Planning a photo trip to a place you have never been before can be daunting. There is a certain balance of excitement and anxiety that goes with this. Excitement because its someplace new and then possibilities are endless. Anxiety, because you are investing a lot of time and money into exploring a place you have never been to and therefore you are taking a gamble in whether or not the area will be productive for you.
With my trip to Belize, a place I have never been before, kicking off next Saturday I want to share a few tips and resources I use to hedge my bets and help insure I put myself in the right places at the right times.
The first thing I do when considering or planning to visit a new location is Google the shit out of the location! One of the best tools Google offers for this us their Google Images. Plug in the location and you can get hundreds of photos from that area.
Keep in mind that these photos are not necessarily being created by pros… So they may be a bit generic and just cliche point and shoot tourista photos, but they will at least give you an idea of key features and species. And best of all, if you are seeing killer photos that are obviously taken by just average tourists with point and shoots, you know you have a winning location on your hands – be it a landscape or wildlife.
Personally I don’t do Flickr . But, I do use them as a location scout for me! Jump on Flicker and do a search for the location or locations you are wanting to visit. Often times you will get thousands of images to scroll through here. You can then pick and choose key locations that appear to have the most potential.
Twitter and Google Plus kick butt for this. Simple searches on either one of these locations will reveal photos and key site info for you to browse. Given that this is social media, you then have the opportunity to connect with those photographers whose images have caught your attention. Don’t hesitate to politely ask questions. Most photogs are usually pretty cool when it comes to helping others out. Sensitive areas are sometimes kept secret like nest sites, but otherwise it never hurts to at least ask.
Online forums that draw thousands of photographers are great places to ask questions. Check out Naturescapes.net or birdphotographers.net … Both of these sites offer free and paid memberships and are two of the best resources for nature photographers on the net.
NGOs such as Audubon keep lists of key hotspots in areas. This information is public and usually quite easy to find. All across the United States for instance, the Audubon Society has registered Important Bird Areas. Look into these places. Find out if there IBAs in that area if your a bird photographer. The in for!action is online and you can find out what species are of interest, their estimated population, and the time of the year to best find them there.
In foreign locations I will use a guide in a heart beat. Even for workshops to foreign locations I bring a local guide along to help with local logistics. This doesn’t mean I’m going to jump on a tour, but I will hire a guide for a private trip. This can get expensive however. So if its out of the budget, another option is to mine their websites. Where are they going? Where are their specialties? Check their itineraries. Birding guides are gold mines.
If you like to photograph birds, you have it a lot easier than others in terms of finding worthwhile guide books to aid you in your quest. Most really good locations have some sort of “Birder’s Guide to _____.”
Other types of photographers are going to have a bit more trouble finding something like this unless you ate going to a US national park. There are countless books out there for places like the Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and the Everglades for instance.
Many excellent locations around the US have some sort of Photographer’s Guide to ______. These are worth their weight in gold. Ebook or hardcopy, it doesn’t matter. These guide books cut through all the crap and focus on putting you in the right place at the right time.
Photographer’s Guides are more often than not written by local photographers who have immense insight into the area that has been hard won over years of exploring and photographing. Even if its a place I have visited 50 times to photograph on my own already, if someone writes a photographer’s guide to that place, I’m going to be the first one in line to purchase it.
Tourist and Visitor oriented websites
Most “destinations” have some kind of website devoted toward attracting and directing potential tourists. Google search these out and mine them for beautiful photos. These websites are usually going to display the most iconic landscapes and wildlife of their area. Often times you can find the names of these locations on these websites as well. If not, give them a call or email them. Another option is to drag and drop one of these photos into the Google search bar, this will tell Google to find similar images…. Which it is surprisingly accurate!
These are some of the best resources out there for you the photographer looking to plan a trip to a new location. Take some time and do your homework. That’s all it takes to set your self up for a great trip!