No matter where your skill level as a photographer might sit, I would encourage you to make sure and schedule a handful of photo trips a year. Now, these trips do not have to be a 6 month tour of the Natural Wonders of the World or a laborious grueling hike of the Appalachian Trail. They can be an afternoon at a local park, a simple trip to the local botanical gardens, or a lazy weekend drive thought the local country side. The point is to get out and have some scheduled photo time to experience the world through your camera’s eye. Get the creative juices flowing and develop your skills. So what is the best way to plan one of these trips?
1) Location, Location, Location
This is an obvious one of course. You need to have an idea of where or what you want to shoot. You can pick a weekend destination nearby, schedule a trip to a city you have always wanted to visit or take a photo walk through a local park. It really doesn’t matter, but pick something that interests you. Often times it is good to choose based on the type of photography you like to shoot. If you like vast sweeping landscapes, you could take a trip to Yosemite National Park in California. On the other hand, if you really enjoy macro photography, hit a local garden and focus on those detailed close-ups of the flowers. Do a little research and investigate based on your interests.
Once your location is set, do a little planning for the trip. Pack a lunch or snack for a day trip. Bring plenty of water. Check the weather and make sure you have appropriate clothing to wear for changing conditions. If the location is somewhere well-known, check to see if there are any photos online from other photographers to help give you some ideas. Investigate whether or not certain things shoot best at sunrise, mid-day, or at sunset. I actually learned this one the hard way during a trip to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I missed out on a classic sunrise shot at Mesa Arch where the sun comes up and illuminates the arch with a spectacular golden glow. I was too busy about a half mile down the road trying to take a not so amazing shot of a canyon. This was one of my first photo trips and I definitely fell victim to poor planning.
Make a list of the equipment you want to have with you. If you have done sufficient pre-planning you already probably have an idea of what you might need. Obviously, bring your camera. Depending on what you are shooting, decide what lenses you want to have in your pack. Always bring a tripod. This list will be different for everyone, but make sure you have what you need with maybe a few extras. Bring a circular polarizer or a neutral density filter if you think you might need it. If you are shooting wildflowers or other macro subjects a 5-in-1 reflector can be handy to diffuse the sun, use as a wind block, or even as a background in a pinch. I always tend to look at equipment in three different ways. First, there a times when I like to channel my inner Sherpa and carry everything I could possibly need so as to have all the flexibility possible in shooting (I usually pay for this in back pain for several days post trip). Second, sometimes I like to limit myself to a single lens and minimal equipment to challenge my photography skills and force me to get creative and think outside the box. Thirdly, I try to consider how far I will be hiking, walking, etc…, to help me gauge how much I actually want to carry. All this gear can get heavy and you don’t want exhaustion getting in the way of your fun.
The best way to enjoy a photo trip is to share it with someone who has the same passion for photography as you do. Schedule and plan together. Maybe you can plan to share some equipment so you can lighten the load you have to carry. Additionally, as you set-up and take each photo, discuss your composition, camera settings and ideas. This is a phenomenal way to improve your photography and get new perspectives on creativity. Everyone has there own strengths and you will be surprised at what you can learn by shooting with friends. Finally, it is worth mentioning that not only will you learn a lot about photography, but by sharing the experience with someone, you learn a lot about life and friendship as well.
5) Taking It All In
It is of critical importance to note that most of the time when we go out to photograph something, we are capturing a magically, majestic bit of scenery or a quaint, quiet moment of solitude. DO NOT forget to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. After all, it is not always about the photos. Life is also about experiencing the moment and making sure you slow down enough to breath in the atmosphere. Smell the flowers, feel the ice cold water of a stream, or watch the captivating movements of a larger Elk grazing in a meadow. This planet and the life it maintains are truly amazing. Make sure you take in the whole experience. A memory of a moment after all is just as good as a photo.
6) Print It
Admittedly, I am notoriously awful about not printing my photos. In fact, my fellow Shutterhog, Neal is probably enjoying the irony of me telling you to print your photos. You spent the time going through all the planning and experiences of the trip, so you should pick some of your favorite shots, edit them to taste, and get them printed. Make a small album for the coffee table or hang several on the wall. Either way, a visual altar will allow you to remember the great time and wonderful experience you had on the trip. As you do this more and more you will also get to observe your own work and how you are improving or changing your style over time. This can be very rewarding, at least that is what people tell me. Actually, one of my goals for 2013 is to accomplish this very feat.
Taking regular photo trips can be a stimulating and fun way to improve your skills as a photographer and experience some captivating vistas. They are relaxing, fun, and a great way to socialize with other aspiring photo enthusiasts. So, Spring is rapidly approaching and none of us are getting any younger. Go ahead and get some ideas and planning together. Nature awaits and your camera wants some exercise.