I'm going to take a break from the road series and talk about some of the behind the scenes preparations I do to help me achieve my intended goal of returning home with photographs that have meaning to myself and to my viewers.
There has been much written about the photographer who happens to be in the right place at the right time, who shows us an image with fantastic scenery and incredible light. We are momentarily wowed by the image and secretly wish that we had been there instead. Some might say luck played a role in these images and to some degree this might be true. In reality, the truth is that for many of these images the photographer was well prepared beforehand. Being able to take advantage of any situation that may arise, be it the weather conditions or limited time at a location is of prime importance.
This means putting yourself in the right conditions from the start. Weather is one of the most important considerations when planning a trip, and it can be the deciding factor on whether to go, or more importantly, when to go. Keep in mind that stormy weather adds drama to images, and if you are willing to put up with adverse conditions and are properly prepared, you may bring home dynamic images that show a place with dramatic light. Pre-planning when and where you want to be brings home the bacon so to speak. However, ideal conditions do not always a photograph make. If you are thoroughly prepared or intimately familiar with a landscape, then you are way ahead of the curve making it possible to take whatever conditions you encounter and make them work for you. The more you visit a place the more intimate you become with its landscape and in the end, the resulting images you bring home will reflect this intimacy.
So knowing the typical weather conditions, a bit of the regional geology, some natural history of the area, and a sprinkling of local history will pay off in big dividends when it comes to your photography. Most of this knowledge, if not all, can be found on the internet. Being old school, I tend to favor libraries where I can go and peruse available maps, documents and books, but I still use the internet extensively. Along with a few apps for my phone that I use in the field, including The Photographer's Ephemeris, Radar Scope, Luan, and Star Walk, all of these sources are the foundations that lie behind my images.
Maps are probably one of the most useful information sources you can find. Printed maps are my favorites as they can help you get a sense of a place because of the detailed information they contain and the scale they provide (I sometimes have a half dozen laying about on the floor and coffee table). Maps have the ability to show you specialized information such as the geology or even the watershed of an area. Topographic maps, or topos as they are commonly called, provide elevation data and can show you backroads, farmsteads, rail lines, river crossings, and other info too numerous to mention here. Take a look at one and you will see what I mean.
The information available on the net is staggering beyond belief. You could easily learn everything you need to know from this resource. If you are leaving the country and going overseas this resource will be even more valuable. I always use the net to do preliminary surveys of new areas where one link leads to another and so on. Many times it takes me to a site where I can order (sometimes for free or for free download) printed materials such as documents, books, and maps.
Finally, my last resource is making phone calls to get current info. Books, maps, and websites often do not get updated on a regular basis. This is when phone calls can help you avoid driving hundreds of miles only to discover a place closed due to any number of reasons. Information garnered from calls may also help you start a rapport with someone who is knowledgeable about an area. This person might be able to give you tips on where the wildlife might be spending most of their time, or info on scenic spots that are not common knowledge, or info not listed in brochures and other sources, or places known only to locals.
Advance information can be particularly helpful when you are visiting an area for the first time. Stopping at a ranger station, visitor center, or even the local chamber of commerce can really pay off for first time visits. Unless the light is fabulous beyond belief, most of us seldom come away with images that are of the same caliber as those we produce in familiar locations, so a little bit of knowledge can go a long way towards helping you tip the odds in your. There is nothing like driving back from a place knowing that your memory cards are full of great images because you did your homework.
Non Photo Gear & Other Essentials
Another aspect of behind the scenes is logistical preparations for an outing whether it be for a day or two or much longer. Knowing what to take with you is vital to having a successful trip. Early in my career I found I was always leaving something behind that I needed. I have on more than one occasion walked out the door and gotten 100 miles down the road only to realize I have forgotten all of my maps! I finally made a couple of checklists to ensure I have everything and then some. The first is a list I call 'Expedition' which includes camping gear, automotive needs, emergency kit, research materials, electronics, and clothing. The second list is titled 'Photo'. I run down this list and check it against the contents of my photo pack and other bags/containers that I carry. I have found these lists to be a major benefit over the years and though I have pretty much memorized them, I still use them because I update the contents occasionally. A good deal of what I take along I may never use, but it is there if I need it.
I hope some of this might help the newer photographers just getting into this field and maybe some of the seasoned one's as well. I will leave you with another image made on a foggy morning from my recent trip.