As photographers, we are (or at least should be) well versed with the basic foundational elements and concepts behind composing and capturing a visual space in such a way that we successfully convey our ideas or instigate the appropriate emotions that we want within our audience. But what happens before that? Well, first ya gotta get to the place silly!
It is no surprise that landscape and urban photography sometimes calls for trips and adventures of all sorts. After all, it is kinda hard to capture urban scenes in your kitchen (trust me, I’ve tried). In fact, this is actually one of the most rewarding perks of being a landscape or urban photographer. Such adventures can take us to places like never before, allow us to meet people we would never imagine, experience exhilarating moments, and even permanently transform the way we think (not to mention, they give you plenty of stories to tell at the next party you go to;)). But like any trip, there are certain precautions and preparations you should take to ensure your safety and success, especially during a photography expedition. Here are 5 things to plan for before and during a landscape or urban photography adventure.
1.) Directions and Driving
While not nearly as critical as the rest of the tips on this list, knowing where you are going can save you a lot of time, trouble, as well as increased . You would be surprised how often I have found myself lost, even with the miraculous creation of Google Maps (R.I.P. printed directions from MapQuest).
Assuming you are travelling to a location you have never been to before, I highly recommend briefly eye balling the route you plan on taking (especially for urban adventures) and noting its key features – highway exits, detours, construction zones, tolls, and traffic are a few to look out for. As silly as it may seem, a few minutes spent before the actual drive will save you the potential headache of missing exits, winding up facing the wrong way on a one way street (no comment), stuck in a traffic jam because you missed a detour, or neglecting the speed limit and winding up with a $400 ticket – not a great way to start your adventure.
Some other things to consider are the tiny (but important) aspects of your drive.
For instance, I can tell you from personal experience that forgetting your phone charger can make things a LOT harder (as I am sure you know). Having a dead (or even slow) phone can through a wrench into the navigational aspects of your trip (which can reintroduce all the problems I just mentioned in the last paragraph). Possible solutions include getting a new phone, driving with a navigation buddy, using a GPS, or the cheapest alternative – print out your directions to avoid any and all technology mishaps.
Another aspect is entertainment – if you are like me and love listening to music on long drives, make sure to use playlists so your not tempted to use your phone will driving. Also, if you are using a music subscription service, make sure it has been renewed!
You may also find yourself getting hungry along the way so snacks are definitely a must! Make sure you bring your own or else your hunger may tempt you into paying $500 for a candy bar at a rest stop (seriously though, what is with those prices).
Last but not least – make sure to get a good night’s rest before your trip! The last thing you need is to be exhausted or even worse, falling asleep behind the wheel. In fact, I find myself falling asleep while driving (with music) even AFTER getting adequate sleep. My solution: call a friend or family member. The reason driving makes us tired is simply because it is a boring, monotonous activity. While music may be distracting, it does not require the same cognitive stimulation that a conversation provides. Listening, comprehending, thinking, and then responding is more than enough to keep you awake.
Like I said before, these are very tiny details, especially in the grand scheme of things. However, as I am sure you know, it doesn’t take a lot to ruin a trip!
2.) Weather and Appropriate Clothing
You can never go wrong with having too many clothes (okay well, maybe if your at the airport and your luggage is overweight). While it probably goes without saying, being inadequately dressed for your adventure can ruin your mood and even photos.
Ideally, you will want to check the weather forecast the days leading up to your trip, as things may always change without notice. If the weather is cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon, make sure to wear layers that you can eventually take off while also carrying some backup shorts. If the weather is sunny in the afternoon but there is a chance (as low as it may be) of showers, bring a raincoat. These are just some basic examples of being prepared for the WHOLE trip, not just part of it. The last thing you need is to be suffocating in the heat, freezing in the cold, or drenched in the rain, while also trying to properly compose and take a photo.
