Adventures of a Photographer: Why You Should Always Be Prepared

Adventures of a Photographer: Why You Should Always Be Prepared

I love going out to shoot landscapes and finding new places that I think will look really cool at night. However, sometimes it’s hard to get to these places because of how far you actually have to go to get there. Here is my story from the night of May 25.

Some of your best work comes from the work that you chose to go out and do. Why? Because it is not a job. You aren’t getting paid to do it; you are going out there and doing whatever the hell you want, because you want to. If that is the case, you probably want it to look good, be cool, and maybe even tell some sort of a story. I’ve been out plenty of times; I shoot by myself or go out with a buddy, but this time, I went to the next level and realized I should have been a little more prepared.

The Idea:

This is where everything started. My friend, Chris, and I were brainstorming a place to go shoot that would look really cool. He brought up a quarry that he’s been to down in South Jersey. I liked the idea, and I invited the the business partner, Vin, and we all met up to plan things out. Going down to South Jersey was a little far, so we decided to meet up with Chris at his house and go to a quarry that was a little closer. We wanted to get a little time in with the drone and then go out to shoot some long exposures at night. 

The Execution:

6:30 p.m.: We arrived at Chris’ house, take the top off the Wrangler Rubicon, grabbed some coffee like every photographer should do before going to shoot, and headed to the quarry. We knew this trip would require some off-roading, so we had some fun on a few dirt roads before heading in.

7:30 p.m.:  After getting lost a few times and not being able to find a road to enter on, we finally found a place where we could get in. Now, I didn’t really think we were supposed to be in there, so we parked and walked to a section to fly around for a little. This took a little longer than expected, and it was already starting to get dark. It was time to figure out how to get closer to the quarry so we could get some night shots and stars out there. 

We were constantly using our maps on our phones to find trails that led up to this spot in the woods where we would be able to get out and walk up to the spot we were going to shoot. This spot was about 2.5 miles in and was completely off the road on quad trails through the woods, but we didn’t go out there for nothing, so we began trucking through.

9:00 p.m.: We were still trying to find our way through the woods in the Jeep. At this point, it was pitch black, getting a little chilly, and the trail was starting to get tough to navigate. We were driving through puddles, branches, and basically just tearing through these woods. We were the only ones in there, so we were really hoping we would get there safely and be able to take our photos, head out, get food, and go back to get some sleep, but this would happen only in a perfect world.

The Climax:

9:30 p.m.: We were faced with a decision to make: left trail (muddy tire prints), middle trail (pond), or right trail (best option, but it didn’t look hard enough). We let fate take its course and drove onto the left trail, immediately getting stuck. It wasn't a problem; we were in a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. We would just back that thing up and get out of there. Just kidding. We couldn’t move at all — four-wheel drive high, low, forward, backward — forget it. 

For the next hour, we spent our time trying to get the Jeep out of the muddy ditch. We used our phones as flashlights in the pitch black and grabbed sticks and dirt to try to get some traction under the tires so we could get out. No luck. We found jumper cables and tried to pull the Jeep while someone reversed it. Nothing. 

10:30 p.m.: Low on gas and stuck in the mud, it was time to figure something out. We resorted to a phone call to see if we could get help. Chris called his parents; his parents told him to call the State Park Police. We called them and asked for help. They were understanding and made their way out there to come find us.

The Solution:

11:00 p.m.: We were still awaiting the arrival of help: three people stuck in the woods with no food, no water, no tools to get out. What a dumb idea. We didn't even have gas; we didn’t think this through. But was it worth it to freak out? No way! Our cameras were in the back. We're photographers, so we made the best of things and took advantage of the situation we were in. 

Vin and I took out the cameras and started shooting the beautiful, clear sky. We wanted to get to the quarry, but we had to wait for help to arrive. I started taking 30-60 minute exposures on the D750 in hopes of capturing some star trails, while Vin was on the D610, shooting the stars in the sky. 

