A package showed up on my door yesterday. Well it didn't just show up - I knew it was coming. I just didn't realise it was going to be that big. I bought a brand new camera backpack. It's called the Photo Trekker AW II and it's made by Lowepro.
I needed something that fit all my gear without me having to put half of it in a photo vest. I also wanted something that I can attach my tripod to and this was the smallest bag that was still airline regulation.
So last night I put all my gear in it and put it on and man it's heavy! 13 kilograms to be exact. But it will fit all my stuff in it plus lunch and whatever I need when hiking out somewhere to get some photos. Which got me thinking about the safety aspect of what we do. Photography is very often a solo pursuit. We head out to the middle of nowhere looking for the perfect light, and for us travel photographers that means that we're often doing it in a foreign country to boot.
Take this image here. It was taken in the high Himalayas of Nepal. We were staying in a little lodge which was on the spot where a whole group of Japanese trekkers had been killed in an avalanche a few years beforehand. My wife and I photographed the memorial and then decided to climb the hill above the lodge for a better view of the mountains.
And this is what we found. Spectacular scenery with a crystal clear view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. All until the afternoon clouds started rolling up that same valley. And suddenly our lodge was hidden in the middle of all that cloud! Which meant we had to pick our way down without being able to see two feet in front of our faces.
When you travel in foreign countries you obviously don't have much of an idea of local conditions. So it's a really good idea to find out as much as possible in advance. The internet is a great tool to find stuff out (guidebooks are often out of date by the time they're published so try on-line forums such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree) but you can't beat local information on the ground. Speak to your hotel concierge, the taxi driver, locals you photograph.
Find out where it is and isn't safe to photograph. Whether you can get your camera out comfortably without having to worry about being mugged. What environmental conditions might make photographing unpleasant or downright dangerous. And let people know when you're heading off into the wilds by yourself. Let somebody know when you expect to be back and exactly where you're going.
I've had my fair share of dodgy situations but thankfully (touch wood) have never been mugged or threatened or anything like that. In my younger days I certainly did some silly things and went some places I shouldn't have, and I'm certainly not saying don't do it, but take precautions. Even the best photograph isn't worth getting hurt, lost or killed for!
Oh and we eventually found our way back to the lodge for dinner!