Women shooting alone in remote locations or at night?

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hear me roar
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Mar 18, 2013
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Wasn't really sure what forum to put this in...

This is mostly directed to the female photographers of TPF who take outdoor pics. How do you handle personal safety when you're out shooting in remote areas or at night/early morning? Do you have a buddy you go with or do you feel comfortable going out alone? Do you tell someone where/when you are going and check in afterwards? I had a kind of creepy experience this weekend while out shooting alone and it's really giving me second thoughts on venturing out on my own so often.

I stopped at a local lake yesterday afternoon to take a walk with my camera. It's a pretty popular spot for dog walkers and exercisers but it was cold out and there were only a few other cars in the parking lot when I got there. One car had a guy sitting in it alone. I didn't think much of it and headed to the trail that goes mostly along the lake but some of it is through the woods. I was walking back toward the parking lot about an hour later through one of the wooded sections when I caught a quick glimpse of a man about 20 yards up ahead of me peeking out from behind a tree. At first I thought maybe I'd interrupted him peeing and he was just ducking out of the way to zip up but he stayed behind the tree. There was no one else around. When I was about 20 feet away he was still standing (hiding?) behind the tree so I stopped walking trying to decide what to do. I had to pass him to get back to my car and the path's only about 3 or 4 feet wide. I was mentally kicking myself for going on the trail alone (I didn't even have my little dog with me) and for not telling anyone where I was going (it was a last minute decision to stop there on my way home from visiting a friend).

As I stood there hesitating, I heard voices and then a young couple came from the direction of the parking lot walking their dogs. Tree guy stepped out into the path and casually walked past them heading toward the trail exit. When the couple reached me I told them I was pretty sure that he had been hiding along the trail and I asked them to please walk back to my car with me in case he was still in the parking lot. He was gone when we got there. I feel very lucky that they came along when they did. I suppose that it's possible that I was just being paranoid but I don't think so. My spidey senses were going off, there was definitely something weird about the whole thing.

So, now I'm feeling totally creeped out about going out on my own with my camera when there won't be lots of people around. I had plans later this week to get out early to take some sunrise pics on the "beach" side of the lake but now I'm second guessing that plan as well.

Just looking for some input/advice/suggestions re women shooting alone.
I walk softly and carry a big stick. :D
I'd carry a gun, but I'd end up shooting myself in the foot or something.

I do go out alone--far more often than my friends or family are comfortable with. I do realize the dangers of being a woman out alone in a remote area, but taking someone with me completely defeats the purpose--I *love* that time alone and I refuse to give it up just because there is evil in this world. If someone kills me, well, at least I went out doing something I loved. In the past two years, there have been at least six--maybe as many as 10 or 12--reports of women being attacked here locally. Two were out at a VERY popular and usually crowded nature center, 2 or 3 were on a city greenway and then several were on trails up in the Smokies. I've been to ALL of those places alone, and so far never had any serious instances--but I HAVE sometimes left because something didn't seem "right."

I just try to be as cautious as possible. Some "tips" off the top of my head--or maybe just some "field notes" about my experiences.

1. Don't go anywhere that is not completely familiar to you. I never, ever try NEW places alone and especially not alone in the early hours of the morning (I won't include "late at night" because I do not DO late night).
The places I go early in the morning tend to be the places I am most familiar with, AND most comfortable with.

2. Your "Spidey Senses" rule the day--or the morning, or the night. NEVER, EVER tell yourself you're "just" being paranoid, or you're being too cautious or "ridiculous." I think we have that weird sense for a very good reason. If my spidey senses are tingling, I'm outta there.
I left a local park for that very reason one day--there was a guy in a car not too far from me who just sat watching me, and he gave me the creeps. So I got the bejeebus out of there. A couple of days later, there was a news story that a woman had been attacked at that park.

3. I check the place out before I ever get out of the car. In your example above--I would probably NOT have even gotten out of the car while that guy was in his. I'd have locked my doors, maybe worked on getting my camera ready or whatever, but kept an eye on him. If he left, fine. If he got out and started walking somewhere, at least I'd know where he was headed, and I could decide to either go a different way or go somewhere else instead.

4. Stay aware. "Watch your 6--" meaning don't just know what's in front of you and to the sides, but know what's behind you. NOBODY is likely to ever sneak up on me, because I am constantly surveying the area. Again, in your example--as soon as I saw that guy behind the tree, I would have gone the other direction and tried to get somewhere where HE couldn't see me, but *I* could see him, and then wait to see what he did. If he was peeing, he'd be on his way quickly enough. Maybe he was bird-watching or...who knows what. But I wouldn't have gotten ANY closer until I was absolutely certain of his intentions.

