Taking a beautiful photograph involves a lot more than just showing up somewhere and pushing a button! From equipment to composition, each decision has a big impact on what kind of image you end up with, but perhaps the biggest decisions take place well before you take the photo. In fact, I would say how well you prepare for a photo is perhaps the key difference between a great photo and a “just okay” one.
So the question is then – how should you plan for photography? There are a lot of different things to consider here, but I’d like to share a few tips to help you better plan for yourself. These are some of the main things I do for my own preparation certainly, so I hope it will benefit you!
#1 – Digital Scouting
When possible, in-person location scouting is much more fruitful for photography, but if you’re taking a cross-continental or trans-oceanic flight to get somewhere this may not be an option. Thankfully we live in the digital age so it’s possible to scout some from your own home. The main resources I use are Google, 500px, and Flickr. You might expect that I would start with 500px or Flickr, but it’s important to note I’m not looking for photo ideas with these tools but information about the place. It doesn’t matter if the photo is a snapshot from a point-and-shoot as long as it tells me something about what to expect when I get to the location. For that reason I usually start with a basic search in Google or a browse through Google Maps. Especially with street view and satellite imagery, there’s a lot you can tell in advance. From there I will move on to Flickr or 500px. 500px has incredible images more consistently, but Flickr’s photo map is more useful in my experience. Again, I’m not looking to find an image I can copy – that’s not my goal! – rather I want to find information about the location so I can prepare to make my own photo using my own composition and techniques.
#2 – Photo Maps
One of the most important tools I use when preparing for a trip is Google’s My Maps. With this tool you can create your own individualized maps, complete with custom icons, links to information, and much more. I don’t use this for short day outings, but for longer trips it can come in very handy. For example, when taking a 3 week trip to visit family in New England, I knew I’d want to do lots of shooting in the area. However, I’m not a New England native, so there’s a lot I don’t know and too many places to remember, and this is where making custom maps really helped me out. First I went through and found any location that interested me within a reasonable distance of where I would be staying. As the time neared for the trip, I made another map that narrowed down my priority locations. Using notes, icons, and marker lists, I was able to categorize the locations according to my needs. This saved me a lot of time while in the area, and ultimately allowed me to get some great photos with relative ease.
#3 – Photography Planning Apps
Another tool I’ve come to use regularly for photographic planning is an app called Photo Pills. This is an app that helps you plan your shots by giving you detailed information about a variety of elements such as sunrise/sunset direction and times, magic hour, milky way visibility, and much more. There are various apps of this nature, but in my experience Photo Pills is the best. It has a clean interface and plenty of tutorials to learn how to use it. One of my favorite parts of this app is the AR (Augmented Reality) option. This tool mixes the information within the app with what your phone’s camera can see, allowing you to see, for example, precisely where the sun will rise or set over a range of mountains in front of you. I’ve used this app on a number of different occasions, and highly recommend it for planning.
#4 – Weather Forecasts
This one may seem simple enough, but when you don’t pay attention you’ll learn quickly how important it really is. It’s good to have an idea of what kind of weather you’re facing when planning for photography, and to understand how those conditions will affect the types of photos you can take. For example, when shooting waterfalls during the daytime, overcast conditions are often best, as it gives even lighting and reduces glare among other things. Or as another example if you’re wanting to shoot stars or the milky way during a trip, and only one night during the trip will be clear, you better know that so you can plan to shoot on that night. There is a veritable sea of weather services out there, so it’s easy to get this kind of information.
These are some of the most important tips I can offer for planning your photography outings. How well you plan can have a great impact on what kind of photos you ultimately get, so make sure to include planning in your photographic workflow. It’s true that we all get lucky from time to time and hit things exactly right without any planning, but don’t count on that. Most photos that look like they came from being “in the right place at the right time” were taken by someone who planned to be in the right place at the right time.
Do you have any tips you’d like to add? How do you plan for your photography outings? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!