable conditions (the only conditions where I live), be sure to wear layers and avoid jeans. This is another of those instances where lack of comfort affects creativity. Layers and rain-proofs have the added benefit of warding off hypothermia. Decent footwear is also essential if you’re going off-road, so invest in a good pair of hiking boots. I’ve had mine for over five years, and they’re still going strong, even if they're a little sad looking.
Be Mindful of The Environment You’re In
As a personal rule I don’t mess with anything that’s alive. If there are a few reeds in my way, I’ll bend them gently out of the way as I take the shot, but I don’t stalk animals if they’re resting, nor would I persistently follow them if they’re trying to get away from me. I’m not trying to feed myself and I’m not collecting important scientific data, so if they don’t want me around, I’ll leave them be. This may not seem like a safety tip, but depending on where you are and the time of year, you could get into trouble with a rutting stag or a blurry-eyed hunter. Oh yeah, be sure to check if there’s hunting allowed in the area you want to photograph. You don’t want to end up over some guy's fireplace.
Photographing nature can be an incredibly rewarding experience because it gives you time to escape, meditate, create, and exercise all-in-one. It's nourishment for the mind, body, and spirit, but please don't assume that you'll be safe while working in these situations. Taking precautionary steps could prevent a very serious accident/incident.
If you feel that I've missed something or you have a story of your own about a close call, please let us know in the comments.
Map photo by Daniil Silantev, used under public domain.