Edward Mendes: Want to take better pictures? Do some research.
In my last post I wrote about the importance of visiting new places and the creative spark experiencing something for the first time can bring you. Packing up the car and heading somewhere new or rarely visited helps me stay out of the creative rut many photographers may find themselves in.
As photographers it’s important to realize that our desire to explore a new place goes beyond simply being there, our creative souls aren’t really filled unless we can capture what we experience on film or in the 1’s and 0’s that make up the world of digital capture. It’s often difficult to capture impactful images in places new to you. During your initial visit to an area you may feel overwhelmed and have a difficult time deciding the best places to photograph during the right light. That’s where research and being prepared comes into place and is really one of the major areas that start to separate the professional from the rest of the pack.
Before each and every trip I consume myself in research, gathering every bit of information regarding the area I’m going to visit as I can. The point of doing this is to become as familiar with the area as possible before I go. Knowing where possible shooting locations are, how to get to them, travel times, whether they are sunrise or sunset locations, hiking times and more greatly increases my chance of coming away with successful images. This level of preparation allows me to start making decisions as to the most important locations I want to photograph during both sunrise and sunset, which are the times of the day I create most of my images.
In addition to possible shooting locations I take a lot of time researching every aspect of the trip I can think of, this includes local motels and restaurants in the area I’ll be staying, maps of the local area and driving directions to and from anywhere I think I may visit along my route. I also include important information such as phone numbers and website information to area attractions such as state and national parks and monuments, weather conditions and sunrise and set times among other things. If a tour or guide is required to access a certain area I make sure to have my pre-arranged meeting information along with information and reviews on a number of alternative guides just in case it becomes necessary to change plans.
One of the most important aspects of preparing yourself for a photographic trip is image research, looking at the work of other photographers from the area you’ll be visiting. For myself viewing images from the area gives me a visual reference for locations during the season I’ll be visiting and under different lighting conditions that I may see during my trip. It’s these visual references that help me determine if a subject may be better during sunrise or sunset or overcast conditions. As an added benefit much more than information can be gathered from viewing the work of other talented artists. The inspiration that you derive from seeing beautiful images from the destination you’re headed to can help motivate you to get up and shoot when that alarm clock gets you rising well before the light of the sun does.
Putting it all together
The final depository for all this information is my “guide”, which is what I call the multi-page booklet I create before each and every trip I take. In my guide is every piece of information I’ve gathered during the preceding days, weeks or months leading up to the trip. Along with all my locations, phone numbers, maps, permits and listings are also my travel schedule, hotel information and anything else I may need during my time creating images. These guides have everything I’ll need during the trip and are so full of useful information I’m thinking about publishing them.
The research and time I put into each and every photographic trip I take has helped me greatly increase my chances for coming away with a higher percentage of successful images during any given trip I take. This is something that certainly wasn’t the case before I started creating my personal travel guides. Below is a selection of some of my favorite websites, the ones that I use for virtually every trip I take. It’s by no means a complete list of every resource I use, many are specific to the place I’m going to be visiting, however it’s the sites I use that usually get me going and often lead me to new places. I encourage you to take some time before your next photography trip and become as familiar as possible with the location you’ll be visiting and I’m willing to bet you’ll start coming home many more images in your “keeper” folder.
- Google Images – A great resource for image references
- www.Flickr.com – Another wonderful place to find image references
- www.nps.gov - The online home of the national parks service
- www.almanac.com – Sunrise and Sunset times for anywhere in the US
- www.wunderground.com – Great place to find hourly and extended forecast
- www.accuweather.com – My new favorite place to find both extended forecast and pretty accurate hourly forecast while in the field.
- www.mapquest.com – Need directions? Map Quest is the place to find them.
- www.maps.google.com – Directions and Maps.
- Google Earth – I use Google Earth to “scout” locations before I ever actual see them.
- www.photographamerica.com – Written and distributed by Robert Hitchman for over 20 years the Photography America newsletters are some of the best resources available for photographers researching new places to visit.
- www.Hotelguides.com – A great place to start your search for lodging. A very comprehensive list of area lodging options complete with rates, reviews, photos and maps.
- www.naturescapes.net – Landscape and nature photography forums, a great place to ask a question and get a well-informed answer.
- www.photo.net – Another forum based website with a well-informed and eager to answer membership.