I’m heading out this week for a very exciting trip. Truth be told I’m a little nervous. I’ve done a lot of traveling but this is an adventure a little outside of my comfort zone. 

I’ve done all I can do prepare the trip. My husband and I have made educated guesses and booked what we think are the best hotels, we’ve gotten our requisite shots, and made sure big brother credit card companies knows our travel itinerary so they won’t cut off our allowance. 

We’ve even purchased trip insurance and booked private cars from the airports – things we rarely do when we travel. 

But the trip is about photography so these are the things I’m doing  right now to prepare to make great photographs on my trip.

Off on a journey

Digital Scouting

My prep work for hotels included looking at where the hot photo spots are. I searched for things like “Best Photography in ….” and inserted every city we’d be visiting. I also searched for “Sunrise Photography in…” to dig down a little deeper to find those hidden spots. 

Unless you’re dropping into the back of beyond, someone will have a blog posting or TripAdvisor review about the best places for photography. 

There are some apps for this type of research as well: Fripito (for which I’m the author for St. Louis) and Locationscout are two.

I hope the plane we’re on is in better shape than this!

From my searches, I pin what interests me on a Google MyMap. When choosing hotels, we searched in the middle of the pins. I want to be staying where I want to photograph. 

What I haven’t done is an exhaustive search listing absolutely anything and everything. I don’t want to get overly tied to an itinerary, where I have to book every minute of every day just to get through my list. It’s a given that I can’t do everything so I choose fewer places and try to experience these more fully. 

I also didn’t look at too many photos of the places, just enough to give a feel of the place. I don’t want to be overly influenced by other photographers.

I’m making some notes to myself – opening times, notes about access picked up from the web – that sort of thing.

With the trip closing in, it’s time to think about packing.

Vintage suitcases.
Our luggage is a bit more modern than these vintage trunks.

Packing

Mark Twain famously said:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

I think of packing in the same way. I can either pack quickly or pack well. 

I want to pack well – which means light – for two reasons: 1) carrying lots of big bags through small, narrow, crowded streets is just inviting disaster and creates extra tension (and fatigue) and 2) I want to shop!

Granted, I don’t shop as much as I used to since I took up photography, but I’m sure I’ll want to bring back some exotica. I don’t want to worry excessively about where I’m going to pack my purchases. 

I’m giving some thought to what I wear. There’s some cultural considerations and I also don’t want to stand out too much. Americans tend to be a bit bright and loud in their dress (yes, we are!) compared to say Europeans. It’s not that I want to dress exactly like the locals, just make sure I don’t stand out too much in a crowd. I don’t want my attire to shout “TOURIST!” or “ROB ME!” My camera will shout loudly enough.

I also want to spend some time thinking about my camera gear – what I’m going to need – and what I’m not going to need. I emptied my camera bags and took anything out that I haven’t used recently. I’m trying to pack gear that I know well and know how to work with and around.

This is the gear I carry with me most days.

The tendency is to over-pack for an epic trip – taking everything just in case. The problem with this way of thinking is that gear adds up – in weight, in complexity, in the time it takes to find what you’re looking for when you need it.

I try and keep my kit simple.

Having said that, I don’t want to be without – it’s a fine line.

I’m also packing for redundancy so that if something does go wrong, my photos don’t suffer. There’s a saying – that I think I picked up from the TV show Expedition Unknown on the Travel Channel –

2 is 1 and 1 is none.

In other words, pack two of everything. When you’re on the road, 2 can easily become 1 and 1 can become none – for various reasons.

I remember having a panic attack in Italy because I didn’t think I had enough memory cards. I turned a corner and there was a camera shop – I took it as a sign and bought another SD card.

Italian street
It was on a street like this in Italy that I realized I may not be making photos very much longer if I didn’t get another SD card.

Even when traveling to a known destination like London where I should have no problem replacing anything in my camera bag, I don’t want to break off from my travels to go and find something I’m missing.

I spend some time packing my camera gear before a big trip because once I’m at my destination, I want to be able to get on with the artistic side of photography and not be fussing with the logistics and the gear.

As the trip approaches, I also need to prepare myself to take good photos. 

Mind Set

There’s a certain frame of mind I need to be in to travel happily and take good photos. 

I need to embrace the experience. I need to go into the experience open and be prepared for the unexpected. I want to meet people and use my camera to open the doors of interaction. I want to be open to exploration and discovery and not get too caught up in itineraries. 

I think I’ve already written about my experiences in Cuba – switching hats with a local youth playing dominoes in the street. The blue hat is mine – I got his Cuba revolution hat in return.

There’s a time for prep work and planning – and then there’s time to throw yourself into the experience and just ride the wave. Once I step foot on the plane, I like to think of myself bobbing in a quickly flowing stream, letting experiences happen as they come. 

I’ve planned a couple must-do events or places to see and then I’ll allow myself time to enjoy the ride as we slowly move between these places, taking detours where we want. 

One leg of our upcoming journey we’re doing by private car because public transport just didn’t effectively get us to where we wanted to go. We’ve scheduled up to 6 hours for a 2 hour car journey with 2 planned stops. Part of the fun is those unexpected experiences we might encounter along the way.

When I’ve not been successful in my photography, I’ve been too caught up in time constraints and itineraries and the logistics of getting from point A to point B. I’ve forgotten to enjoy the journey. 

When I’ve gotten my best photos is when I’ve let go and let the trip happen. I’ve been willing to detour when given advice by locals and I’ve stopped and given a place time to sink in.

It’s a change of mindset.

In Cornwall, we hadn’t planned on a trip to St. Mawes on the Roseland Peninsula, but on the suggestion of our publican (the owner of the pub we were staying in in Falmouth), we set out on a ferry to this charming village to see the castle and capture this photo. We had coffee with some locals and found new places to explore. Sony A7II 91mm 1/500@f10 ISO200.

Final Thoughts

I hope to post from the field over the next couple of weeks. If you know me personally or follow me on Facebook, you probably already know where I’m going. If not, it will be a surprise. 

I have high hopes for this trip – I’ll let you know what happens.

If you really want to know where I’m going, here’s a little hint.