When you are on a trip, time is usually limited and you do not want to waste it. Ever felt that you were running everywhere to capture the shot? Maybe you were just not prepared as much as you could have been.
I have always been a big planner and I have always prepared my trips. But the way I do it has drastically changed over the last years and I feel I am a lot more efficient now. As an example, I did two road trips of similar length in recent years. On the latest trip, I was able to photograph four times more sunrises and sunsets than on the previous one, mainly due to a much better preparation.
Whether you are visiting a city or a national park, preparing a trip will allow you to maximize the time you spend visiting and shooting. And that’s important for your portfolio, and for your wallet.
A very important benefit of scouting is that when you are on location, you do not have to worry about directions or being late. You can take your time and focus on photography alone in order to get the best shot possible.
All of the above make scouting locations a key part of landscape and cityscape photography. And today, internet provides most of the tools that you need! Here are several ways to prepare your upcoming trip.
My first step is usually to go on social media to search for images from the location. My favorite places are Google+ and 500px. They both offer great search engines and outstanding images. When I find a great picture, I try to find the exact location, using search engines or by contacting the photographer.
The photography community
I contact local photographers (usually via Google+) to get advice and to try to meet with them when possible. I also research photography ebooks on the city or the region I will be visiting. For example, I used the awesome ebook by Chris Smith for my trip to Chicago.
Local websites and maps
The official website of the location can help to, especially for practical stuff like where to find food and lodging. This is especially true for National Parks, which also include maps. I always have a park map with me, whether I got it from the website or from the visitor center. These maps include a lot of things that are not on Google Maps!
There are many apps and websites that can help you decide the best time to visit, depending many parameters, such as light, time of the year, weather, etc…
- The Photographer Ephemeris helps find out where the sun will be at a specific location and time. This is great to know when to go to a location, if it is better at sunrise or at sunset, etc. There is a free desktop app and paid mobile apps (it’s worth it!).
- Weather applications are handy to fine tune your trip depending on the current weather conditions. It allowed me be in Bryce Canyon on a morning with fresh snow last year. I usually use The Weather Network when in Canada and AccuWeather when in the U.S. or in Europe.
- There are several other sites that offer more precise information about the weather (radar, etc.). My favorite one is SkippySky Astro-Weather Forecast. It works in North America, Europe and Australia.
- Stellarium is a desktop app that allows you to see the night sky for a specific location and time. This is great for astrophotographers, helping you decide on the best time to photograph the night sky.
- Dark Sky Finder will help you find the best spots to photograph the night sky without light pollution (in North America)
If you have more useful apps like these, please share in the comments!
Google Maps, and most specifically the satellite view and the street view, is one of my most important tools, especially for cities. Google Maps allows me to see locations and check specific vantage points. It is also great for directions and for using transit.
Scouting locations will strongly improve your trip, making more relaxed and more focused on photography. However, you should also be flexible and adapt your trip to the weather and unexpected things. That’s the beauty of landscape photography, you cannot know what is going to happen!