Essential Issues to Resolve Before Beginning Your Photography Trip
What makes a photography trip a successful one and how can you make the best use of your time?
Like anything, I had to make a lot of mistakes along the way learning how to plan for a photography trip where I would be on my own. It is totally different from being on a group photo workshop. My thoughts apply to planning either Landscape Photography or Wildlife Photography trips.
1. Just Gotta Do The Research
Everybody’s time is valuable and making the best use of it on a photography trip is pretty important. When I return home from a typical 10-day trip, I am fairly well exhausted, but that usually means I did the best I could.
If you’re looking to get some seriously good images, you’ve probably been seeing some on social media and have decided you just have to go there with your camera. Now that’s the easy part. Planning the trip is critical to being able to come away with the best possible images.
The following photo from Monument Valley, Arizona required a little research to know the time of the year and where to stand to capture the sun bursting from behind the mitten.
2. Where Do I Want To Go?
This has become the hardest question I have had to answer in recent years. I have been fortunate to have been able to go to many places in the United States and other countries. Of course, there are far more places that I have not been.
I like to think that if I go somewhere there will be multiple subjects to photograph. It's a difficult choice to go to some remote area for a week knowing there are only a few possibilities there. Coming home with only one or two photos after the expense of 10 days on the road kind of sucks the fun out of it.
I'm constantly looking at Facebook and Instagram posts from a large number of photographers I follow for ideas. The websites of other fine art landscape photographers can be a great place for ideas.
If I see a photo that intrigues me from a place I have not been to, I make a screen print of it and keep in a directory on my computer. I maintain directories for each state, for example. I will overlay a text note on the photo of the location and the date it was taken, if available. These photos are synced to my iPhone and I can look at them anywhere I am. They are kind of a photographic to-do list if you will.
3. Planning to be at The Right Place At The Right Time
Ok, so after looking at a bunch of photos on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., you’ve decided where you want to go. Great, now you need to know when you want to go there and why. The right time to be somewhere is not always obvious. This is when the real research begins.
Some locations have some nice books that have been published, like Photographing Oregon, Photographing Yosemite, etc. I have found these books are well worth having and have always got a few nuggets of good information in them.
The photos on Flickr will generally show the date the photo was taken, but it can be incorrect so check multiple photos of the subject to be sure. Photos with flowers were probably not taken in November. It won’t be long before you figure out when the best time is to be somewhere.
4. Potential Shooting Locations
I always joke that I want to go somewhere that has multiple sunrise locations, multiple sunset locations and locations that can be shot on cloudy days like rivers and waterfalls. The point is that weather is going to vary and you want to have options, especially if you are limited in the number of trips you can take.
Be sure to know if there are any hour restrictions on the chosen locations. State Parks are notorious for not opening until 8 am and closing at sunset. Unless you camp out in the park, it can be difficult to be there when the light is good.
Then there can be the dreaded tourist crowds. National Parks can be very crowded in the summertime, which can really suck the fun out of being there. It isn’t too hard to find out the times you might want to avoid.
And yes, part of the trip planning is researching where you can stay. I prefer not to camp out, so being sure there is a decent motel within an hour of the shooting locations is important. Making reservations well in advance and noting what the cancellation rules are is important. Some of the more desired locations book up early for the best times of the year.
5. Finding Something Different Or New
One way of exploring the back roads of a location is using Google Maps and Google Earth. Strangely, they are not both using the same satellite images. I had one instance of Google Earth, not yet showing the boardwalk piers on a Florida lake, but Google Maps showed them clearly.
Google Earth has tons of photos, and while not high quality, they will show you what the view looks like at a particular lake, for example. This can save a lot of time compared to driving everywhere. I constantly am amazed at how many photos they have in some really remote locations.
In the following photo of an Oak Tree at sunrise, I located the tree on Google Earth. I could tell was just the right distance off the road. I knew there would be a fence so it couldn't be too far away. I could tell from The Photographers Ephemeris that the sun would be rising behind it.
6. Planning for The Sun, Moon and Tides
Apps like The Photographers Ephemeris or Photo Pills are critical to have. I want to know BEFORE I go to a location where the sun is going to rise and set in relation to where I am standing. Where it does is vastly different in winter and summer. It may have a major effect on what time of year I go there.
It can be nice to also know what the moon is doing, especially if you are using a full moon to light up the scene at night. If you’re shooting on the coast, you’ve got to know when high tide is. Low tide is usually not very attractive, so I try to be at a coastal location where it will be close to high tide at sunrise or sunset. Tides Near Me is a great app that I rely on. Saltwater Tides is a great resource.
7. Physical Requirements and Clothing
If the locations you want to photograph involve trails, it’s a good idea to know the trail length and the amount of elevation gain/loss on the trail. You should know in advance what your capabilities are. AllTrails.com is a great resource for information.
I obtain as much information on the expected weather before I go. I prepare for a variety of conditions, especially unexpected cold weather. Taking a couple of extra layers including rain jackets and pants have come in handy more times than I can remember. If I’m hitting the beach or swamps, the Muck boots are in the suitcase for sure. For the bugs, remember the bug spray and head nets.
A couple of final items that I make sure to have with me are a first aid kit and a tire patch kit with pliers and a tire pump. I’ll leave the tire pressure management on while driving to see if tire pressures start to go down. Yes, it has happened several times and having the pump with me was huge. You’re not always around cell towers to call for help.
Once you’ve done a few solo trips, it’s really not as daunting as the above may make it seem. I have learned to enjoy the process of planning a photography trip. It keeps me pretty busy, actually. I have a simple checklist I print to be sure I don’t forget anything important.
If you haven’t gone out solo before, experiment with a short trip. I really enjoy the freedom and the people I meet along the way.