The Silver Bullet

Survival Afield

By Nathan Pier

I’m not talking about a beer commercial from the 80’s.

There always seems to be that one certain item that is invaluable to have with you while on assignment… that magical item that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do your job without and, unfortunately, the item some of us seem all to often to forget.

For me it is always the pen. I don’t know how many pens I have in my bags, in the car or at the office but I do know that about 80% of them are dried out, broken or in some other way useless.

It occurred to me that some of us in the WNPA ranks and a frighteningly high percentage of photojournalism students are out on the streets without some of the basics: pens, mini notebooks, spare batteries, a watch, cell phone, emergency cash, flashlight, gaffer’s tape and/or electrical tape, extra memory cards, ID card, gum, medication, etc

At a recent white supremacist rally and counterdemonstration in Madison I was awestruck to hear a number of questions and comments related to ill preparedness.

Two of my favorite overheard phrases in Madison on Saturday August 27th, 2006:

• “Can I borrow a compact flash card?”
• “I didn’t think it was supposed to rain”

Let’s examine:

“Can I borrow a compact flash card?”

Short answer: No

Long Answer: I will preface this by saying that I was once guilty of this myself. Along with that, I will thank Michelle Stocker for saying no to me. I will go on to say give me a break.

As a jaded shooter of 25 years of age, not experience, I personally recall in fall of 2002 paying $135 each for two 256MB cards. Today, with that same dollar amount it is possible to get a several gigs worth of storage. If you don’t go to the track meet without your running shoes and you don’t bake a cake without flour or sugar than for the love of god, don’t show up to an assignment without something to put your pictures on. Reverse the roles: I wouldn’t expect a stranger, or even your best friend, to lend you a card in the heat of the moment.

“I didn’t think it was going to rain”

Unless you have a deep personal relationship with whoever owns the nearest doomsday type weather machine it might be a good idea to prepare for some of the contingencies of Wisconsin weather. That doesn’t mean that you have to own the latest and most expensive raincoat for your camera (or your own body).

All it means is that it would be handy to have a working knowledge of tape, rubber bands and plastic bags and any other material that might come in handy for fashioning an on the go rain cover for your gear. It also means that if you don’t carry it on your person, you need to know where to find them when you find yourself in a pinch.

I am not suggesting that we all load down our shoulder bags, fanny packs, backpacks, or even, heaven forbid, photo vests with ten tons of useless junk. I don’t want to be responsible for or associated with any bad backs or hernias.

What I am suggesting is that we all experiment with being little more pragmatic about what we will need, and maybe what we don’t, to do a job that has a seemingly endless number of twists and turns.

I would be interested to hear everyone’s items that they won’t be without on assignment… Let’s hear it!

Survival Afield is a weblog dedicated to the survival and overall well-being of shooters of any stripe and is authored by photojournalist Nathan Pier.

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