Safety Tips for Nature, Wildlife, and Landscape Photographers Going off the Trail

There has been a rise in tourism and exploration of our natural world and with that, a rise in interest at photographing these beautiful places. Of course, with that rise, we have also seen an increase in accidents as more and more people venture off the trail hoping to capture even better images.  

I've been hiking and camping since I was able to walk, and most of my fondest memories come from time spent in the woods with my father. He taught me the importance of being prepared and how to deal with the unexpected when out in nature. These lessons have carried through to my everyday life in many ways. For instance, every bag I own, especially my camera bags, have a small first aid kit in them, something that always seems to surprise people when I inevitably need to use it. 

I see more and more people looking to adventure further into the wilderness both to get away from the crowds at hotspots but also to experience that feeling of capturing a unique image of a moment in time that only you witnessed. It's great that more photographers are taking an interest in this type of photography, but it is important to take a little time and research how to deal with the things that can go wrong even on something as simple as a day hike. 

Coming from the always amazing nature photographer Morten Hilmer, this video examines some of the gear used when he goes on his photo expeditions. Hilmer recently released a series of videos from his most recent 10-day expedition to Svalbard to photograph landscapes and wildlife. A trip like this requires carrying an assortment of gear a lot of nature photographers might not be familiar with having to carry. It's important to see all kinds of different types of levels of gear that one might need off the trail, and it makes it easier to scale back to fit your specific needs. You may not need a rifle where you are going, but a knife is always handy, and a lot of people don't think to bring one. 

What are some things you always bring when photographing out in nature?

Michael DeStefano's picture

Michael DeStefano is a commercial/editorial photographer focusing on Outdoor Lifestyle and Adventure. Based in Boston, MA he combines his passion for outdoor sports like climbing and surfing into his work. When not traveling or outdoors he is often found geeking out over new tech gadgets.

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Your father was a smart man to teach you such skills early in life and for you to retain such skills say's a lot. Way to many people have no business being in the woods for they are ill-prepared and rely to much on technology such as cell phones and apps. I have spent more than 40 years in the Boy Scouts not only as a young scout earning my Eagle Rank, but as a leader and mentor to hundreds of young boys as well my two sons through the years teaching them how to be prepared and outdoor survival. People should take a class on basic survival as well learn how to read a compass and map rather than depending on electronics before heading out in to the great wild. A compass will never run out of battery! Be Prepared for Life.

An excellent and much needed talk, thank you.

Knowledge is the greatest safety factor.
Planning is important, but not because it produces a plan. Plans die when the first shot is fired ( I think from General Patton ) but you will still have the knowledge of possibilities gained during careful planning.
If you know where you are you are not lost. If somebody else knows where you are the danger is much decreased.
All pyrotechnics get HOT and are are dangerous to you, others, and the environment. Carry and use them only if you have the knowledge and need.
Paper maps work after the batteries die and can be used to light a fire.
Have two ways to start fires, two light systems with spare batteries, and two sharp knives.
Read about helicopter safety!!

All the gear in the world won't help you if you don't respect the fact that mother nature is dangerous, and indifferent.

If you aren't familiar with the area you are going to, or with the wilderness in general, don't go alone.

As a wildlife photographer I’ve often found myself in less-than-ideal situations out in the wilderness! And a few truly life threatening... I can thank my tools for pulling me through.

Firstly, a good fixed blade knife. Personally I carry a Fallkniven A1 Pro as I can completely trust my life to it.
It and a firesteel have been my best friends on many a trip and expedition.

Secondly a quality folding saw. I always have one in my bag and it saved me on my last trip. Long story short, I was able to cut notches into a snow/ice cliff to climb out of an incredibly dicey situation. (I love the Silky Gomboy series)

Thirdly, at least 100ft of mil-spec 550 paracord. Again that’s proved useful in a pinch. I would never recommend it as a substitute for climbing rope lets just say it works.

Finally, a good torch is important. No recommendations here - just find what works for you and carry it.

Have fun, think things through ahead of time and try to stay safe!

Remember, chance favours the prepared mind.
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome