Blog of photographer Brett Colvin.

First Aid in the Field

A few years ago, in what amounts to a freak accident, a highly experienced outdoorsman I am acquainted with found himself in a remote area with a hunting broadhead stuck clean through his upper arm. The situation quickly became life-threatening as he was alone and had minimal first-aid equipment. After a harrowing experience everything turned out okay, but the scenario caused me to reflect on the supplies I carry into the backcountry.

While what happened above took place due to unlikely and unforeseeable circumstances, potentially serious wounds and injuries are not uncommon in the field.

Over time I have put together a fairly compact and easily portable first-aid solution that has worked well for me off the beaten path and I thought some readers might be interested in an overview.

ITS Tactical Trauma Kit & Pouch Fully Loaded (FatBoy Configuration)

ITS Tactical Trauma Kit & Pouch Fully Loaded (FatBoy Configuration)

I started with an ETA kit designed by Imminent Threat Solutions to treat the 3 leading causes of preventable death due to injury: Extremity hemorrhage (E), tension pneumothorax (T), and airway obstruction (A). Of these, extremity hemorrhage is the most common during recreational activities. This is essentially a "blowout kit" designed for combat, but it contains solid fundamentals. It also comes in a well-designed pouch complete with PALS webbing such that it can be easily attached to just about anything using the supplied MALICE clips. Inside the standard kit you will find:

  • QuikClot Combat Gauze LE (1)
  • HALO Chest Seal (2)
  • MojoDart Decompression Needle (1)
  • Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA) Adj. 28fr (1)
  • Pressure Dressing (1 — 4″)
  • Elastic Bandage (1 — 2″)
  • Z-Fold Dressing (1)
  • Combat Casualty Card (1)
  • Nitrile Gloves (1 Pair)
  • Pencil (1)

Even if you don't feel comfortable using the NPA or MojoDart, these items take up very little space and could potentially be used by a first responder if needed. The ETA can be ordered in a vacuum-sealed, waterproof package separately from the trauma kit pouch, making for a nice addition to whatever pack you already carry.

I like the webbed pouches because my daypack (Kifaru Scout) is already equipped with PALS, and I can attach the trauma kit anywhere I like. There are a variety of fishing, field, and photography packs designed with PALS/MOLLE that make this a versatile solution. As one example, the Smithfly 1x Pouch happens to fit the vacuum-packed fatboy trauma kit perfectly as well.

While this is a good start, there are a few additional components I like to have with me. First is a SOF Tactical Tourniquet which can be deployed very quickly, used with one hand, and also doubles as a pressure dressing.

Second: An EMT Toolkit consisting of bandage scissors, forceps, hemostat, and pen light. Amazon offers a nice setup complete with all of the above in a compact holster for $17. You get a big pair of quality 5.5" shears with this package, but as they are a little bulky I use those in the larger first-aid pack kept in my vehicle. The included penlight works although it's too cheaply made to be reliable (as you would expect for this price, as a quality aluminum penlight costs around $20 by itself). I replace the light with a Pelican 1910 that runs on a single AAA battery.

EMT Toolkit: Bandage Scissors, Forceps, Hemostat, and Pelican 1910 w/ Holster for All Items

EMT Toolkit: Bandage Scissors, Forceps, Hemostat, and Pelican 1910 w/ Holster for All Items

All of what I have listed fits inside the ITS Trauma Kit Pouch except the tourniquet, which I affix using a ITS EDC Slimline Pouch.  The entire kit is compact and can easily be attached to or tucked inside your favorite pack or boat bag. If you aren't already in the habit of including first-aid basics in your off-grid essentials, please give it some serious thought. Thanks for reading and have a safe and successful Fall season.

ITS Tactical EDC Slimline Pouch with SOF Tactical Tourniquet Inside (SOFTT-W)

ITS Tactical EDC Slimline Pouch with SOF Tactical Tourniquet Inside (SOFTT-W)

Vortex Optics Razor HD Binoculars

It's often correctly said that buying expensive optics is the cheapest way to go. The reason, of course, is that entry-level merchandise will produce a noticeably inferior image and potentially severe cases of ODD (Optics Deficit Disorder) . Symptoms of ODD often include doubt, self-loathing, buyer's remorse, and could even progress to the borrowing of a friend's equipment. If you use optics frequently for any pursuit, ODD can be avoided with the purchase of a high quality product (money spent on entry-level glass will turn out to be more regrettable than a case of the crusted, Norwegian scabies).

The question, such as it were, always seems to lie in that "how good is good enough" area. Ultimately, I've never heard anyone say, "Man, I really overspent on these binoculars and wish I had decided to cheap out." Now, I have heard similar assertions emanating from the spouses of optics owners. Normally these comments take on a harsh, grating tone that brings to mind a lack of overall credibility. Since such remarks are never in the first-person (i.e. "The spotting scope John bought last month nearly caused us to default on our mortgage!") they must be considered hearsay and disqualified as serious opinions.

It's a given that brands like Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss produce World-class products for which they exact premium prices roughly equivalent to the cost of raising a child to the age of eighteen. Sportsmen refer to this sum as "well worth it" while their spousal units may employ the term "asinine" (see "well worth it").