Photo by Vin DeMilio

11:30 p.m.: We started to get a little nervous after not hearing from anyone, so we called back to make sure they could find us. They told us they drove through the quarry and were waiting in there for us. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t come onto the trail with their cars, so we would have to walk to them. As we were on the phone with the police, we beeped the horn in the Jeep to see if they could hear us. They couldn’t. They told us to put our phone down and listen for the siren, and finally we heard it and had some hope of getting out. I told him to flash his high beams, and straight ahead we saw them. All three of us got so excited to get out of there and be rescued. We left the cameras shooting and headed over to see what the next step was.

12:00 a.m.: Chris was with the police, ready to get help from a towing service that could get his truck out. Vin and I were alone in the woods with the Jeep, cameras, and drone. Now, at this point, you'd think that was scary enough, but it got worse. Chris texted us saying the quarry looked awesome with the moon coming up above it. Then, to escalate things, he told us he was going 90 mph in the cop car, because they got a call saying someone was in the woods at a campsite threatening to kill people in the same forest as us. He called us and told us that the cops dropped him off at a fire station and rushed over to find out what was going on.

Photo from Chris Norcross

Amazingly, the New Jersey State Park Police were able to locate a vague area in which they believed we were. Delighted, but mostly just relieved, we sprinted towards their flashlights. Once we had finally made contact with the two officers, things seemed to be on the up. Due to our extreme, inaccessible location, the officers deemed their towing ability to not be sufficient enough for us. They instructed that one of us went with them, and they would drive to meet up with a member of Bill’s Off-Road Recovery Service. At that point, I would then somehow direct the off-road recovery unit (a heavily armed and jacked-up jeep wrangler) back into the woods to locate our vehicle, then tow it to a safe and driveable position. What seemed like a great plan turned into one of the craziest driving experiences. The officers received an urgent call stating there were people at a nearby campsite threatening to hurt others. The other campers were locking themselves in their vehicles as a safety precaution. In the back of the police SUV, we tailed it. My heart was racing as we went upwards of 90 mph; the officer told me I would be dropped off at a nearby firehouse to await the tow employee.  

The officer continuously asked if I found this okay, and I was left with only one response: “your call seemed of a much important matte; anything is fine with me,” to which he responded, “unfortunately." Hats off to the brave and persistent New Jersey State Park Police; your rescue and safety efforts will never go unnoticed.

Minutes felt like hours, and finally, the off-road recovery service arrived. Unfortunately, service was about as efficient as one’s grandparent operating an iPhone. I mistakenly led the driver onto an ATV trail that climbed upwards of 30-40 ft along the side of a pond. Stuck climbing, I somehow managed to force this man to pull his jeep out with a winch. Back on the trail, we obviously had to put this thing in reverse and locate the jeep and the rest of my crew  Backing up slow and steady, brushing trees, the right side of his Jeep was forcing the edge of the trail to give. Moments later, all I heard was, “this mother******'s gonna roll”.  I kid you not, no exaggeration, this man’s lifted jeep was about to roll down this hill. Out came the winch for a second time, and yet, we were still nowhere near my Jeep. Finally out of that situation, we backtracked over a half-hour to the beginning of the main trail entrance. Luckily, I was able to locate several significant features that were lit up from this man’s headlights. Over an hour into the initial pickup from the recovery service, we located my vehicle along with the rest of the crew.

As scared as Vin and I were, one of our main concerns was to get to that quarry. We really wanted to see it at night with all of the stars and everything. We grabbed the cameras, made sure we had the phones, left the jeep, and headed back to where we met the police in the quarry to check it out and get some photos.

The Result:

12:30 a.m.: Vin and I arrived at the quarry and were stunned by how big it really was. We were happy we made it out there and excited to be shooting. We took as many photos as we could before Chris called to tell us he was in the woods with a truck that was going to pull his Jeep out. Vin and I kept shooting a bit while Chris kept texting us, asking for our location, because he was lost in the woods with the tow service. We realized it was time to get back, because things were getting a bit too real. 