5. Carry something to call for help, and to defend yourself. Your cell phone, absolutely--but also a whistle. Mace. A knife. At the very, very least, a good heavy stick.

6. Have a PLAN. If you DO encounter something like your situation, what are you going to do? Know beforehand how you're going to handle things. Let's say, somehow, I hadn't noticed that guy, and I'd gotten a little closer before I saw him. And there's nowhere for me to go to hide. I'd IMMEDIATELY decide what I have that I can do damage with--INCLUDING my camera if necessary. It's insured and I wouldn't hesitate to bash someone in the head with it if they intended me harm.

7. Get trained. Get some defense training if you plan to be out alone. Seriously. There is NO substitute for at least being prepared if something happens. I can't say I could stop a 6'3", 250-lb. man in his tracks if he intended me harm--but I can definitely say I'd go down swinging, and he WOULD have some battle scars.
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Oh, and another:

8. Don't ACT like a girl, and don't act scared to be there. I know I just say to be constantly watching and all that, but you can be very aware of your surroundings and still walk confidently. I have a bit of an advantage here--I'm 6' tall and have enough weight on me that someone would have to think twice about whether they wanted to try to take me down. I also grew up with 3 brothers, and so I *am* confident that I could fend off the average attacker, and it shows in how I carry myself.
Defense training would help in that regard, too. Knowing you *can* defend yourself will also help you carry yourself in a way that expresses that confidence, and I really do think it makes you less vulnerable to attacks in the first place. Because guys looking to attack some woman out alone do NOT want to mess with anyone that they aren't sure they can take down easily.
Weird and creepy. Who knows what he was up to but that doesn't sound like typical behavior of someone who's hiking, etc.

The type of job I had involved doing home visits in the city in the kind of neighborhoods that are on the news with drug related shootings, etc. So we had someone go with us as needed, and we worked as teams anyway (me and therapists and service coordinators, etc.).

We had training on personal safety, maybe think about taking a class. I got pretty much in the habit of looking around when I get out of the car, if anything looks at all odd I may wait a minute and see what I think, it's probably better to change plans if needed. (I saw Sharon's post midway thru mine - I'd piddle around in the car for a minute and see what he was up to - sometimes I see, oh, they've got a kid over there so they're just out hiking, or he has a camera or binoculars, etc.). And I think if need be I could use a camera like a nunchuk! lol and whack the sh#&% outta somebody.

Supposedly if a perp sees you looking around and being aware, say in a parking lot, it's less likely they'd choose you for a victim and more likely they'd go after the woman who seems oblivious (unfortunately) and make a grab for her purse not yours. Criminals seem to be lazy as&$% and don't want have to work too hard at anything so are probably looking for an easy target.

If I've gone out and about taking pictures on my own I'd usually stick to an area where there are people around and not get too far off in an isolated area. Especially the time of year where there aren't so many other people around. If it's that long a walk to get thru a wooded area to get to the beach it might be better to not go alone in case that guy is hanging around that park all the time. I wonder if you should report it to the park district? maybe find out if they've had any other reports.
All good points and I agree, trust that spidey sense. Even guys get freaked sometimes. I had an occasion where I have to get back to the car and the route is through an alley between two buildings from the main street to the parking lot out back. One night there were two guys just kind of leaning on each side of the alley way at the far end of the alley by the parking lot as if they were talking. Gave me second thoughts and I ended up walking the long route around the block instead of the car park alley. Always trust the spider sense.

You might also consider having something you can quickly grab as a weapon like a belt with a heavy buckle that is just around your waist but not through any belt loops or on a quick disconnect. You could also have a friend or family member on speed dial and aware you might be calling and then just talk to them on a one way conversation on speaker phone to keep your hands free. That may give someone close reason to pause particularly if they hear you tell the person on the phone where you are.

Just a few ideas. You did good asking for the couple to help you back to your car. Smart move.

Stay safe
I think pepper spray or mace whatever they call it, is a great idea. Use for animals and creepy guy behind the tree situations.

I also thought of dialing someone or fake dialing someone. Pretend to be waving to someone in the direction of your car, speaking loudly and waving your hand as to let them know exactly where you are "Hi Brutus, I see you in the parking lot, look I'm waving at you" kind of thing.
1.Well I am not a lady but I will give out some suggestions.Don't go in sucluded places alone but if you do, look for exits,safe escape routes and be familiar with your and surroundings and have a plain,this could be to your advantage.
2.Carry pepper spray but you need to be mindful of expiration dates.
3.Carry a noise device maker the louder the better.
4.Take self defense,martial arts or some sort of safety training. sometimes police departments may offer safety training or a YMCA or a self defense dojo of your own picking.
5.Never hesitate keep moving while making eye contact,let him know you see him but keep moving and be ready for anything. All this is common sense stuff but its easy to overlook when fare takes over.Oh yea I almost for got,never ignore your gut feeling,they are seldom wrong.

