Why good photos require research and planning |

Why good photos require research and planning

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12 January 2011

Personally, I don’t like planning a trip. It gives me stress.
When people - including myself - are planning, we tend to forget that we might want to stay in a certain location for a little longer or be lazy for a couple of days or get food poisoning. These things then mess up the planning, you have to re-plan and skip things and you get annoyed.


After all, we are travelers, we like to experience the unknown.
We like to arrive somewhere not knowing where we will sleep tonight.
We like to have the freedom to do whatever we want for as long as we want, before leaving to our next unknown location.
That is fun!
That is what traveling is all about.

Unfortunately, if you like to do some serious photographing during your trip, planning becomes a necessity, together with research it’s a basis for good photos.

Luckily, I’m a researcher.
I love researching locations.
I love snooping around airline websites.
I love reading the destination guides on Lonely Planet
And I love reading hostel reviews on Hostelworld
I then make an overview - on paper or in my head - of all the places that interest me in the country that I’m going to travel.

Not a planning! Not at all! An overview of possibilities.


Why is planning and research important for the photographer?


1. The available sunlight
The available sunlight is totally dependent on the time of the day.

During the night, there will be no natural light.
This sounds very obvious, but you need to calculate it in. A lot of locations are great for night shots, make sure to plan an evening for night photography.

The best light of the day is during what is called the golden hours. This is from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunrise and from 30 minutes before sunset until 30 minutes after sunset. During these hours the light will be soft and colorful leaving long soft shadows. Also the air will be filled with a red-orange-yellowish color, in case the weather is good.
This is the best time to photograph almost everything. Especially locations that need a warm atmosphere like beaches but also buildings look a lot more amazing with a warm glow. For shadows or silhouettes this is also the best time.

The hours after the morning golden hour and before the evening golden hour are good too. Not excellent but good enough. There will be some warmth in the light and if you find a good position relative to the sun - try side lighting - your pictures will be okay.

Noon hours are the worst for photographers. When the sun is high in the sky, your photos will have high contrasts and dark shadows. The white light destroys detail and there is a high risk for over-exposure and blown out highlights.
If you have no other possibility than photographing around noon, try to move your subject to the shadow. If that is not possible, take a good eye on your histogram, underexpose a bit and correct the light afterwards in Photoshop.

Try to plan your trip so that you visit the locations that you like to photograph around sunrise or sunset. Research the locations you’re planning to visit and write down the hours of public transport to get there and the opening hours if there are any.
If you’re visiting a city, it’s often interesting to schedule a long city walk for the first day. Take a notebook and write down the locations that you want to photograph the following days during hours with better light.


2. Weather and climate
Like a human, your camera prefers certain weather types over others. Sunny, about 20 - 25 degrees Celsius and a small puff of wind are ideal, both for the camera and for me. Unfortunately, we can’t change the weather - the Chinese can, they shoot rain clouds out of the air with big cannons, but those are way too heavy for the average backpack and I don’t think you can get them through airport security.

Keeping the climate and weather forecast in mind is a real must.

If you’re going somewhere during the rain season, remember that you might not be photographing a lot in the afternoon, so adjust your planning or take the necessary gear like a rain cape.

Your camera doesn’t mind cold, but it needs time to adjust to it. If you’re somewhere really cold, let your camera take at least half an hour to an hour to adjust from the warm hotel temperature to the freezing cold outside.
The same thing counts for hot and humid places, half an hour to an hour might be needed to let your camera adjust to the change from your air-conditioned room to the humid jungle.
An hour does not seem long, but it is just enough to miss the golden hour.

Wind on itself is harmless, but on beaches or in deserts it can be your camera’s worst enemy. Blowing sand and dust can kill your gear, so if the forecast predicts one windy afternoon, leave your camera in the bag.

Strange as it may seem, I like traveling during the rain season. One reason for that is because it makes you stay longer at certain places, and you have to spend a serious amount of time inside, which is ideal for interaction with locals or other travelers. But another reason is because I like nature and landscape photography and nature always looks better just after the rain. Also in street photography, I think the puddles add a certain dimension.


3. Tours and excursions
As a backpacker, I generally dislike organized tours. They are often filled with old fat tourists - no I’m not one of those persons who thinks he’s better than others being a traveler instead of a tourist but I make the difference here to emphasize that I don’t like tours - making lots of noises and complaining about everything they see, do and eat.
I like to explore things on my own, and if that means that I miss one or two view points or the professional explanation of the guide, so be it.

If you’re planning to photograph a location, tours and excursions might be very interesting though. They take you to all the picture perfect locations, three times as fast as when you have to find the necessary buses to get there by yourself.

Proper research is again a must here to find the tour company that suits your needs the most. Often tour companies provide photo tours, they will take you to locations that are worth photographing and they get you in contact with other photographers.
Have a look at the itenary of the tour, is it too much or too little? If it concludes a lot of climbing, there will probably be less old people.
What is their target audience?
And very important, what is the maximum size of a group? I don’t mind to pay a little extra to be in a group of five instead of one of twenty.


As you can see, to get the maximum out of a photography vacation, planning an research are very important.
Can you do without? Of course! But then you’ll either miss out on things or you’ll have to stay longer at your locations to cover it all.


Are you a planner?
Got any good planning tips?
Share it with the world by dropping a comment!


A word about next week: Because really had enough of the cold rainy %!&?** Belgian weather, I decided to take a short trip to the sun to reload my batteries. Lanzarote in the Canary Islands appeared to be the cheapest solution - thank you Ryanair! - with a guaranteed 22 - 23 degrees Celsius. I'm not taking any laptop, smart phone or similar device so it might occur that I miss the post of next week... Don’t worry, the week after I’ll try to make it up!


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