Research, research, research! Before you head out on a photography trip, always research three things:
1) The best location to get the shot you want.
2) The best time of day to get the shot you want.
3) The weather!
I’ll offer a little insight into these three things and a few other things that will help you get that shot you want for the living room wall.
The Best Location:
There are a ton of places to research you location. I’ll try to help you make sense of some of the best means available to you.
Online Research – The first thing I do whenever I know I’m going somewhere is search Google Images for ideas. I don’t like to copy what’s already done, but I do like to find ideas, approaches and the best light. Then, it’s off to Google Maps to lock in on the location. Doing this will provide you with detailed driving directions, road conditions and road types. You don’t want to drive your nice car for 15 miles down a rutted out dirt road. Also, if where you want to go is on private property, find the owner and give them a shout to make sure it’s okay for you to be there. Posted property can often times land you in trouble with local law enforcement, or get you forced off the land by the owner. It only takes a moment to ask. My personal tip here – don’t go on private land.
Another site worth checking is 500px.com. This site provides some incredible photos and often numerous stories, locations and often times even maps.
After that, I’ll check Flickr.com and do the same type of search. Often Flickr users will connect their photo to a map and you’ll be able to see exact locations.
Look for local camera clubs. Generally camera club members are awesome resources, find their page and go from there. Usually there will be contact information on their pages.
Lastly, hire a local guide by searching ‘photography guides’ in the city/area you are planning to shoot. This will cost you a few dollars, but it will be money well spent.
Local Research – Asking locals is a great way to find hidden gems and perfect locations for your sunrises, sunsets or whatever it is you are looking for.
Pick up local maps and guides at the visitor center or the chamber of commerce office in the city/town you are visiting. They often present great locations and fun spots to check out.
Barnes and Noble and Amazon have great travel photography sections. I have several books on photographing the Great Southwest, Northwest and Yellowstone. I have marked and remarked numerous pages throughout these books and find them to be something you cannot do without.
Though I mentioned this in the ‘online research’ it is worth mentioning again. If you have a few bucks to spare, hire a local guide or local photographer to take you around to the best spots. Often, these types of photographer guides are available for full and half day trips.
Just get in the car and drive! You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve been heading to one location and spot another that has an incredible view, or I just see something on the side of the road or down the next turn. Take time to look around your surroundings. Don’t put on blinders to get from point A to point B…you’ll miss life!
The Best Time To Shoot:
All photographers will tell you the best time to shoot is either early morning or late evening, catching the ‘Golden Hour’. This is 100% true! But when is that exactly? Well, depends on where you are. The sun does not rise and set in the same spot at the same time every day…it moves! Imagine that!
I utilize a number of apps to help me with the specifics. Most lock on to where I am, based on the phone’s GPS. Here are just a few:
The Photographer’s Ephemeris (available on iOS and Android) – This little jewel is about $5, but well worth it! TPE is a map-centric sun and moon calculator: see how the light will fall on the land, be it day or night, for almost anywhere on earth. It is Ideal for landscape, nature, travel and outdoor photographers, TPE’s map-based approach means you can search for any place by name on the planet or position the map pin exactly where you want it. Advanced features include: automatic time zone and elevation detection, correction for atmospheric refraction and height above the horizon. You can even determine when the sun or moon will be visible from behind nearby hills and mountains.
Sunrise & Sunset – This is a free app on the Google Play store. Calculates when dawn, sunrise, sunset and dusk occurs, depending on location and time of year. A unique feature in this app is the graph view - this can e.g. be very useful for educational purposes.
National Park Maps – Available on most Android and iOS phones, various National Parks provide detailed maps, photos, ‘scenic’ views and more. Many are free, some cost around $1-$2. So very reasonable. Most of these also provide hiking maps.
Planit! For Photographers – This app has two versions, one is free the other is $5.99, and it is outstanding. Ansel Adams dedicates the beginning of his first book "Taos Pueblo" to visualization. He introduced the idea of "previsualization", which involved the photographer imagining what he wanted his final print to look like before he even took the shot. Of course there are many great photos which were taken impromptu. However, for landscape photographers, being able to previsualize the scene before going there will greatly reduce the chance of being caught unprepared and will greatly increase the chance of getting better shots. Photographers use various tools to help them pre-visualizing the scene. Nowadays, many of those tools are phone apps. PlanIt! is all-in-one solution that is designed to leverage the map and simulated viewfinder technologies (VR, AR etc.) to provide the necessary tools for photographers to pre-visualize the scene in combination with the Sun, Moon, Stars and Milky Way.
Phases of the Moon – This app is free and is great for knowing the phase of the moon. Why does that matter? Well, if you want to shoot the Milky Way or create star trails you can’t do that very well if the moon is out and in its full glory! his app has all the data you need including Moon rise/set times, illumination, Moon phase name , zodiac location and the distance to the Moon, all in a beautiful, elegant app that's fun to use. It's even got a monthly calendar so you can see what the Moon will look like over the months.
Star Tracker – This is another free app, It's the mobile planetarium in your pocket, designed for astronomy fans to explore the universe. Just hold up and point your device at the sky and StarTracker will tell you exactly what stars, constellations and deep sky objects you are looking at in realtime. Full utilization of the build-in gyroscope, digital compass and accelerometer drive the best user experience. It is great for seeing what is up when you are.
Mother Nature doesn’t always play well with others. Always research the weather and dress accordingly. And by that, I mean be prepared for the conditions both going to your shoot and leaving from your shoot.
In the desert, it may be 80-90 degrees on your hike in, but the temp drops considerably when the sun goes down. You may be walking back to your car in 40-50 degree weather. Make sure you know not just what the weather is now, but what it will be 5 hours from now.
On a personal note, cloudy doesn’t always mean bad. I recently was on the Oregon coast, it was very cloudy and a little hazy too. But, the sun dropped below the clouds right at the horizon and we were rewarded with an incredible sky. The image is above, that's why don’t give up, hang in there and you are likely to get awesome colors and an image that you will be extremely proud of.
Utilize Weather.com for your forecast, I have found it to be more reliable that most local stations. It can be accessed on your phone and on your laptop.
If there are thunderstorms in the forecast, make sure your hiking trail is not in or alongside a river or stream, even a dry riverbed will become flooded in seconds. Remember, it doesn’t have to be raining where you are for a flash flood to hit where you are. Water runs downhill and very, very quickly.
Be alert to lightning strikes, hail, and other severe weather forecasts. If you decide to chance it, remember to practice safety first. That lightning shot isn’t worth a trip to the ER.
Research, research, research! Have the trip of your life, but know where you’re going!
I am privileged to be an award winning photographer that has been photographing the great outdoors for more than 30 years. I travel often for work, and pleasure, so I hope to share a few things I've learned along the way!
"A portrait is more than a photograph, it is a reflection of your soul, a stolen moment in time that only happens once and that is why your portrait is so important, you will never be in that moment again." Jeff Driver
“I've never taken a photograph of someone and created a persona, I've just discovered what was already there.” Anthony Farrimond
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