8 Tips for Preparing Your Next Photo Trip

Cameras, batteries, chargers and memory cards. Books, research, surfing the internet. A closer look at preparing your photo trip, wherever you may go.

1. Read the travel guides
At any stage of the trip, and particularly at the planning stage, printed travel guides are indispensable. Not a single guide is complete; each guide offers its own interpretation of the country. Although every guide to Paris will bring you to the Eifel Tower, some will have you arrive in a limo and others will let you walk the local ‘quartier’ before you arrive. There are guides for cultural trips, adventure trips, or backpacker trips. (Un)fortunately, there are no particular guides for photographers, so for now, we’ll group those under the different types of travelers above. You could be a cultural photographer, an adventure photographer, a wildlife photographer or, maybe more general, a travel photographer.
140817-Cambodia-Buddha-cave2. Research the internet
In addition to studying several types of guidebooks, the internet is obviously a huge source of information. Travel guides are usually researched and updated every few years, while information on the internet is often more up to date, but not necessarily more reliable. What I often do, as when asking for directions in say, India, is read an odd number of sources so at least a majority of them will point me in the right direction. You can often find me searching Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum, or Trip Advisor.

3. Look at photos from others
To fill the image bank in my head with inspiring material, I enjoy looking at the works of other photographers. This gives me clues as to which sites could be interesting for photography, but also what is possible at the various locations and what has not been done before. For photographers, there is a constant challenge to expand their creative palette, and also to add something new to the existing range of images. Typing in the name of a location on a Google image search can often lead to disappointing results: since the majority of images posted are not necessarily photographically ‘interesting’, you’ll have to wade through many uninspiring images before hitting on a great one. Better to have the first selection done for you!

I often start my searches at Getty Images, or Alamy, but I also like to look at more journalistic work from the location, such as the iPad app TRVL.

140817-China-Beijing-Mao-photography4. Look at your own photos
A fun thing to do is to look through your own photos every once in a while. The following exercise is useful, whether you are currently in the process of preparing a phototrip or not. Take out a piece of paper and go through all your photos. As you go through them, note which categories of photos you take and mark them in columns on the piece of paper. For example: portraits, architecture, animals, landschape but also more specifically stylistic themes such as shallow depth of field, motion blur, overexposed, colour, black and white. Then, check off how many photos you take in each category. This exercise will give you an insight into your own photographic preferences, but also you photographic blind spots: things you consistently avoid, for whatever reason.

5. Create a shoot list
All this research eventually leads to a shoot list, a list of locations I would like to explore and photos I would like to make. During the photography itself, this list serves as a guide: I can see what I shot already, what I still need to shoot and whether the various subjects are sufficiently represented in my work. Often, during a trip, I will add to the shoot list: I am always carrying a note book to jot down new ideas and work out others. In addtion to the shoot list, I work with a wish list. This is a list with some more creative ideas which I have not yet seen and which are often technically more complicated to realize.

140817-Jordan-Umm-Fruth-night6. Check the position of sun and moon
To waste as little time as possible timing my presence in the right locations on the ground, I use the app The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This app allows me to determine the rising and setting times of the sun and the moon at my location. But in addition, the app shows me from which direction the sun or moon light will come at my position, so that I know where to be for unobstructed views.

With all of this optimized, the only factor that I cannot control is the weather: I’ll just have to work with it. By observing local weather patterns and predictions, one can get a fair idea of what possible on which day.
140817-Tibet-Lhasa-Jokhang7. Create an equipment checklist
With all of the above taken into account, it is time for the last list, the equipment check list. Depending on the gear you have, you can divide this last into several categories. An example of those categories could be the following:
– cameras
– lenses
– power (batteries, chargers, power supplies)
– storage (cards, laptop, image bank, external drive)
– light (flash, light modifiers)
– filters
– tripods
– cleaning gear
– cables
– sundries (plastic bags, tools, Swiss Army knife, torch)

My check list is expanded with every trip. I’d like to keep an overcomplete checklist; I might not take it all, but at least I know I have considered taking it or not. Of course, I make sure all is insured, it’s not all that difficult to drop your camera in the Dead Sea!
140817-Jordan-Dead-Sea-Float8. And finally: go with the flow!
All this meticulous preparation is quite important, but it does not mean there is no room for inspiration on the spot. If I meet someone who knows a great cave, a lovely litte shop, a great view point or whatever may be of interest, I’m very happy to go with the flow and see where I might end up. My favourite moments on a photo trip are most often the result of contact with the local people, and they are still my favourite guides!

Enjoy your next photo trip!

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