The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel published by Rocky Nook — in this excerpt, author Jordana Wright advocates setting personal goals for each excursion.
Rewards of photography
The rewarding but elusive art of photography presents a lifelong learning curve for me. Every time I think I’ve mastered something, I realize that I’ve only leveled up to a point where I can take on new challenges. Sure, some things remain consistent and I have a foundation of knowledge and experience to rely on, but every level is a little bit harder than the last. Becoming a more nuanced and sophisticated artist takes significant effort, but it offers an even more significant payoff, so I push myself, experiment, and explore. That is why travel is an unparalleled gift for a photographer. You never know what lies around the next corner to challenge or inspire you.
My journeys have granted me unique opportunities, tested my existing knowledge, and required me to improvise to get my perfect shot. Travel hands you a set of circumstances and says, “Okay, let’s see what you can do.” So you adapt. You grow. Sometimes I can choose my travel locations or activities with specific images or types of photography in mind. I was determined to make an early-morning long exposure of the tides at Virgin Gorda’s Baths, so I deliberately built time for it into my schedule.
Other times, usually when clients are footing the bill, I have absolutely no say in what I’m doing, so I have to plan around the opportunities I’m given. Most of my images in a shoot for a resort had to be improvised in the moment with the location and props available.
Setting goals — the first step to successful travel photos
Regardless of the location or type of travel you are about to embark on, the very first step is determining your photographic goals for the journey. Are you desperate to capture the magic of the northern lights? Do you hope to photograph the iconic net fishermen of Burma? Is your goal simply to perfect your exposure? Do you hope to make family vacation photos that feel more candid and engaged? Do you want to get better at remembering to take the lens cap off? Whatever your goals, they will shape your travel experience—not only because they will affect the excursions you plan, but because they will influence the gear you carry, the way you view the world, and the moments to which you attune yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to even put your finger on what your specific goals are, so here are some ideas to get you started.
Before a journey, I like to look at photographs from my previous travels—not just the winners I’m proud of, but the turds I couldn’t bring myself to polish in Lightroom. Photos that missed the mark are important because I want to know why they didn’t work. Critical introspection is necessary but tenuous. You don’t want to drive yourself to bouts of drunken sobbing, but you also don’t want to miss opportunities or repeat past mistakes. So after you’ve congratulated yourself on some amazing photos from old trips, power-walk down disappointment lane for a brief and humbling look at what you want to improve. Then look at the good photos again. Always end on the good photos
I’m a list maker. Shot lists, to-do lists, lists of ideal settings, you name it. Knowing I have a plan in list form is reassuring, and checking things off lists just feels good. Sometimes I even write things that I’ve already accomplished on my lists so I can check them off (which is totally normal.) I prepare for travel with a multitude of lists, and you should too. Here is a list of potential lists, both photographic and otherwise, that will get your list-making juices flowing:
- Skills you feel confident about
- Skills you want to improve
- First-choice places along the way that you’re absolutely desperate to photograph
- Second-choice places along the way that you’d like to photograph if you have the time
- Ideal camera settings for situations that have proven difficult in the past or that you’ve never tried before
- Photographic gear you want to bring
- Travel/life gear you want to bring
- Key phrases in the language of your destination
- Things you have to accomplish before you leave on the journey
Check your destination on Google
Even if you never use all the lists you’ve made, you’ve started the conscious effort of organizing your thoughts in preparation for your travels, which is always helpful. Seek Inspiration When I first settle on a location for a trip, I scour the Internet for research about where I’m headed. Start with the people you know. Put a post out to your social circles asking for their favorite spots along your planned journey. Visit official tourism websites for ideas of what an area has to offer. Check out TripAdvisor for “off the beaten path” ideas and visitor experiences.
Gather as many potential locations as possible, and then do a Google image search to see what shots other people have gotten in the spots you want to visit. Image searches are the best way to see what places look like in various weather conditions, times of day, times of year, and so forth. Searches on Google Earth will even provide GPS coordinates for great photo locations. Compile a location-specific image morgue with photos you find that inspire you. If an image you like has EXIF data attached, review the data to get a better concept of why it works and settings to try. If the image has no data to study, try to analyze the image and figure out what settings may have been used. The more you understand the images that appeal to you, the better prepared you’ll be to create your own.
Plan Now, Improvise Later
Traveling is expensive, so you’d be crazy to spend any of your precious time during the journey planning or organizing. The beauty of advanced research is that you’ve prepared yourself while you’re at home and your costs are fixed. Also, just because you’ve researched a list of places to check out, that doesn’t mean you can’t check out a different spot on a whim or based on a local’s recommendation.
Even if you don’t end up directly utilizing all the research you’ve amassed, you’ve familiarized yourself with your surroundings and put yourself in a better frame of mind to improvise on the journey and achieve all of those goals you’ve listed for yourself.
Travel photography requires dedication. This series of excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Travel Photography” by Jordana Wright is published by Rocky Nook.
See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.