5 Questions to Ask when Planning a Photography Trip
There are literally hundreds of blog articles about planning for a photography outing or trip. Yea, really, just google it. It’s amazing.
But for me, I just abide by these five questions, and typically once I have answered these questions I am all set to go out and take some awesome photographs!
The first question I ask is “Where am I going to go?” I find that this is the first critical question I always ask myself before I begin planning.
The second question I ask is “What am going to Photograph?” I begin to develop what I call my ‘shot list.’
The third question I ask is “The Time of Day?” Am I going to shot in the morning, for sunrise, in the middle of the day, or at sunset and evenings?
The fourth question I ask about “Equipment?” What do I bring? What do I leave behind?
And the last question is “Arrangements?” Do I need to obtain permits? Do I have to make flight reservations, or car reservations or hotel reservations?
Where to Go?
This is the most difficult part of planning any kind of photography trip! No matter where we live, there are locations we can go and visit that would enable us to capture some beautiful photography.
When I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I had the options of going to the Blue Ridge Parkway to the west, head out to the beach itself (there are a number of beaches right there in Virginia Beach), or head south and visit the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina. All were only from a few minutes upwards to a couple of hours.
I am sure that if you look around where you live, that there are places you can visit or begin planning for a visit. Whether it is close by or far away, just deciding where to go to photograph landscapes is a major decision.
One thing I do when I travel to places is to pick up some books. I can often find hiking books either for hikers or if I am lucky, for photographers!
So here are a couple of books I have used and am currently beginning to use in my planning. I use these books to figure out where to go and explore and hopefully come back with some great photographs!
This book, Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway by Nye Simmons, is perhaps the best photographer’s book of where to go along the Blue Ridge Parkway to capture some great photographs. It was my ‘bible’ of sorts when I was figuring out locations along the Blue Ridge to photograph. He tells you what mile marker each feature is located at which goes a long to help you on hikes and places near the parkway itself. Definitely a very helpful book!
A new book for me is Hiking and Exploring the Paria River by Michael Kelsey. This book is dense, and it has a lot of helpful notes about getting around the various areas it covers. It is helpful to understand what is required to reach many of these locations noted in the book.
So when you visit a location for the first time, check out stores such as local country stores or bookstores, you will often be able to find books that will be geared toward the photographer or at least the hiker and you can use these resources to help you plan for where to go on your next trip.
And these are just two books of the dozen or so I have on hiking and photography locations. They are invaluable resources for me in my planning.
What to Photograph?
This is the second most important question, “what to photograph?”. Let’s say that I am going to go the Paria River Plateau. This is good, I know where I am going to go. But what am I going to photograph once I get there? There are literally hundreds of views and features at my disposal. But before I go, I need to have in a sense, an itinerary, what I call my ‘shot list.’
A shot list is a list of those shots I want to get when I arrive to my planned location. This is largely determined by research. For me it is a combination of both reading books, and looking at Google Maps and seeing the images others have posted. This gives me an idea of locations in the area I am going to be going to figure out what I want to take photographs of.
So for the Paria River area, I would like to go and visit the Tee Pees section and I’d like to go to the famous Wave. These are located in an area called Coyote Buttes North. Of course, in reading I discover that I need to get a permit to photograph the Wave, or if I am lucky, to do a walk in and get a permit at that point.
So I begin to develop my shot list, and what some of the special requirements maybe for me to visit these locations. I am at this point heavily into my planning!
Time of Day?
So the next question – which is critical question for any photographer – is what time of day to arrive on location and take photographs? For the wave, it is difficult as you have permit issues and just can’t show up like most locations.
The majority of the photographs I have seen are during the daylight hours, and most of the photographs are not dramatic landscapes but are more close up shots of features of the landscape. If I was to venture a guess, the mid to late afternoon would perhaps be the best time for me to arrive and photograph. But I won’t know that for certain until I go to visit.
