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|| News Item: Posted 2002-12-31

Me and my GPS
By Todd Korol

I had my first taste of a GPS system back in 2000. I was shooting the US Track & Field Championships in Sacramento and rented a car with a GPS system in it. Those are the great little units that ride on the dashboard and up pops a map of the city you are in and if you punch in the address it magically points you in the right direction.

Mine even spoke, the little computer voice was a woman's voice, a little raspy yet you always wanted to put a face to it. I put a name to mine, Sheila, and the two of use spent quality time together, me driving and her telling me which way back to the hotel.

It was another one of those cool techie things that are great to play with for a day then you never use them again. But this past summer I purchased a handheld GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and as Sheila did, can track the route you just traveled or point you in the right direction.

This past summer while shooting an assignment on fighting forest fires, I decided to buy a hand held GPS. I would be in the Canadian north, sometimes far into bush country and I have never been one to relay on other people to get me out of a jam. I wanted to know where I was and the route back to camp.

In my second week working on this assignment I got dropped off by helicopter to photograph a crew fighting the fire. After spending the day with them the helicopter was to pick me up where they dropped me off at a fixed time. When we landed I pulled out my GPS and marked my position, as we had moved throughout the day I marked off various positions on the handheld.

With an hour left until my ride I started the hike back to the landing zone. A quick shift in the wind and all of a sudden I couldn't see a thing. Under normal circumstances I would have waited it out, but with the sun setting and when you have to zig zag through the bush you can get quickly turned around. And I wasn't big on sleeping in the woods that night.

As the smoke started to get thicker you start to worry a little more. I pulled out my GPS hit the "GOTO" for my landing zone marker and away I went, 40 minutes later following the direction my GPS told me to go, I was there through the smoke.

I have since found a variety of uses for my GPS. I went to Yemen this past summer and again I ending up using the GPS a lot more than I had expected. A lot of times it was to trace back my route. The GPS will create a route that you have just traveled and when it's time to go home will point you in the right direction.

When we were on a time schedule and drove by some interesting place and couldn't stop, I would create a mark, or as they call it a "Man Over Board" position. We would later come back to it on the route.

Other ways I have used my GPS is for sunrise and sunset photos. First the GPS will tell you the correct time of sunrise and sunset. I used it in Yemen when I had no morning newspaper to tell me the time of sunrise and had to be in the air for aerial photos at the first light of day. Recently I scouted a location and could roughly figure out where the sun would be close to sunset when I was going to be shooting my assignment. I knew roughly where the best place my subject.

Other features of a GPS are a compass, odometer, speed screen, and if you are traveling down the Interstate it computes your speed, where your destination is and can give you an estimated time of arrival. I must admit I have ended up using mine a lot more than I thought I would, and now it has a permanent home in my camera bag. I have to say, I miss the voice that mine lacks, it's lonely when your lost.

(Todd Korol is a freelance photographer based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can view his work on his personal web site at:

Related Links:
Todd's website

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