1:00 a.m.: We made it back to the Jeep as we ran through the woods like we were in the Marines. Vin told me it was time to launch the drone and see if I could see anyone heading towards us. I was a little hesitant at first, but I ended up launching it where there were no trees and getting it high enough to see where we were. I used the POI to fly down the exact path we were on, but we had no luck finding Chris. I flew the drone back as the battery was beginning to die, but I made the most advanced landing in my drone career, pulling it over the car while Vin reached out over the roof and caught it.

1:30 a.m.: As I was putting the drone back in the case after landing it, I heard Vin screaming and asking if there were lights behind us. Sure enough, there were. It was Chris with the guy who was going to pull us out of the mud that we were stuck in for five hours. He pulled us out, and we followed him out of the woods and started heading back to Chris’ house to spend the night. 

2:30 a.m.: We arrived at Chris’ house, all of us thankful as can be that we got out of there safely. It was a crazy night that none of us expected at all. These are the nights that we will always remember — nights that set us apart from the others, because we love what we do, and that's what gives us the drive to continuously do it.

Conclusion:

No matter what, if you are traveling to a location to shoot, make sure you bring snacks, water, chargers, and whatever you need to help you out in case something actually happens. In our situation, we should have had food, water, gas, a shovel, and probably a lot more. I wish I had more knowledge about off-roading so I knew what to do, but sometimes, your attitude alone can help you get through things, and by staying calm, being positive, and having hope, we were able to get out of there and get back to where we started.

After getting out of this whole situation, I looked back and realized photography can take you on many adventures; this is just one from three people who made an effort to get to a quarry. In the end, we can all look back at this and learn from it. Sometimes, we are fearless (we have to be), but that’s exactly what makes doing what we do so awesome. If anyone is ever out there adventuring, take my advice, and just make sure you can make it out okay. We screwed up, but you don't have to; so, go shoot whatever you want wherever you want, and be prepared for the worst. Even if it doesn't happen, it still can. I never thought it would happen to me until it really did.

Big thank you to the New Jersey State Park Police and Bill's Off-Road Recovery for helping us out.

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32 Comments

Where do I start? As a photographer and 4×4 enthusiast, in fact I started a 4×4 club a few years ago, so this is right in my area. You had to call in the emergence services because you were ill equipped! You also interfered with a real emergence. The police had to divert to let off one of your party so they could respond to a life threatening situation.

You were so far from been prepared it is beyond a joke and you were in an area that you may not have been permitted to be in. Plus you had little or no experience of off road driving.

You drove a trail in the dark you did not know, in a Jeep that was not properly prepared. You ran low on fuel and you did not have enough food or water. Did your jeep have front and rear lockers? Do you know how to use them? At least you had your phones, but what would have happened if there had been no phone coverage?

Need I go on?

So how do you prepare?

Recce the trail first in the daylight.

Jeeps
First and foremost do not go with just one vehicle. You need at least one other Jeep with you preferable two. So, as happened to you, if one gets stuck the others can pull it out. You also need proper recovery straps to use to pull the stuck vehicle with. Not the towing straps from a motor factor as they are too weak.

Tyres
Do you have the correct Mud tyres or were they just the tyres that came with the Jeep?

Fuel
Well I am sure now you now know to fill the tank before you go.

Lights
A light bar, above the vehicle. Up high so it lights up pot-holes in the trail right in front of you.

Recovery equipment
Get to know the recovery point on you jeep. Make sure you have rated recovery straps and shackles. A winch is always a good investment.

If you do not have all of the above then do NOT go on to a trail, especially on your own at night. You were just asking for trouble, and you were very lucky you got away with it.

On a different note, you were going to fly a drone at night!

I am sorry, but it is you behaviour and lack of thought that gives the rest of us a bad name.

Ty Poland's picture

Hey John, thanks for the advice. Obviously I was not prepared, hence the point of the article. I do not know anything about off roading but yes the jeep has mud tires, front and rear locks, and we were on a public trail. We didn't expect to get stuck like I mentioned in the article, but I now know for next time what I would need if I did something like this again. I myself drive a GTI, so my friend took his jeep out so we could get to where we wanted. During the whole thing I sure wished we were with other people and had all of the off-road equipment we needed, but I guess I learned the hard way. Sometimes you need to make the best of the situation and in this case, it was an experience I will never forget. I don't think I'm giving anyone a bad name here considering I'm not a 4x4 guy, my point was to be prepared for any situation whether you are off-roading or not. Maybe next time I'll go with the guy who towed us out.

