Should Fear Keep Photographers From Exploring Outdoors Alone?

An interesting article by Elizabeth Carmel in Outdoor Photographer called Cosmophobia…Really? caught my attention… as an outdoor landscape photographer, I often travel alone to places I would never advise my daughters to go alone.  It’s not that these places are overrun with hoodlooms or criminals, but they can be isolated or pose a risk for injury.  

I’m an Army wife, too, so “always bring a battle buddy” has been our family motto for safety for nearly 2 decades.  

In her article, Carmel writes:

I think it’s particularly important for women to learn how to be comfortable spending time alone in the outdoors. A common question I get during my workshops and presentations is “Aren’t you afraid of being outdoors by yourself?” I’ve spent many sunrises and sunsets alone hiking out to my locations by headlamp. I find that there’s really nothing to be fearful of; the chance of being attacked by an animal or another human is almost 0%. The people you encounter in these places are enjoying the outdoors as you are and aren’t up to malice. It’s statistically more dangerous to drive your car at anytime than to walk alone in most national parks and wilderness areas. You’re much more likely to encounter violence on city streets than in the great outdoors. When tragic attacks do happen, they’re disproportionately covered by the media, but aren’t very common. I’m not suggesting that we be naive as women when travelling alone, but I am suggesting that we be smart and rational about it and not let unfounded fear stop us from photographing amazing places in amazing light, particularly if we’re not travelling with a companion.

Definitely food for thought, but as a female photographer myself, I tend to be cautious rather than take a chance for injury or worse.  We may not hear too many stories about photographers being abducted or hurt in the US, but there are certainly horror stories of women running or hiking alone that end in tragedy.  I’m not sure that the camera is a statistical protector.  

But some good rules of thumb are: 

  • TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!  God gave us a “gift of fear” for a reason.  Areas that are too isolated may be tempting fate and uusally your instincts will warn you.  There may be lonely beaches that on paper might appear just a little too isolated, but you feel completely comfortable going there based on a hunch, familiarity or knowledge that its more popular than perhaps a travel guide may lead you to believe.   
  • BRING A BUDDY:  If you are traveling far from home and have no contacts on the other end, be sure to try to bring a family member, escort or friend.  You might even consider bringing an up and coming photographer who would be grateful for the exposure to your expertise and the tips you can offer.   
  • THINK SAFETY:  If you are planning on hiking for a matter of days or just hours along a remote passage, particularly one that is rough terrain, a “battle buddy” is very important.  Not only will he be there for strength of numbers, but you’ll be grateful if you twist an ankle or break a bone. 
  • BRING PROTECTION:  It’s always smart to travel with both mace and a pocket knife… just in case.  In my experience, this has been helpful to ward off predatory animals more so than humans, but either way it’ll provide peace of mind. 
  • ALWAYS BRING WATER:  If you accidentally lose your way, it can be an absolute lifesaver.  Don’t underestimate the power of the sun, even in cooler weather.  CAMELBAKs are a great way to make sure you have enough water….. hey, if it works the US soldier in combat, it works. 
  • ALWAYS HAVE A CELL PHONE:  This is one of the most important battle buddies you may have.  Keep it charged and carry a charger in your vehicle so it’s ready to go.  For extended outings like overnight hikes, bring two… keep one off until the other is battery dead.
  • DON’T ADVERTISE LOCATION ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER OR BLOG:  I do not advertise my current city, or birth place, on Facebook and when I am going on an assignment alone, I do not give my location until AFTER the assignment.  Here’s an example of a young lady who blogged the location of a charity event she was participating in… a man traveled across the country to hunt her down and sexually assualt her on her boat.  From the UK Daily Mail:  (Man Sexually Assaults Woman in Charity Event, Followed Her Location on Her Blog)

She said that a man broke into the cabin of her boat and raped her - identifying her by her full name.

‘It was terrifying. He told me he knew where to find me,’ she said.

Every individual must decide for himself what sort of risk he is willing to take in life. Most risk is reduced by planning ahead, inviting a friend or travel buddy, bringing the right equipment and using common sense.  Some free spirits enjoy testing the boundaries, and for lone female photographers sometimes those boundaries are more confining, but don’t be afraid to get out there, live life and get the shot!  Just do it with smarts.