Traveling to a new city or location is always exciting. Everything is new and different from what you’re used to. When you arrive with your camera in your hand, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to know what to start capturing. Planning for the known and the unknown is a great place to start. I’d like to unpack some of the things that have worked for me in the past!
Wrangling the unknowns
When picking a destination, it’s important to identify the things that you cannot control. These things include the weather, crowds and random closures of national parks, landmarks or businesses on a holiday, for example. Having a backup plan and alternate location ideas is a great start!
Weather sometimes isn’t your friend
I recently traveled to San Francisco and it rained for a few days and had foggy mornings. When I originally planned this trip a few months ago, there was no way I could predict the rain! I spent a lot of time in cafes and spent some days enjoying indoor spaces. I didn’t spend too much time taking photos. I enjoyed what I was able to see and do, and used the rain as a way to plan my next trip and edit some other photos.
When you’re planning your trip, the summer of the location can have extreme heat. It’s a good idea to know the general temperature of the location when you’re doing initial location scouting. When the afternoons were too hot, I took the time to relax in the shade or near some water instead of taking photos. The sunrise and sunset were the best time for photos, too!
Controlling the crowds
Typical tourist locations are popular for a reason. I generally stay away from tourist traps, but sometimes I can’t resist. Mornings are usually the best for a few reasons. The light is usually the best and most interesting during the early morning. You miss the harsh sunlight and the light is softer. You can sometimes get morning dew and a special glow around objects. The crowds are also the lightest when you visit an attraction that has just opened. Without the crowds, you have a few minutes with a place to yourself. I usually find this relaxing and very rewarding. On the contrary, embracing crowds can be equally as interesting.
I try to visit places during the off-season. I like the off-season because there are fewer crowds, but they’re an off-season for a reason, too. Sometimes the weather might not be the best or the conditions aren’t ideal. Because of this, a limited number of accommodations and restaurants are open. On one occasion, I encountered a time when a hike was closed off. Depending on the spot you are planning to visit, it’s a great idea to have a few backup activities.
Doing your research
There are a lot of different ways to find a great place to photograph. My approach has always been location first, then photography spots second. I’ll do my typical trip planning with my magic algorithm of cost per flights, accommodations and general affordability of the location. Once I’ve settled on a new location, I’ll start with some low-level “Googling” of the new location. I’ll move on to looking through Instagram geotag searches. I’ll pop over to Unsplash and do a search for that location. After I feel like I have some sufficient location data, I’ll star some locations that look cool on a Google Map.
Having a plan
If there’s one shot that you’re after, more planning might be required. If you’re in search of a perfect Milky Way shot or a specific sunrise, you may have to spend a few days at a single location. That is a different trip that I am usually used to planning. The same general principles apply! You may get some bad weather or have to try different angles before you’ve got it.
Prepare for surprises
Sometimes when you arrive at a location, you hear some new ways to approach a hike or find a different park or town that you didn’t think to expect. Be flexible! Talking with locals and the point-person at your accommodation is a great start. When I was traveling in Colombia, we received some advice to do a hike in reverse. Doing this let us have half the mountain to ourselves before the crowds started to come in. It was awesome! Locals have solid advice.