A simple rule when planning for any project is always try to plan for every eventuality. If you're not sure research or get training. It doesn't matter if you're hiking, 4x4 or just going rambling always be prepared for the worst. As soon as you leave civilisation it's easy to get turned around and or get hit by misfortune. Despite the 4x4 moniker it doesn't mean it won't get stuck, it's just that it's less likely to. Even then, it may not be properly outfitted for proper off-roading if it lacks certain equipment like bar lights, winches and stowage.

First aid kits, knowledge to use them, food for the length of your journey + 1-2 days extra, if need be jerry cans of water and fuel if you're travelling by vehicle and make sure they're easily identifiable at night. Extra clothing/sleeping kit is also recommended. A winch on a vehicle can be helpful if you can't get a second 4x4 to shadow more so if you have a shadow. Final point know where you are, get a map and compass and track your progress that way you'll never get lost and/or if someone got badly injured help would have found you quicker.

If you're going to a new location always aim to get there in daylight. Even if it's a familiar location it's still advisable as I have seen a friend end up in a landslip due to torrential rain and wrote his Land Rover off because he didn't recce properly as he was late to location.

As John O said you got lucky, but the lack of planning, preparation and forethought put lives at unnecessary risk. Inexperience kills in the wilderness, one of the first things taught at survival school and many 4x4 training courses.

Ty Poland's picture

I definitely know for next time, I am planning on going out a few weeks from now in an area I've never been in, miles away from home. I usually always scout the location before going there at dark, I just didn't get the chance this night. Food, sleeping gear, a map and compass would be very useful for my next trip though I wont be in the woods. thank you for the tips.

Ty Poland's picture

I kept hearing noises in the woods, wasn't sure if it was a deer, bird, bear or deer. Good to know and thankfully we didn't get attacked.

This gets worse. The quarry you were trying to get to has a road right up to the gate. A Google camera car drove right up to it, so it has easy access. I checked your GPS on Google Earth and you guys were miles away going off-road for no reason at all. You could have driven on the road right up to the gate and not involved the emergency services.

You guys are nearly a contender for a Darwin Award!

By the way, just a tip if you are off road, is to let your tyre pressures down to about 18psi. If you are suck then drop them to 15psi. Don't go any lower as you may pull a tyre off the rim. It increases your tyre footprint and lets the tyre mould around rocks and other obstacles. But you also need to have a compressor to pump them up again when you are back on the road. And here is a YouTube site which will show you how to off-road correctly:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLL44RCPuw8XIslZBB8jf6A

And a 4x4 driving school in NY

http://www.nyoffroaddriving.com/

Ty Poland's picture

I don't think you were allowed to go in at night into the actual quarry itself, we tried that. We had to go around to find a spot to get in, and like you are saying about the tire pressure, we didn't have pumps or enough knowledge off roading so we didn't bother doing that.

Simon Patterson's picture

Ty don't forget to always pack the sun block cream, too. Sunburn is a leading cause of skin cancer.

Ok, that was tongue in cheek. But seriously, you have a great story there, thanks for confessing it to the rest of us and risking the flak that the internet can bring!

All is well that ends well, glad you came out the other side with a great story and some lessons learned, with little harm done.

Ty Poland's picture

Hey Simon, thank you. I thought it was something I could share because it was kinda a stupid mistake I made, usually I am always prepared or more prepared I should say. I just don't make frequent trips like this so we were really caught off guard. I'm glad there are those people out there who help others no matter what, if it weren't for them, I don't know what I would have done. I could be living out there haha

Matthew Saville's picture

So. Much. Facepalm.

"No matter what, if you are traveling to a location to shoot, make sure you bring snacks, water, chargers, and whatever you need to help you out in case something actually happens."

