Words and images by Robin Whalley - www.lenscraft.co.uk
There are now a wide range of photographic holidays on the market and range from those organised & run by professional photographers to those where you organise everything by yourself. As someone who has arranged many trips for both myself and others I can guarantee the secret to success is planning and preparation. Set out in this article is the approach I use and whilst it assumes you will be planning everything yourself, elements still apply to organised photographic holidays.
Let’s start by assuming a scenario where you have seen some nice picture or heard good things about an area from another photographer and want to take a holiday there for yourself. A typical example might be visiting the Lake District for the first time but know little about what is a very large National Park; where do you start?
The Key Elements You Need To Plan Around To Ensure Success Are:
People often put this step after that of finding a place to stay but I believe this is the wrong order. I think you need to understand what opportunities exist in an area. Of course, if the area you are visiting is quite compact this might not be an issue but if you are visiting somewhere the size of the Lake District then you definitely need to do your research first. It will save you money and more importantly time as you can waste hours travelling.
Here is how I suggest you do this:
Post questions asking for ideas of great locations on web site forums such as ePHOTOzine
Review any old copies of Photography magazines that might include guides for the area
Review the online Stock Libraries by searching on the locations you think you might want to visit
Try Google Maps and search the areas you are interested in
Collect ideas and information from the above sources and build this into a file. I suggest actually printing material and placing it into a folder which you can refer to later as well as when you are on location. Of course if you are attending a course or an organised holiday, much of this thinking will have been done for you. Such research is however still valuable as it helps inform other decisions such as which equipment to take with you.
Having collected all this information I would suggest you spend a little time organising it into categories based on location. My own approach is to build up a list of subject ideas based on the locations I have researched. I tend to do this in a spreadsheet so I can also include information such as best time of day to photograph this as well as preferred weather conditions. When on a photographic holiday where you are deciding the schedule, it’s very helpful if you can remain flexible to cope with changing weather. My spreadsheet helps me in this decision making process (Click on the table to view a larger version of it):
Finally, obtain a map that covers the areas and place post it notes on the key locations you have identified. This will help you understand where all your sites are in relation to each other and is vital in selecting a good base.
There’s also one other piece of research you might want to consider, the address and phone number of camera shops and equipment rental companies. I was on a trip when one of my friends’ cameras failed and they had left their backup body at home. Having somewhere you could rent a replacement camera body from might just save you wasting the rest of your holiday not to mention the money you had spent.
Finding A Good Base/Location
Your location can make or break your trip. It’s easy though to be seduced with the tourist pictures and descriptions finding yourself too far away from the best photographic locations. This is why you need to invest so much time up front in researching the area.
Review the Map you created in the previous step with a view to finding a good base location that is within easy reach of the key locations. Think about the time of day you might want to visit these areas. Do you really want to spend a full hour travelling to reach a location before sunrise to get that shot that you “simply have to take”, especially if you hit bad weather on your first try?
There are no hard and fast rules, just look for an accessible location that gives easy access to the areas you want to shoot. You might like to build yourself a small spreadsheet showing how long it takes to travel between each of the locations on your list as well as where you are thinking of staying. This can help you confirm the location as well as be helpful out in the field if the weather turns and you need to move on.
Having identified the best areas to base yourself you can turn to finding accommodation. Consider what type of accommodation you want to stay in. Hotels are great but it can sometimes be a little awkward coming and going at unsociable hours so best to check before booking. The same can be true for B&B. Self catering is more demanding but has the advantage that you are unrestricted by other people’s timescales and schedules. It can also allow you to take extra kit without feeling the need to carry it with you all the time.
Setting A Schedule
So you have booked your accommodation and understood the areas you would like to visit. It's a good idea to now work out an initial schedule of when to visit each of these. This however is just a rough guide to help you so don’t become fixated on sticking to it. It's important to stay flexible and I suggest each night you review the following days schedule based on the weather forecast and change your plans if necessary. If you have taken all your research files and spreadsheets with you this becomes a very easy and quick task.
If you have done your research well you should now have a good idea of what equipment you are likely to need e.g. a tripod would be essential for sunset and sunrise locations, a wide angle lens for landscapes etc, a small bag and light weight kit for urban days. A good idea is to put a kit list together which can also double as a packing checklist. It’s often useful to make this list and put it away, returning again in a few days. When I do this I often think of a few more items that I want to add to the list.
From talking to other photographers I find people’s biggest fear is not having the right equipment with them. This however is often unfounded as whilst you might miss one or two good opportunities, you just have to change your shooting style/approach to match the equipment you do have. Also if you have made your list based on good research, you should know what equipment you need.
From personal experience, I find the biggest problem with equipment is taking too much, on the off chance that you might just need to use something. The kit checklist should help control this but it should also be used as a checklist when you return. After your holiday check back the equipment to see if there were any items you didn’t use and consider why not. I used to find that I would only use about half my equipment but now I have slimmed my packing down and I am using everything on my trips even if some items are used much more than others.
Remember good planning is the key to having a good photography holiday.
Words and images by Robin Whalley - www.lenscraft.co.uk
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