There are few things I enjoy doing more than wandering around, camera(s) in hand, looking for good light, interesting shapes, beautiful vistas, striking details, and great moments. If you’re at all like me it is easy to lose track of time while on the hunt. But it’s important that you don’t get lost yourself whether you’re in the city or the wilderness.
Preparation is key
Perhaps it’s my previous military training or simply a personal need to be organized down to the smallest detail, but past experience certainly contributes to how I prepare for every shoot and for every outing. Seasoned wilderness travellers know the safeguards necessary to ensure your ability to enjoy yourself and get home safely; preparation is the key.
Always let someone know where you are travelling, and when you are expected home.
Prepare by researching the weather, looking at maps of the area you’ll be in, download maps to your smartphone (in case you lose your cell signal), as well as a navigational app or two. I use MapMyHike+, Canada Maps, or AllTrails to keep track of my location but I’m old school so I still insist on carrying a paper map and compass with me in the woods.
Seek out local knowledge to better understand areas that might provide you with some great photographs but also where you might want to avoid or road/trail intersections which may cause you problems.
In the city or in the wilderness take some time to make note of key landmarks. Experts suggest taking photographs of unique features or prominent intersections, especially where you change directions. This should be easy for photographers, as long as we don’t mind making the odd snapshot just for safety’s sake.
Keep track of where the compass points are relative to you. Where is North, and in which direction is your destination or closest safe point?
Navigate safely home
If you do wander off the trail, or take a side street, stop before going too far and have a look back the way you came. This mental picture will help you navigate back to the trail/main street once you’ve captured and image of what caught your eye in the first place.
At the moment you realize you may have lost your way maintain your position and employ the STOP method of finding your way again. Stay calm, think about where your “error event” may have occurred, observe the area around you to find recognizable features, and plan how you will move from this point without getting lost further. This is the point where you should begin marking your trail clearly so if worst comes to worst you will be able to find your way back to this point - which may be the closest point to your original trail/route.
Remember, anytime you venture out it’s a good idea to bring along a few safety items. At minimum, bring some extra food and water, a map and compass, an emergency thermal blanket (space blanket), a first aid kit, a lighter, a flashlight, and a smartphone for when you do get a signal again.