Posts Tagged ‘landscape’

We’ve all done it.  You hear about a great photography location – start thinking about going there – and next thing you know you are planning a trip for photography to a place you’ve never visited.  It’s a great idea, but its not a simple effort.  The last thing you want to do is visit a location and not end up with great photos.  What is the purpose of the trip – vacation, personal photography, photography business, etc?  Where do you stay?  What time of year should you be there?  Where exactly do you go and what time of day is best?  What can you do that is unique or interesting?  Are there special location specific equipment needs?  What will it cost?

Jekyll Island - Historic Landing Sunset

Trip Purpose

Planning starts with the purpose of a trip.  If I am planning a photography trip, then getting great images drives the agenda.  If I am planning a vacation with some photographs, my time is more balanced with family time, limited photography, and more time in museums and other places of interest.  A photography business trip starts with trip goals, budget and economics – I have to get the images, scout the locations, and get everything done in the least time possible.  Each trip is different, but we’ll focus here on planning a photography oriented trip.

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Area Research

I start planning by researching the general area.   As a nature photographer, I want to know what parks and natural sites are in the area and could be included in my itinerary.  Typically I start the planning with one or two key areas – parks, cities, regions, etc. – and then add the smaller or secondary locations that fill in the trip.  What are my choices?  Today, research usually begins on the internet.  I start with using Google maps to get a general idea of the area.  The map view shows the area, significant towns and cities, major roads, and most parks and natural areas.  This gives me an overall perspective of the area and the relative distances.  For general planning, I’ll go to TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, and Frommers to get an idea of the most important activities and sights for the area.  All of these resources provide some sort of ranking of the “best” places to see, visit, stay and eat.  I typically set up a folder for bookmarks to remember good links.  I also create a Word document for my itinerary and copy and paste material for future reference.

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Location Research

Once I get closer to deciding where I want to go, I investigate the key attractions in more depth.  For National Parks, of the best books on national park photography are the Audubon and AAA guides by Tim Fitzharris.  Laurent Matres has an excellent series of photography guides (many with co-authors but the same format) with volumes for individual states of the west.  Martres’ books do a great job of rating photo attractiveness and difficulty of reaching the locations.  I’ll use these resources and Google maps to lay out a tentative itinerary of the major sight and photo opportunities.  This gives me an idea of how many days are required for each location, and how I’ll spend my time – the framework for the itinerary.

Monument Valley

Optimal Time to Visit

Given the rough itinerary, I want to start thinking about key images.  For most parks, there are key species of wildlife and plants that are important for photography.  If I’m in Yellowstone, I want bison.  If I’m in the Smokies, I want summer or fall bears, late spring through fall deer, spring flowers, or fall foliage.  If I’m in Arches, I want late spring flowers.  Each area has favorite times of year and subjects and you plan your trip accordingly.  You don’t want to visit a the Smokies expecting to photograph bears and deer in April when they look ragged due to a harsh winter and shedding fur.  For wading birds, the mating and nesting season is March through June in the southern states, so don’t expect much activity in November if you visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

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Daily Itinerary

Once I have my rough itinerary and a list of locations, I start organizing the trip.  Sunrise and sunset locations are important for each day and they tend to be in prime locations.  I also want to schedule visits to key areas, attractions, etc.  Any key activities are planned and scheduled.  Putting things on an itinerary starts to give me a sense of scheduling and drive times required.  Often this is where I start to make decisions on how much I can do in a day and what to exclude.  Don’t forget to look at the lunar calendar, sunrise and sunset times, and tidal charts – I add these times to every itinerary – even most personal trips.  Finally – you can’t do everything.  It’s better to focus on a smaller area and reduce driving and travel time than to spread yourself to thin across a large area.  Around this point you need to decide whether guides are needed.  Some locations work well with a guide – such as Monument Valley for access into restricted areas, or the Okefenokee to head out by canoe into unfamiliar swamps.

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Image planning

The next layer is nailing down the itinerary for each day and the planned shooting locations.  An itinerary is never set in stone and needs flexibility, but I want to go in with a definite plan and alternatives.  For example, I might find a location is better or worse than expected and need to adjust.  At this point I work through expected drive times to each location, how long I expect to be in a location, and when I need to leave and move to he next stop.  I don’t want to be rushed, but I don’t want to miss key stops because I spent too much time in a location without a good reason.   One good tool for planning images is The Photographers Ephemeris.  This app for iOS and Android provides sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset data overlaid on a map.  This is a great tool to plan specific angles for your images.

Invariably, you lay out an itinerary and expected times and decide that things need to be shifted around.  It’s far better to make those decisions in advance and adjust accordingly than to be scrambling onsite.  Often I need to switch the order of certain days.  I might build in extra time to account for weather.  On a trip to Maine to photograph puffins, I planned and booked two days to the same location knowing that rough seas and weather could easily disrupt plans.  I got lucky and ended up with two days of shooting, while a friend traveling later that week had his trip cancelled.

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Image ideas

Lots of photographers use Flickr to get an idea of typical images from a location.  I don’t – the quality of images on Flickr tends to be very mixed and you have to look at lots of images to get to the good ones.  500px and others are similarly of mixed quality.  Google maps again comes in handy because it is possible to see photos with specific location data overlaid on a map.  Instead, I tend to use stock agency sites such as Getty, Shutterstock, and even regional stock agencies like KAC Productions.  The amount of time I spend here depends a lot on the location.  I want a general idea of a location – for example – what kind of mountains are their in the Badlands.  I may not have specific location detail, but at least get an idea of successful images for an area.  Finally – I tend to look at images from other photographers – particularly well known photographers in the area.


Restaurants and Lodging

A trip is not complete without some perspective on food and lodging.  You might be camping – but you need a campsite.  Tripadvisor.com is a good source for food and lodging recommendations.  I use the TripAdvisor app for my iPhone to find good recommendations in the field.  I like to eat well when I travel, and finding good restaurants within my budget is part of the planning process.  Don’t forget to check seasonal hours and closing times since your choices can be very limited when you return to town after a sunset shoot.

Closing Thoughts

It’s great when a plan comes together.  A couple of years ago we planned a personal trip to Venice that included photography.  But by exploring the area, we found a wonderful wine region just to the north – the Prosecco region.  Our research turned up a 100 year old winery and farm that provided lodging.  Not only did we enjoy exploring the food and wine of the region, but we got some great photos.  Including this scene from the window of our room one rainy morning.

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