Travelling as a photographer or videographer is very different from travelling as a tourist. If you are anything like us, you will want to see as much as possible, on a budget, in the best possible light, and in a limited amount of time. It sounds impossible, but it isn't!
To plan the perfect photography itinerary, avoid making these five common mistakes which might put a damper on your travel plans.
#1 Not Considering the Light
In trying to cram as much into a day as possible, it isn't unusual to absent-mindedly assign an amazing location to the middle of the day, and only regret the decision several weeks later, when you are there and it is too late to make a change of plans.
You should aim to visit your most anticipated locations on a trip either at the start - sunrise or early morning - or at the end - sunset and evening - of each day. These are the times when the sun is at its lowest angle in the sky, drawing long shadows and creating less contrast in the landscapes. As a bonus, a sunrise or sunset can provide fantastic colour in the sky, as well as cast an unusual hue over the landscape.
In fact, between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is at its harshest, your itinerary should ideally involve either indoor attractions such as museums, heavily-shaded locations such as forests and waterfalls, or long drives between two locations.
Tip! Another aspect to consider is the location of the sun in the sky, relative to your foreground. A good way to do this is using The Photographer's Ephemeris. Simply input your location and the website will tell you the direction and time for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, amongst other information.
There are other advantages to this, too. By visiting popular locations in the morning or late afternoon, you will avoid peak tourist times. This means cleaner landscapes and a more relaxing photographing experience. These also tend to be the times when wildlife is more abundant and easy to spot: not only do some animals hide from the harsh sunlight in the middle of the day, they are also less likely to appear when there are large, noisy crowds around.
#2 Bringing the Wrong Gear
The photographer is far more important than the camera when it comes to producing amazing content, but you still don't want to find yourself empty-handed when you arrive at a much-anticipated location for your trip. It is important to plan ahead on the type of shots you will want to take over your travels, so you can pack the right equipment.
If you are photographing a lion hunt or a skiing competition, for example, you will want a telephoto lens, but if you are interested in photographing insects or small flowers, this will require a macro lens. Whilst making do with what you have may help you grow as a photographer and using less-than-ideal equipment as an added challenge will help you produce more creative imagery, you still don't want to be restricted when you are faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Lens choice is only one of several aspects to consider when it comes to packing your gear. You will also want to think about which filters, if any, you will need, as well as any filter holding systems or adaptor rings.
Arriving at a waterfall or beach with a LEE Big Stopper filter, only to find that you forgot the adaptor ring and can't fit it to the front of the lens, is a disheartening experience. It only takes a couple of these mistakes for you to learn to triple check your bag before your leave the house for your next trip!
#3 Not Having a "Plan B"
Plans can fail, and the difference between having a disappointing trip and a fantastic one is being able to adapt to mishaps along the way. There are many ways in which plans can suddenly fall apart: the weather could suddenly turn on you, a landslide might close off the road to a particular location, or you might find that an attraction has been recently shut down.
To plan a fail-proof trip, you will need to do some extra research and add alternatives for each day. That way, if something goes awry, you won't be at a loss as to what to do instead.
Consider making a list of "non-priority" locations as you plan your trip, and build them in as your alternatives in case something goes wrong. Sometimes they will surprise you!
#4 Joining a Tour Group
The worst possible way to photograph a location is whilst taking a tour group. In general, these are very rushed and no one is going to wait around for you to set up your tripod, compose a shot, and wait for your camera to register your long exposure.
Tour groups are also usually an indication that the location is highly popular, so you will likely be only one of a large number of people, meaning others will get in the way of your shot, and you won't have much opportunity to deviate from the group. You are unlikely to be able to both listen to your tour guide and take your time creating the imagery you want to achieve.
Tip! Some tourist destinations are privately owned or simply too difficult or dangerous to visit without a guided tour. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure that you look into all available options and choose the tour that will give you the most time at the location, ideally during the least popular times of the day. If your budget allows it, privately guided tours just for you (and your travel companions) usually allow more flexibility.
Photography workshops are (usually) an exception to this rule, particularly if you take part in classes led by photography instructors and limited to a small number of participants. In fact, I highly recommend them as a great way to learn new techniques and hear expert critique on your work. However, be aware of predatory workshops which brand themselves as being for photographers but are led by non-experts and follow the same itineraries as regular tourist groups.
#5 Not Including "Buffer" Time
A fully-packed itinerary, with no breaks or wriggle-room, could ruin your trip. The costs of this are two-fold. Not allowing delays, such as traffic on the road, could cause you undue stress, transforming what should be an enjoyable activity into an annoyance.
Besides, not allowing some free time between activities also means that you won't have time to add any last-minute stops. This is incredibly important, as locals often know about hidden places not advertised in guide books or online forums. Local advice is highly valuable, leading you off the beaten path to unpredicted destinations.
It is also extremely important to remember that vacations are about unwinding and having fun, more than they are about creating stunning media content. You should aim to include stops in your itinerary that are geared towards having fun and experiencing new things, even if that means leaving your camera behind for a few hours.
The more you enjoy yourself and the less stress you are under, the better your creative process will be. At the end of the day, travel should be about discovery, learning, and relaxing. The photos and videos you bring home are only worth as much as the memories behind them.