Another consideration is dressing for the actual environment you know you will find yourself in. For instance, if you will be in a wooded area but during a sunny afternoon, shorts will leave you exposed to the forest floor and mosquitoes, while thick pants will make you uncomfortably hot – therefore you may want wear thin pants to accommodate both needs. If your trip is near mountainous or rugged terrain, think about wearing hiking boots rather than basic hiking (or even worse, running) shoes. There is nothing worse than being unable to complete your trek and capture the perfect shot simply because of soggy socks and blistered feet.
Fortunately, I have never found myself in the awkward predicament of knocking on the door of a random person’s house to use their restroom (although I have been close). As landscape (and even urban) photographers, we may find ourselves in situations where public restrooms are inaccessible. While the number of bathrooms available is beyond our control, we DO have control over what we eat and knowing WHERE you are headed (cough tip #1 cough).
If you know you won’t have accessibility to a restroom, try to avoid having heavy meals right before. Rather, have multiple smaller meals. You may also want to avoid fibrous or other “risky” foods. Secondly, if you have planned your trip well, you should know where restrooms will be located, both along your journey, and at your destination. If you know your destination will not have accessible restrooms, make sure you are familiar with the legal procedure, etiquette, and supplies you may need to properly answer nature’s call in…well…nature.
4.) Trespassing and Legal Regulations
If you take away only a couple points from this article, please make this one of them.While this is more or less common sense, trespassing is ILLEGAL. Prior to your trip, make sure that any and all property or areas you wander on are either public – if not, you must obtain exclusive permission from the owners of said property. In other words, the following do not count as permission:
– You saw someone else wander onto the property so you can do the same (if you do not understand the full situation, false assumptions are easy to make)
– A friend or stranger told you it’s okay (if they are not the property owners, their permission is not valid)
– No one will even know (being legally held accountable for your actions should not be the primary deterrent for doing something that is ethically wrong in the first place)
– The property is public but closed (being on public property after hours is still considered trespassing). Remember, you are accountable for knowing the hours of operation of any area you will be visiting, PRIOR to the visit.
– The location is PERFECT for a photo opportunity and will kickstart your career into being a world renowned National Geographic photographer (firstly, there are millions of other locations that are likely as perfects, if not more, than this one while also being legally accessible. Secondly, I am almost certain National Geographic does not support trespassing :))
– “I didn’t know” – ignorance is never an excuse. If you are unsure of whether any part of your trip is considered trespassing, ask the appropriate individuals. This could be nearby property owners, park officials, and especially law enforcement officials.
Remember, there is no photo out there that is worth encroaching onto someone else’s property. Not only is it illegal, but it is rude and unethical.
5.) Fuel and Mechanical Issues
Ah yes, the beautiful world of car problems. Obviously, this is one issue that is not unique to photography expeditions.
While most car issues are unforeseeable, you can make some preparations to cover the most common sticky situations – running out of gas, being overdue for an oil change, having failing breaks, low tire pressure, not having a spare tire, and having worn down tires. Respectively, preparations would entail filling up your gas tank, being up to date on your oil change, getting your breaks checked, filling the air in your tires, getting a spare tire, and having your tires rotated.
Of course, there is always the possibility of your engine catching on fire, bumper falling off, and, in general, your car spontaneously deciding to stop being a car. In these instances, you will want to make sure you have your car insurance handy (which you should always have anyway) as well as the a number for roadside maintenance (once again, this is only useful if you have a charged phone).
At the very least, following these basic steps will give you the peace of mind of knowing that you won’t be sputtering to a stop in the middle of nowhere and hiking to a gas station rather than your photo spot!
Keep in mind that while some of these tips require diligence during the trip, many involve preparation prior to the trip itself. Regardless of how small or insignificant they may appear, they are all critical in ensuring a successful and ENJOYABLE photography expedition (what good is it if you are miserable the whole time). Remember, make preparations for both what you do know AND what you don’t.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Captain Cold (aka Leonard Snart) in the CW TV Series, The Flash: “There are only four rules you need to remember: make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.”
Did I mention anything that you didn’t think of? What are some preparations you usually make before a trip? What’s the worst situation you have been in because of poor planning? Make sure to leave a comment down below!
Oh and make sure to keep an eye out for part 2!
Stay safe and stay adventurous my friends!