Photography Gear vs. The Wild

  By Chris Niccolls

You may have seen us shoot cameras with bullets, throw them in pools, or otherwise sacrifice them for the sake of entertainment. What you may not know is that we often receive broken lenses and camera bodies in the store, mostly from people who want to donate old gear, or have it recycled properly. Many of these cameras become props for our TCSTV channel. Our latest video started with just such a prop. A lens, or rather the individual front element of the lens, perfectly resembles the magnifying glass from childhood. When children possess a magnifying glass, with a little help from the sun, how do they inevitably experiment?

Our latest TCSTV episode was inspired in just such a way. If we were lost in the woods, could we start a fire using only the glass elements in our lenses? From here, Jordan and I quickly expanded the idea to the following: If stuck in a survival situation, how well could we manage using only the camera gear and photo accessories found in the average photographer’ s backpack? Inspired by equal parts Survivorman and MacGyver, we soon had our most challenging, and most enjoyable idea to date.

The five basic pillars of survival are: Shelter, Food, Fire, Water, and Rescue. Without a way to satisfy all of these needs, the stranded photographer will not last long. I imagine many photographers wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to smash, and repurpose thousands of dollars worth of camera gear in order to survive. However, the growing, desperate desire to live soon brought a heavy log crashing down onto a prized SLR body. Deep in the Kananaskis forest, a fishing rod was made out of a travel tripod, flies were tied out of camera wires to catch fish, tripods and umbrellas created a makeshift tent, and a fire sparked with charged flashes and sensor cleaner. Water was filtered and boiled, signal mirrors made to finally escape our adventure. The fact that all of our survival tactics actually worked in a plausible manner, we found most astonishing. What started out as an experimental joke, became a feasible survival show, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are worse things than to be lost in the woods with only a bag full of camera gear.

Now for some behind the scenes explanations on our two-day journey; as with any video production, the viewers don’t get to see what did or did not actually happen. I will enlighten you. I caught fish (two in fact) with our homemade gear. But, it took almost a whole day, and involved cold water wading to get the reach required. The shelter effectively kept the ground dry, and it rained very heavily that night. However, I did not spend the whole night in it. I would have been in really rough shape the next day, and if there were a strong wind, the shelter would have been compromised. The fire starting couldn’t have been easier or worked better. Sensor cleaning fluid makes any material erupt in flame. I was startled by how effectively the dish reflector worked as a container to boil water. On the other hand, the umbrella covers were prone to cracking and leaking water everywhere. Carrying a whole Profoto B1 kit to signal planes is ridiculous, and probably not worth the weight. I wasn’t prepared to crack one of those open, but who knows what goodies I could have used. However, the SLR mirror does work as a signal device and overall there are many ways to utilize photo gear for survival.

The most important take-away from our survival video: This is entertainment, and meant to be taken with a grain of salt. In no way, shape, or form did we try to make a serious survival treatise. However, given the unexpected result of our little test, perhaps the most important thing is to take a break from the serious nature of photography, and allow for some whimsy once in awhile. The results might surprise you too!