Checklists make preparing for our night photography trips easier. But you may not have one for safety items. Here are my Top Safety Tips for Milky Way Photography.
- Food, Water, and Wallet
- Prepare for Inclement Weather
- Create an Itinerary and Give it to Someone
- Keep a First Aid Kit Handy
- Satellite Communications Capability
- Carry a Weapon
- Maintain Situational Awareness
Food, Water, and Wallet
Before you roll out the door, make sure that you have important stuff like food, water, and your wallet. Even though you plan on only being gone for a few hours, you might get hungry. And you might need to refuel just to be safe.
Prepare for Inclement Weather
This tip applies not only to bringing appropriate clothing for the current conditions, but it also means bringing extra clothing incase the weather changes. You may need to spend some extra time in the field, or even in your vehicle, waiting out some weather. Bring what you need to stay warm and dry.
Preparation for inclement weather also applies to your vehicle. Keep it in good operating condition by changing oil at regular intervals and top the fluids. Check your tire condition and pressure before leaving home – that includes the spare.
Create an Itinerary and Give it to Someone
When I roll out the door, my wife knows where I am going and approximately how long I will be gone. As most of us are aware, a lot of our destinations lack cell service.
One idea that you can do is to reach out to your point of contact to let them know you are off the grid if you are familiar with where service starts and stops. Designate a check-in time for when you have a return in service. That way, if you miss your check-in, they can start making phone calls to appropriate authorities.
You can even go so far as to print a list of phone numbers of agencies that operate in the area you are going to. Pro-Am tip, the first number should be that of the local sheriff’s department. More times than not, they will be the responding agency. If they are not, they will be able to contact the appropriate agency for you.
Keep a First Aid Kit Handy
Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs) have become a thing in the tactical world. Small personal ones usually contain a tourniquet and a provision to stop bleeding. Larger ones will carry items for a wider variety of injuries.
Mike Glover, CEO of Fieldcraft Survival, suggests keeping a Basic Hemorrhage Response Kit within easy access of the vehicle driver. During my Law Enforcement days, I rolled up on plenty of vehicle accidents that were bloody affairs. I also worked in a rural area, so the response time was stretched out in minutes. The areas where we tend to venture to as Milky Way photographers are even more desolate. Response times from first responders can stretch into hours. You have to be prepared to take care of yourself.
Mike also suggests having a more comprehensive first aid kit located in the vehicle. Adventure Medical sells different-sized kits that are perfect for camera bags. I have a small one in my MindShift FirstLight 40L.
Make sure you receive training on how to perform basic first aid to go along with the kits.
Satellite Communications Capability
Satellite communications have been a thing for off-road race teams competing in Baja for years now. I was not aware that this tech had made its way into the photography community until earlier this year.
The Garmin InReach is a palm-sized satellite communicator that allows the user to send SOS messages via satellite. Garmin offers a tiered subscription fee model, so you do not have to pay every month.
I have not seen this in person, but having owned Garmin products in the past, I would not pass up the opportunity to have this piece of gear with me. If there was one top safety tip in this article, I would have a hard time saying this was not that tip.
CARRY A WEAPON
Again, situational awareness (see below) is key. If you do not have that, a weapon is useless. There are a ton of options out there to include firearms, pepper spray, key batons, flame throwers, or even Twisted Tea when used defensively!
Before you go this route though, make sure you feel comfortable with your decision. Also, make sure you research local laws. Especially if you plan on carrying a firearm. Then make sure you receive proper training from experienced trainers.
MAINTAIN SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
The definition of SITUATIONAL AWARENESS is knowing what is going on around us. Depending on your environment and the width of your view, this can be very narrow. Or it could be very wide.
The reality is that you can be the best trained, most in-shape, most badass individual on Planet Earth, but if you do not stay focused on what is going on around you, you can become a victim.
When you are pulling into that gas station parking lot at 2 am, scan the surroundings. See if there is a carload of sketchy folks in a car in front of the door.
Does that road you found on a map that is supposed to be a dirt freeway look more like it has not been used since the California Gold Rush? Furthermore, did it just recently rain?
Criminals are predators; they are opportunists. Most will go for the low-hanging fruit, and that low-hanging fruit is the person buried in their phone while pumping gas. Scan your surroundings and if it does not feel right, trust your feeling. Keep rolling.
Here is a great video by US Army Special Forces combat veteran Tim Kennedy on situational awareness:
Hopefully, 2021 will bring us great success and experiences with our photography. By keeping these safety tips in mind, we increase the odds of that success.
For a more in-depth discussion on these safety tips, read Stanley’s article Milky Way Photography Safety and Security Tips.
- Nikon 750
- Tokina 16-28
- Vanguard Alta Pro 263 Tripod w/TBH-250 Ballhead
- MindShift FirstLight 40L (use code 865258.427fe at checkout)
- 2002 Toyota 4Runner
- Yokohama Geolander Tires
- Pro Media Gear PLX4x L-Bracket
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