Bring snacks and water and chargers? Really? Come on, I didn't read this whole article to be advised to bring snacks.

"In our situation, we should have had food, water, gas, a shovel, and probably a lot more."

So, you're ending this whole article by saying "and probably a lot more"??? I'm left wondering if you should even be allowed back in the outdoors at all.

Obviously, at least you've learned that a Rubicon is not a magic ticket to anywhere. Just because you paid an extra $10-20K for your Jeep doesn't mean you can do completely stupid things.

It should go without saying, bring a shovel and other recovery gear when going offroading, especially in mud. (Strap, Trax....)

It should also go without saying, bring enough water to survive for days, no matter where you go, in case the worst happens.

Never trust cell phone signal. Ever. At a bare minimum, get a GPS app with high-res imagery such as Backcountry Navigator, and pre-download all the areas you plan to go, plus a few more square miles just for good measure. Pre-download both satellite imagery, topo, and regular Mapquest / Google maps.

I could go on, but basically, please folks, be smarter in the outdoors. You could wind up with a lot worse than the munchies, you could wind up dead.

Ty Poland's picture

I'll go ahead and get that app for my next trip. It wasn't my jeep and I don't think the extra cost matters for anything. Just because I did something stupid doesn't mean everyone else has to, it was a learning experience and probably won't ever happen again. I bet you've been in a situation somewhat like this, but you learned what to do right the next time you go out.

Matthew Saville's picture

Thankfully, I can say that I've never just gone out and driven into a mudhole and then relied on cell phone coverage to request help. Considering the places I go out here in the Southwest, (Death Valley, Sierras, Southern Utah / Northern Arizona) ...I'd be dead right now if I did anything close to this adventure.

Yes, each trip is a learning experience, and I may yet wind up dead in the wilderness. That'd be ironic. You have my permission to chuckle and roll your eyes if that happens. ;-)

But, from day one, I was lucky enough to be taught a few essential things about risk-taking and wilderness survival. (Family camping trips, Boy Scouts)

Never go anywhere without at least one or two worst-case scenario backup plans. (Cell signal doesn't count as a backup plan, though cell phone GPS map can be highly useful, and a PLB / GPS emergency beacon might be a good idea for solo trips) This means 2-3 days worth of water, food, enough gas to go 100+ miles PAST what you think might be your worst case scenario, a GPS device, a topo map, a compass, and other survival gear.

The trip was definitely a great learning experience for you, and for readers. I guess I was just disappointed in the lack of actual instruction beyond "don't do this" and "bring extra snacks if you DO do this"

If I wrote an article about my trip where I was fully prepared, I used the equipment that I brought with me to get out of some tough spots without drama, and I actually got to my destination with plenty of time to photograph my intended subject, I bet it wouldn't get published. Way to promote the right way to do things by giving space to stories like this. Lots of ways to write this story to use it as an example of what not to do, but this was not one of them.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah, because now I've read this story, I'm inspired to drive my 4wd down rough tracks through a quarry I've never been to, at night, with little or no preparation. This article makes it seem like such a good idea. No doubt there'll be heaps of other photographers doing it too, after reading this article. /sarcasm

Ty Poland's picture

Right? Maybe I should have taken my car in there at 10pm without ever being there prior. I want everyone to go out there and try this, that's clearly the main reason why I wrote the article...

Matthew Saville's picture

Fair point- the lesson was in fact learned; most folks who read this article will probably think twice before driving into a mud hole in the middle of the night.

But then again, hopefully most outdoorsy folks would have already thought twice before doing something like that.

I think the point is, that "don't do this" lesson shouldn't require an entire article to learn, let alone be the ONLY moral of the story.

It would have been highly beneficial & productive if additional resources had been linked to, plus maybe a legit packing list, and some general tips, to actually help readers stand a better chance of surviving out in the wilderness. Instead, the tone of the article was mainly "well, that was crazy, next time we'll bring more snacks and some other stuff"...