I don't know about everyone else, but I've always tried to find a sweet spot in terms of value. As with everything, you have the law of diminishing returns in the world of optics. If I can find a product that delivers extremely high quality without an exorbitant price, it will grab my attention.

Enter Vortex Optics. Around the beginning of 2014 I acquired a pair of Razor HD 10x42 binoculars and was quite frankly astonished at the image quality they produced. I was familiar with Vortex in the rifle scope arena, but for some reason had not been paying close attention to their spotting scope and binocular offerings. As I used the Razors more and more, my feeling was they were either on par with the Big 3 or ceded precious little under the conditions I typically glass.

Vortex Optics Razor HD 10x42

Vortex Optics Razor HD 10x42

Now, these are not inexpensive optics with a current street price of $1,199 until you consider the competition:

  • Swarovski EL 10x42: $2,319
  • Swarovski SLC HD 10x42: $1,619
  • Leica Ultravid 10x42: $2,299
  • Zeiss Victory 10x42: $2,299

I've been using the Razors all Spring and Summer, and have been comparing them most commonly with the Zeiss Victory 10x42. It's difficult to tell if one pair is markedly better than the other. The Vortex binos offer a rubber-armored magnesium chassis, argon purged tubes, extra-low dispersion HD lens elements, O-ring seals, hydrophobic coatings to repel moisture, and an unconditional lifetime warranty. In other words, all the features of optics costing $1,000+ more. I've also appreciated the eye cup mechanism with locking diopter adjustment.

The Razor HDs are simply a top shelf offering where every feature feels solid and professional grade. The focus adjustment moves smoothly with great precision, the hinge feels strong and sure, and the image is crisp with outstanding color fidelity.

If you're in the market for an 8x42 or 10x42 binocular, you owe it to yourself to check out the Vortex Razor HD.

Vortex Optics Razor HD 10x42

Vortex Optics Razor HD 10x42


OK so you want to photograph some jet aircraft in-flight. Happily, as I mentioned in the last post, it's really the prop-driven scenario that results in most of the expletives.

The same fundamentals of composition apply - you want an engaging wing position and a background that helps tell the story of flight for a complete image. Blue sky shots are inevitable in some cases - you'll just be happiest with clouds or uncluttered terrain.

Beyond the considerations of where to shoot from in order to get your best chance at supportive background material, a good place to start with jets is f/8 or somewhere around 1/800. If panning, you can play around with slower shutter speeds to blur clouds or terrain in the out-of-focus area of the frame. Faster shutter speeds are fine - anything 1/800 or faster should freeze motion and produce a sharp result. 

Worth mentioning is an optical reality that comes from shooting at small apertures against light backgrounds such as clouds or sky: You will find that even the smallest amount of sensor dust becomes visible in the image under these conditions. If you can use a larger aperture to get the results you're after, this will be much less of an issue. Even a sensor you thought was clean will often show dust at f/16 and beyond.

In short - it's f/8 and be there with the fast movers. If you want to experiment with blurred terrain as a panning effect, consider starting around 1/125 and making adjustments as needed.

Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet #N120AU (Private)  f/8, 1/800, ISO 200

Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet #N120AU (Private)

f/8, 1/800, ISO 200

Getting Props

Aviation photography is something I really enjoy, but don't get the opportunity to pursue with great regularity. It's always worthwhile to attend the annual open house at Hill Air Force Base, which is one of the few airshows in the country that take place at an active military installation.

After posting a few shots from the show, I've received a lot of correspondence asking about the imagery, and what to consider when preparing to photograph aircraft.

In this post I'll focus on what I view as the most difficult scenario in obtaining a 5-star shot, which is prop-driven aircraft in flight. The biggest rookie mistake in this area is the belief that you are shooting a single, fast-moving object.  In turn, this leads to selecting a fast shutter speed similar to what you might use for birds in flight - say 1/1600. In reality, there are TWO key elements in play: The rotating prop, and the moving airframe. Inexperienced photographers will invariably freeze the prop, resulting in an awkward photograph that makes the plane appear to be stalled in mid-air.

Implying motion via a blurred propeller without affecting the rest of the subject is where a dichotomy emerges. On the one hand you need a slow shutter speed to allow the prop to rotate during the exposure, but on the other you have an aircraft flying at hundreds of miles-per-hour. 

In order to achieve effective prop blur, which is vital to quality in-flight imagery, you need to expose for the prop. Variables like airspeed, number of propeller blades, and engine RPM vary significantly - but ultimately you will need to shoot between 1/15 and 1/125 to get the desired effect. Solid hand-holding and panning technique is critical if you shoot without support as I do, because at these speeds camera movement greatly affects the result. Tripods can help in this regard, but can also hinder range of motion or take up excessive space at a public event.

Regarding composition, you want an engaging wing position that showcases the aircraft along with a supportive yet non-distracting background. As a general rule, blue sky backgrounds are not very compelling. Ideally you want to choose a perspective that incorporates clouds or terrain to supplement the main subject of the photograph and complete the image.

So what's the recipe?

  • Blurred prop(s)
  • Frozen aircraft
  • Visually appealing wing position
  • A background that enhances and supports the subject
Survivor TF-51D Mustang "Diamondback"   1/60th, f/16, ISO 200

Survivor TF-51D Mustang "Diamondback" 

1/60th, f/16, ISO 200