photographs that stir your soul

Going on a photo trip?

During a photo shoot today in Wild Basin Reserve I started thinking about the process of preparing and taking the photographs you want.  Here are the basic phases for any serious outing for me:

  • Preparation
  • Planning
  • Safety
  • Execution
  • Finishing

Preparation

Preparing for a trip is the first and very key step.  You need to select your destination. Learn everything you can about the location, see if others have taken photographs that are published at the location (very likely for most places).  Understand for yourself why you are going there?  What do you expect to do when you get there? What equipment do you need, both photographic and hiking or travel? What is the weather forecast? Do you have the right gear to handle the weather and the terrain?  Are you in the right physical shape to handle the excursion?  Is there very steep terrain, wet or muddy conditions? Do you need protection from biting insects?

I am assuming you have the core photographic and outdoor equipment for the trip, or will get the must haves, AND you know how to use the equipment, especially your camera.  If you recently upgraded or got a new camera have you made sure you know how it works, how to use the many features it has, when they may be useful? Have you set it up for your style of shooting? Do you know how to use those special features unexpectedly, or do you need the manual?  If you need the manual, practice on subjects at home till you know how to use all the features without having to refer to the manual.  You don’t want to miss the amazing shot because you were fiddling with some setting on the camera!

So what do you need to take with you if you going on any kind of hike as part of the trip?  Here is what is what I take:

Suitable clothing.  In most outdoor settings (in spring through fall) this means long pants and a long sleeve shirt, sturdy hiking boots/shoes, a hat, sun block and sun glasses.  So I hear you say “but it is 95 degrees out there”.  Protecting yourself from the sun is key. The best way to protect your skin from sun and bugs is clothing.  Personally I hate the various sprays and having greasy skin and getting that over my equipment. (For winter trips  the appropriate winter clothing is needed).

Something to eat like a small bag of trail mix or nuts for a short outing of a couple of hours.  If it is an all day outing or multi-day trip enough food and cooking equipment is needed as well as a tent and sleeping bags etc.

Enough water to keep you hydrated for the FULL duration of the outing plus a little extra.  You never know when you end up being out there longer than expected.

A traditional compass and a printed map.  Yes I know you have compass and map on your phone, but when the battery dies you may be stranded and lost.  A simple compass and printed map takes very little space and adds almost no weight to your backpack.

Something you can lay on the ground that you can sit, kneel or lie on when taking photographs in wet or muddy locations.  This must be water proof on at least one side.  A ground sheet or large garbage bag works well.  Make sure you have a small bag you can keep it in once it gets wet or muddy.

I am assuming you have the core camera, lenses, filters, tripod, extension tubes, flash, memory cards etc., you need in a backpack or other bag you are comfortable carrying for an extended period.

Planning

Before you set out make sure you know where the location is (exact directions etc), you know what the weather will be while you are there, do you need to pay fees to get in, what times can the location be entered and when do you need to be out? Do you need to make a reservation in advance? How will you get there? Can you drive?  Do you need a 4 wheel drive vehicle?

So you have picked the date and location.  Are you going on your own?  Who knows you are going? Do they know exactly where and when to expect you back?  If you slip and break an ankle who will come and look for you?

Make sure your phone and separate GPS (if you carry one) are fully charged before you leave. Carry spare charged batteries for your camera(s).  There is nothing more frustrating than the battery dying as you are about to take that million dollar shot.

Safety

Several safety matters have already been covered.  Protecting yourself from the sun and bugs and having the needed equipment and resources to survive are critical.

As I was walking today I remembered one of the very important field lessons I learned growing up in Africa and going into the bush frequently. (These areas were infested with venomous snakes, scorpions and spiders to say the least). This is especially true if you are walking into the sun or parallel to it. If you need to get over some tree trunks or large rocks, NEVER step OVER them, always step ONTOP of them, look what is on the other side, then step down if it is clear.  Snakes love to lie and bake in the sun against a rock and if you step on it, you will be either very sick or very dead!

Execution

When you get to the location and are ready to set out make sure you have all your equipment, food, water, maps etc. Check with any local services/authorities that nothing has changed that you need to know about paths/roads or river levels. Also check the latest weather forecast, especially if the area is subject to fast moving storms.  By the way, the light at the beginning and ends of storms is usually amazing, so be ready to take advantage of storms, but make sure you are safe too.

If you are visiting an area where there are potentially dangerous animals check with the local authorities if there is something you should be aware of.  For example, if you visit Brazos Bend State park in Texas where they have a major alligator population, you need to know that May is mating season and most of the males will be out on the banks of the river and ponds and you need to be extra vigilant.  Getting between an active male and his mate could be unpleasant if not fatal.

Also remember to know all the rules for the location and FOLLOW them.  Remember other fellow photographers (and general public) want to come visit there too in the future. Breaking the rules makes it harder on everybody else and usually damages the environment.

Once located, set out on your hike.  Regardless of the subject you thought you were going to be photographing, keep your eyes open and really SEE what is there. For example this morning when I set out I was expecting to lots of spring wild flowers in the reserve, which I did, but what I did not expect was several old knurly tree trunks from long dead trees that I always find intriguing subjects to photograph.

When you find a subject consider the LIGHT, the angle that will give you the best result, should you lie on the ground or get your tripod to its max height? Landscape or Portrait format? Is it backlit? Do you go in close with extension tubes, do you need flash fill, or light from a reflector? Don’t rush, but TAKE the picture. With digital you can take as many shots as you need and as many exposures as you want. Don’t leave and then get home without the shot.

Keep moving, keep your eyes and mind open and take more pictures than you may have expected. You can delete the ones that you don’t want later.  Never miss a shot because you are in a hurry or did not have enough storage!. If you run out of storage cards on the trip you failed in your planning!

Don’t relax and stop being in picture taking mode until you get back to your car or settle down for the day and set up camp. Pictures are everywhere waiting for you.  Don’t miss it because you think you are done.  You are not done till you have packed up and are leaving.

Finishing

When you get back home, or to the hotel (or tent) copy all your images to primary and backup storage.  You do not want to lose the master of that special shot. Get into a “standard” workflow for your photographs.  That does not mean there are no exceptions but having a workflow you follow to process your images using your chosen tool, makes seeing the exceptions easier.   I shoot all my pictures in RAW and process them in Lightroom.  As part of the process I rate them and only fully process ones I rate. This morning I took 179 shots and ended up with 11 rated images.  Of those 2 or 3 will end up on my website and posted to Google+ and Stipple.

One of the reasons we take photographs is for other people to see them, so make sure you get them out there.  Sooner is better or else they may never get processed and hence seen!

Get out there. Take those shots.

Happy shooting!

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