I love toys. My son knows that, and he also knows a great deal about me and stuff I do all the time, like landscape photography. He knows that in many occasions I have used small two-way radios to communicate with my friends while in the field. Although the ones I own are very limited in distance from one unit to another.
So, as a Christmas gift, he gave me a set of Motorola MR350 two-way radios.
They are General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) units. Their range for two-way conversations is impressive, nearly 35 miles in high terrain, at least two miles in urban environments. In the field, I expect to get at least five miles if not longer. The units can receive weather reports and are immensely programmable to hone in on just the frequencies one wants to use. They even have small LED flashlights.
A license is required to use them, one must apply to the Federal Communications Commission, no test is required. The license costs $85 — and I suspect that about 1 in 10,000 people who own these devices ever gets a license. It is, after all, a ridiculous fee. If it were $10 I suppose most would get one. I have decided to go ahead and pay the fee and be legit.
So, why am I touting these units?
First, few recognize that landscape photography is down right dangerous. Yes it is. Far more dangerous than doing wildlife photography in Africa because one is usually in a vehicle. So, while a Rhino as big as your vehicle decides to charge you, you can always put the vehicle in reverse and get the heck out of Dodge.
Landscape photography involves hiking and going into areas that are sometimes treacherous. Dangerous places for sure. One should never do landscape photography alone. And in my opinion, good communications is essential. Groups should know where individuals are.
Click on photograph for a larger version.
The photograph above of a Fulmar on the edge of a cliff at Orkney looks sorta peaceful I guess. What the viewer does not feel is the wind blowing at 40MPH and the fact that I am lying on the ground just five feet from the edge of the cliff. It was a stupid shot on my part, I should have used a longer lens and stayed further away from the edge. I have a great fear of heights and I am clumsy. Dumb me.
A guy is walking along a jetty alone trying to get to a great spot to photograph a lighthouse. He slips on a rock and finds himself upside down among the rocks, about 10 feet down. He is OK. He has a cell phone but it does not work. He can’t move. No way to get out. There he is, upside down with the tide coming in. Fortunately, a group of folks walking the jetty spotted him. It took emergency services a goodly time to get him out. He lived to tell the story. His admonition is to never venture into dangerous areas alone. And, to always have a way to communicate.
While in Northumberland, England, I witnessed the rescue of a female photographer who fell while doing landscape photography on a beach. She was part of a group participating in a photographic seminar and was working an area that thousands of photographers have been to in the past. She slipped while climbing rocks on the beach and broke her ankle. The RAF had to be called in to rescue her from the rocks. Yes, a commonly photographed area near Bamburgh Castle, yet here she was in a spot that ground rescue team members could not reach. Thank goodness for the RAF and for good communications. She could have perished easily as the area can be quite treacherous.
I won’t tell you how many times I have fallen while doing landscape photography. I have been extremely fortunate, never having sustained and injury, just my pride busted while lying on a slippery outcropping. So many times I have been in places that I should not have been in. In our zeal to get the perfect landscape shot, we often forget just how vulnerable we are.
Click on photograph for a larger version.
Frequently when doing landscape photography with my friends, I often can’t see them. We all move around. Time can go by quickly without eye contact. More than once I have become distressed because I could not see one of my friends. How many times have I worried that one of them might have fallen, or worse gotten injured and I had no idea where they were. This is why a hand held radio that has a good range is essential. One needs to stay in touch. So easy to do with modern technology.
Click on photograph for a larger version.
The photograph above was taken in England during a very cold day. Ice was everywhere. What you don’t see are the deep crevasses between the lines of stones, some of them dozens of feet deep. Thank goodness I was with a friend. I worry that sometimes my friend goes to this place alone. It is not a good idea. No photograph is worth your life!
Communications can be very handy for other reasons, such as when your group is in more than one vehicle, it might involve something like, “I gotta stop and and go to the restroom.” Or, I just saw an Otter on a rock, I am going to stop. Or, wow, did you see the wild goats on the ridge?
Sometimes it is not about communication, but about where the heck you are.
Do you know where you are? A guy I know (me) who spends lots of time in the woods, on his own land, goes for a walk, and gets totally disoriented. Lost. Yep totally lost. And it will soon be dark. It gets dark, really dark. No way to find one’s way back to the vehicle. So, it might mean spending the night in a mosquito-invested swamp with no light and no comfort. This is why I always pack a flashlight and a cigarette lighter, I can always build a fire, hopefully.
What I needed is one of these, a Christmas gift from my wonderful daughter-in-law Amy!
This little unit allows one to pinpoint a starting location, store it, then wander all over the place for whatever time. It is the Bushnell Backtrack. When one wants to get back to the starting location, it neatly displays the direction and distance to that point. Simple, easy to use, perfect for finding one’s way out of the woods. Or locating one’s car at the airport parking lot.
I know what you are gonna say. I will use my cellphone. It gives me GPS, maps, and communications. I don’t need these toys.
This is fine if one is within a cell tower range, but what happens if you are out of touch with a cell tower? My neighbor told me a story about that, he and his partner were hunting in Colorado and using cell phones to communicate. But guess what? They could not talk to one another because the cell towers were too far away. Result, no communication and countless hours trying to locate one another in a wilderness.
It has happened to me on more than one occasion. No cell coverage and no way to communicate.
Some other considerations.
Hypothermia. Few recognize that weather can change abruptly. Meaning, that temperatures can vary dramatically. As the story goes, four individuals go for a hike in the mountains of Slovenia. It is July. They are dressed in shorts and t-shirts. They set out early, get a good ways into the mountains and an unexpected storm hits the region. Temperatures plummet. They find themselves unable to move because suddenly the trail is all ice. They die from exposure. Thermal blankets, which cost next to nothing, might have saved them.
Dehydration. I found myself in a jungle in Panama. My troop leader gets lost. Really lost. My canteen is empty. So, I find myself spending the night in complete darkness without water. It takes me and the company nearly eight hours after sunrise to find our battalion and water. By then I was about totally dehydrated. Pack water.
The two killers are temperature drops and dehydration. One can live without food. Pack a small thermal blanket and water. Staying warm and having water are essential to life. Simple ideas.
We love doing photography, it therefore makes sense to think about what we are doing and include in our kit some very basic things that do no take up a lot of room. First rule, never do it alone, never. Second, communicate constantly. Third, prepare for the worst weather, remember that hypothermia can kill you! Fourth, remember that water is essential to life, food is non-essential. Fifth, think about ways to find your way home.
There are lots of little tools out there which are inexpensive, make sure you have them in your backpack. And never leave home without a flashlight and a way to make a fire. Trust me, I have used both lots of times.