Truthfully even as a dude I take precautions and I am fortunate enough to live in a state that allows me to bare arms and I am always packing when out in about alone. Much like you, I will adventure off into secluded places like wooded areas and just because I have the means to protects my self, I would not want be in that position and I will avoid it at all cost.
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I believe there are also a series of mobile phone apps you can use. Some which send an automatic email/text to someone if you don't disable its timer - ergo you plan to go out and be out for X number of hours - if you don't enter the password and disable it before X number of hours runs out it sends the text - ergo alarm is sent.

There are also others that track your position and other fancy things you can look into. Something like that might at least make you feel safer whilst out; rather like the self defence class its there to help, but a big way it helps is by giving you confidence when out. Confidence helps a lot in many ways:

1) You can more focus on what you're doing rather than worrying (this doesn't mean not paying attention to your surroundings just that not every single sound is going to make your heart go nuts).

2) You can move with confidence which suggests your familiar with the surroundings and suchlike.

New places are often more strange to us; consider if you're going somewhere new that you might go to more than once of just taking a walk without the camera; just get the lay of the land or take a point and shoot. Google maps is also fantastic as you can get a good birds eye view of the area and "walk" down many roadways to get an idea of what it looks like (more use the latter on road trips; and not always up to date either - but great for helping you drive with confidence because you already have some idea of what is up ahead or how far it really is till the next turnning and what it looks like).
All great suggestions and cautions, thank you! I'm glad you all don't think I was being paranoid.

Yes, going out alone is a major part of the appeal, I know you can all understand that. I work full time and spend almost all day talking/emailing/conferencing and then at home I have my mom living with me and my 12 year old daughter so our house is pretty busy most of the time. Alone/quiet time is really precious to me and I love going out by myself with my camera and just exploring. I considered joining one of the photography meet up groups in the area (and I may still do so) but I really need to be able to take advantage of any last minute free time - like yesterday.

I definitely should have moved on to a different location when I saw that guy sitting in his car. Not even sure if that was him or someone else in the woods but you're right, it was not the best circumstances to get out of my car when no one else was around. And though I've walked that path a few times before, I've never been there so late in the day at this time of year so it was a bit of unfamiliar territory. I need to be more aware and not get so caught up in what I'm doing.

Pepper spray is a good idea. I would never carry a gun, that is just not for me. It's been 20 years since my Taekwondo training and with my cranky knee I'd probably disable myself instead of any attacker if I tried any of those moves but maybe a refresher self defense course would be a good idea. I'll have to look into that.

I guess I could always clock someone with my tripod if I had to - that's a big stick.

Thanks again for your suggestions!

(yet another) Sharon
You mean SquarePeg isn't named Peg? So there are three of us Sharons now, we can team up! lol

There you go, that's what those tripods could come in handy for!
Sorry you have to wonder about your free time opportunities!
I think a lot of us have had the same thoughts and doubts as you while out alone.
I went out to Plymouth Town Brook one night, not that late, well maybe 9:30-10 pm...
Yeah, a homeless guy passes me while I had the tripod set up. I waited for him to pass as he was in my photo.
I took the photo then went in front of the camera as an excuse to see if he had continued walking. He had turned to look back at me as well.
I packed up and luckily another couple came and I walked with them to the parking lot.
I always thought the tripod would be a good club. Seriously try swinging it as practice though.
I try and be aware and do walk with purpose even if I don't know where I am going :)
Hubby is always asking me if I have mace, but I don't carry it.

This is actually a nice refresher course for us all to think about. I think the whistle on a neck rope would be pretty accessible, rather than a phone in your pocket, unlock it, find your emergency person etc..... image.jpeg
You mean SquarePeg isn't named Peg? So there are three of us Sharons now, we can team up! lol

There you go, that's what those tripods could come in handy for!

No, not named Peg, just a bit of an oddball.
We could make up T shirts, Don't mess with a Sharon. (Or a Nancy, or a Terri, or a Lenny or any of the gals of TPF).
O.K., so I'm not a woman or an LEO, but frankly, any kind of fighting should include something lethal. IMO.

A large stick or a tripod is not going to do much damage, and if a man is intent on overpowering a woman with a club, I'd place my bet on the man. No offense.

Get serious, get lethal, or don't go.
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