Sunset shot taken at Cape Royal on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I planned on being at Cape Royal for sunset, and it didn’t disappoint me!
But other locations are easier. On the east coast of the United States and what to take sunrise photographs at the beach. Check. On the west coast and what to take sunset photographs at the beach. Check.
Dawn along Sandbridge Beach, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Other locations, I would search and read websites of other photographers who have made the visit to the location and see what they suggest.
This for me is a critical question as I have a lot of equipment and I don’t need to bring it all!
So, if I am planning a trip to the Wave, I know that my wide angle lens are perhaps not going to get as much of a workout as my telephoto lens will. I have a 14mm and a 16-32mm, so I will leave my 14mm home, I don’t need it. I will bring my 70-200mm and my 24-70mm. I will most likely leave my TS-E 24mm but bring my TS-E 45mm. I have other lens as well, and this might be a great location for my 100mm.
So I look at all my lens and begin to cull out what I don’t need to bring and what I most likely will want to bring.
I will also consider the location. As it is Northern Arizona, it is hot and dry desert, so I will bring my camera bag with the camelback water bag built into it. This will make it easier to carry both water and camera equipment. I will also bring my first aid kit and some flashlights and a head lamp. I might plan on staying until after dark (if it is permitted) for some star trails.
Other things to consider are camping equipment? Do I bring my tent and sleeping bag? Do I need food and water and an extra gas can with gas? Driving in the desert through sand glups gas like you wouldn’t believe!
Anyways, you get the sense of what this step in the process is about, figuring out what to bring and what you don’t need to bring!
In the example of heading to the Wave, I know that I need to get a permit, either through the online or walk in for the next day. Secondly, I will need a 4WD vehicle as the road to Coyote Buttes North (the area of the Wave) is a sandy dirt road that is rough in places. I might make it in a 2WD, but most likely I won’t. So I won’t try.
Remember, this is a location that only 20 people a day visit. If you stay late, you may be the only person for miles. I will have to plan for an overnight camping trip to really maximize my time at the wave.
For your trip, you may have to plan for airfare, or maybe a rental or both. Maybe you will need hotel rooms, or perhaps you will camp out? All these need to be taken into consideration when making your plans. Nothing is worse than going someplace and scrambling at the last minute because of no plans.
There are a number of times I have ‘car camped’ because there were no rooms at the only lodge in the area for 60 miles! And all because I did’t plan. If you are OK with car camping, it is fine, but I am getting to that age where it is less and less exciting!
Anyways, these are the basic questions I always ask when beginning to get the itch to take a trip somewhere and take some amazing photographs. I always begin by asking the question of where do I want to go?
Followed up by what am I going to be taking pictures of?
This then leads me to the time of day I want those pictures taken? Do I want sunset, sunrise, or do I have to live with midday?
And then there is always the question of what do I bring for equipment – both camera and hiking or camping equipment!
Then there are the accommodation questions, do I have to fly? Am I renting a car or a 4WD vehicle? Am I camping out or am I spending my evenings in a hotel room?
These are just the basic questions anyone should ask when beginning to plan for a photography trip! Happy travels!
About the Author
Back in 1982, my Air Force roommate was in desperate need of some cash, and he had a camera. And I was in the market for a camera as I had TDY (Temporary Duty) orders for Cyprus and was looking for a good camera to take with me. So over some beers and some negotiations with my roommate (and a few hundred dollars later), I found that I had become the owner of a brand spanking new Canon AE-1 camera with an assortment of lens, including a Canon 50mm, a 35mm lens, as well as a telephoto lens. Fast forward to today, and I am now an owner of a Canon 5D Mark II (looking to upgrade, but waiting to see if Sony comes out with a 'A9' before I upgrade) and a bunch of Canon glass and I am primarily a landscape photographer. Yea, that means that I get up before the sun rises and am out after the sun sets. Makes for interesting times! Thank you for joining me on this photographic journey and hope to hear from you!