I think part of the issue is the dramatic difference in location. Maybe in the New Jersey area you were never been more than an hour's walk from civilization, and never far from water sources.

Out here in the West though, the vast majority of places folks go off-roading will leave you dead in a heartbeat if you're not careful.

For a freaking crazy story about the type of stuff that can happen around here, read this article about a family in Death Valley in 1996. Their remains were not found for ~13 years. YIKES.

http://www.otherhand.org/home-page/search-and-rescue/the-hunt-for-the-de...

Ty Poland's picture

luckily we didn't go too far from civilization but we also weren't really in the best area to get stuck. You don't actually realize how serious some of these situations can be until it happens to you, and I can assure you thats exactly what happened to me

Matthew Saville's picture

Pete, thanks for the insight. I can imagine that getting lost in the woods leads to death each year, certainly.

It's just that out here, (For example if you read the story I linked to) you'll find it to be so incredibly dry and bare, I suspect it is still a more deadly place to go on an off-road adventure. Maybe I'm wrong again, and there are equally few water sources in the woods, but I suspect that I'd rather be lost in the woods than lost in the desert. Either way, this shouldn't be a contest of who dies last, lol. I'm just here to share information, and gain some too.

The moral of the story is simple, be smart and be freaking prepared. (Boy Scout motto, for a reason!)

Ty Poland's picture

I'll keep that in mind, but I've gotten so much hate that maybe I should just write an article that doesn't offend anyone. If you'd like to contribute you can throw a few resources in the comments here being that I don't know much about the wilderness. Sometimes the comments aren't always for bashing the author, they can be for giving advice to the people reading the article or maybe even giving suggestions on what I should have done differently to see where I went wrong, this way they can learn from it.

Matthew Saville's picture

In response to this, I'll defer to what Aaron said below about what a good article might have been. No need to write a totally different article just to avoid stepping on toes, just add some content that actually makes it more highly beneficial to folks who do wish to attempt to reach such places.

Ty Poland's picture

Sorry the article wasn't good enough for you. If I wrote an article about how successful my trip was, I'm sure nobody would care and I wouldn't get comments like this. I wrote it to share an experience that shouldn't have happened, but unfortunately did. In the end, everyone was safe and no one was hurt. I'm sure if you wanted to get one of your stories out there you could, I wouldn't mind hearing about one of your trips myself.

IMO, a successful story would have paired your experience up with an expert who has years of experience going point/counterpoint. Talk about your mistakes, and then have the expert talk about the right way to doing things and how to not potentially get yourself killed. Just talking about your mistakes isn't anything more than a sad story. Would be nice to turn it into an educational article so people can learn something and not follow in your tire tracks. Heck, maybe even you'd learn something.

Simon Patterson's picture

@Pete Miller well said, I was thinking exactly the same thing.

I fully agree. Same with a story about a failed trip with little photographic content. Maybe a story on outdoor tips and techniques for photographers? How to get to your destination and get your photos without dying in the process.

I really don't mean to harp on this but I've just seen way too many stories recently about people doing stupid things for photos. From walking on the grand prismatic spring to destroying landmarks with burning steel wool, I just saw this as another article glorifying inexperienced people making bad decisions to get a photo.

Just in case it is not mentioned elsewhere, how much did the tow service cost? There would be many people who would hope it cost you heaps but I am not so mean!

Great story (and lesson!)

Simon Patterson's picture

In some parts here in Australia, the tow truck callout fee is $1000. People think twice before trying their luck in such a place!

Ty Poland's picture

thats up there haha, but think about that as a job, towing people out to make some good money, as long as you have the right gear and knowledge to be doing it, you can really save some people. People like me.

Ty Poland's picture

it was $300 to get towed out, but you would expect a higher price when it is that late and you are where you are. And thank you!

Simon Patterson's picture

Thanks, I was wondering the price too. That's probably pretty good for you, considering it was the middle of the night and they had you over a barrel with no other realistic options.

Wes Jones's picture

My only hard and fast rule is never arrive in the dark. Too many gotchas lurking in the dark.