Time and time again I have been asked how I find places or decide where I am going when out on the road. Some don’t know where to start while others have trouble understanding how to plan the logistics beyond just finding the shooting location(s). Well, through a three-part series, I hope to try to answer some of those questions and give you a look at what planning workflow has worked for me over the years.
There are not going to be any fancy programs or specialty fee-based websites or apps. The basic requirements are internet access, email, and a document program such as Word. That’s it. If you have those, let me show you how to plan an amazing photography trip that will bring you adventure, photographic opportunities and many memories.
Part 1: Google – the most powerful tool for Traveling Photographers
The answer to almost any question can be summed up as “Google it” in today’s tech savvy world. Yet, many times, when faced with a multitude of questions, we have a hard time deciding which one to start with or determining what angle of the project should be attacked first.
Trip planning is no different and throwing in the additional considerations landscape and wildlife photographers must consider only adds to the initial chaos. So where to start?
Well, I like to start one of two ways. I’ll call them Passion or Price. The first thing one should do is determine the number one priority for your trip, be it for a long weekend or for a month-long expedition.
With Passion, the priority is to get the shots you are specifically wanting at that time. This does not mean that budget won’t play a role, but it does mean that you may be willing to have a larger budget or spend more time if it means you get the shot.
Considering Price first means that you have X amount you are currently willing to spend, and you want to go out and shoot. Completely doable especially if you are flexible with the subject you want to shoot.
Both considerations are also made easier if you know what your travel style is, so you are aware of what you will most likely require to be comfortable on the road. Check out this article to determine yours if you don’t already know your preference and the pros and cons associated with it.
Hopefully you have been noting in some form of list the locations you would like to shoot. If you have, then this is a great place to start. If not, I highly suggest you take some time to jot down potential places you want to photograph.
Either way though, I like to start by searching with a broad idea such as Googling “Best places to photograph in __________”. The blank could be a season or a month but start broad. From there Google will list articles that talk about the best places to photograph in X (season/month). Pick a few to read and see if they list any of the locations you already had a desire to visit. Maybe you want to be more specific and want to photography wildlife in spring. Then search for that.
Another way to search for potential locations, especially if you have narrowed down to a particular area or state, search for something along the lines of “landscape locations in northern California (or wherever you want to explore).” Then hit the Image tab and look through the images Google has populated. When you find some that draw your attention or see ones that show areas that would have good potential, visit the site and see if the webpage the image was pulled from says where the image was taken.
Once you have done several searches you should have a good idea of some spots that you would like to visit in a particular trip. Continue to narrow your search as much as you like or do additional searches for the locations you have found have potential such as if the first search was for northern California and you found Big Sur, then do a search for “photography spots in Big Sur” under the Image tab and that will start giving you an idea of the various images you can expect to find there.
This also helps you narrow down what trails or areas of larger parks you might be most interested in visiting to help manage your time better. Its one thing to say you are visiting the Grand Canyon, but if you only have a weekend what four spots are you going to visit for your two sunrises and two sunsets? Planning ahead saves you time in the field and helps ensure you are able to maximize your photography opportunities but giving you an outline to follow. That’s not to say once you are in the field plans can’t change, but this helps avoid that issue of sitting in the car asking yourself “ok, what now?” or having to scramble last minute to try and find a spot as the sun goes down.
Now if you are wanting to get away either overseas or across the country, most likely you are going to choose to fly. While there are lots of apps and third-party flight fare websites, Google Flights is a great starting point.
To start, when you first pull up the site, if Google already knows your home airport it will suggest low cost flight destination coming up in the next few months. Clicking on Explore Destinations will bring up even more suggestions usually in a wider range covering major airports across North America. Its at this time you can enter your proposed dates to see how those change the suggested options.
If you decide to start your search with flights or are open to going anywhere as long as it fits your budget, scroll the map on the Explore Destinations page out to show the entire globe. Then choose a date range like “1 week within the next 6 months.” That will give you suggested areas to consider for a cheap getaway.
If you know you want to try to get to South America in the next six months, you can zoom in over South America and see what countries the flights would be cheapest to with those parameters. Once you find a price you like, click on it to see what dates it covers. I then suggest using an incognito tab and searching with another flight search site such as Kayak to ensure you are getting the best deal.
Almost every smartphone out there now can run Google Maps. Within Google Maps, you can pin and save locations you want to visit, places you love, or places you want to share. These pins can be saved to be accessed from other mobile devices if you are signed into your Google account.
Google Maps can be used either in conjunction with the location hunting search or as an additional process after the locations have been found. I have used it both ways but typically use it while researching locations, so I can get a feel of what is located where in relation to the other points of interest I have annotated.
When working on a laptop or desktop, Google Maps has a great little feature to help photographers discover the landscape even further. There is a little yellow figure in the bottom right corner of the screen. If you take your mouse and right click-hold, you can drag that little figure out over the map. When you do this, blue dots will appear. Drop the figure on a dot and a picture will pop up to show you what it looks like if you are standing in that particular spot. Sometimes its only looking in one direction but many times it is a 360-degree view.
Many times, these dots are along trails or at scenic/photogenic spots. Using these can allow you to scout locations without ever leaving your desk. Its one thing to say you want to visit Morton’s Overlook in the Smoky Mountains, but its another thing to be able to say it looks like the best spot might actually be just to the left of the actual overlook area and a few steps down.
When trying to find areas that have not been shot yet such as where there might be undisclosed waterfalls, using Google Maps’ satellite view can be very helpful. It allows you to get an aerial view with quite a bit of detail to explore areas visually from above. So, follow that slot canyon or river or find the location on a lake that there might be a great dock reaching out into the water.
Lastly, Google Maps can also suggest points of interest, lodging, camping, and restaurants that surround the areas you have been researching. More on this aspect in next month’s article though.
Overall, Google, in my opinion, is the most powerful tool in the traveling photographer’s toolbox. It allows us to plan our trips, pre-scout locations, and explore new destinations without ever leaving our homes. It will even remind you when you are supposed to check into your hotels, catch a flight, or tell you what gate your flight is leaving from if you use a Google calendar and email. So next time you start planning a photography adventure, I suggest you start by just Goggling it.
Often the solo adventuress, Alyce Bender roams the globe, exploring Earth's natural beauty. Her images have been featured in galleries from New York to Florida, while her work as an international artist has been recognized from Japan to the U.K.
Bender is happiest in the field and passionate about sharing unique animals and environments from around the world in hopes of connecting people to the planet through imagery. She believes that connection is key to promoting environmental awareness and protecting vulnerable species and their habitats.
To see more of her work and articles, please visit: www.abenderphotography.com