OK, so you have your next destination all sorted out. But how can you ensure that the photos that you come back with will do that place justice? Where do you start? There are so many things and experiences to capture and you only have a few days. The key to any successful photography trip is plenty of research and a detailed and clear shot list. Not only does a shot list ensure that you don’t miss any key landmarks or experiences from a trip, but it also keeps you focused on the task at hand. It might seem like a hassle to create one, but you’ll be glad you did when you look at your photos. So here’s how to create a travel photography shot list.
1. Research the location
The first step in your shot list is researching the location. Read guidebooks, look at magazine articles and search on the web for information about where you are going. You should begin to build up a picture of the important landmarks or sights that are a must to be captured. But don’t stop there, look into more local elements that are unique about a destination. A local food dish perhaps? Or it might just be a building with a unique feature.
Get as much information as you can and potentially anything that you feel is a must for that destination. As you are going through and researching, make a list of anything that you come across however big or small.
2. Get a couple of maps
After you have your list for that destination, start plotting it all on a map. You don’t need expensive maps at this stage, just a Google map print out will do. When plotting your locations you don’t have to be exact but you just want to get a rough idea of where all of these sights and or locations are as sometimes if things are spread over a vast distance you won’t be able to cover everything.
Once you have plotted the locations get your other map and draw arrows from your furthest locations (you should’ve marked these on the previous map) from one to the other, to the centre and to other locations. Then go onto Google and check how long it will take you to travel between all the lines you have drawn in whatever mode of transport you intend to use. The reason for this is that you need to have a good idea of travel times needed when building your shot list. There’s no point putting in your shot list that you are going to be photographing the waterfront late afternoon and then the city centre at sunset if it is going to take you too long to get there in time.
You are almost ready to start putting together your shot list. But before that there’s one more thing that you should know and that is the direction of the light at different times of the day. Any outdoor photography relies on good light and even the best subject and composition is likely to look poor if not taken at the right time of the day. So before you build your shot list make a note on one of your maps of sunrise and sunset times and the direction of the light throughout the day (be aware that sunrise/sunset times and the direction of the light will change slightly everyday).
3. The shot list
By now you should have a list of sights or experiences and they will be plotted on a map. You have another map that shows you the time it will take to get between sights and you have also got a good idea of which direction the light will be coming from each day. You should now be in a position to put together the shot list for your trip.
The first thing you should do is to create a table in something like Microsoft Excel with the days along the top and the time of the day along the side. You can break the time down into whatever increments that you like (i.e. hourly, every 30 minutes etc). The easiest way to treat the shot list is to break your day into sections. Providing that you are going to have a full day with good weather to shoot photos, a typical day would be broken down as such:
- Sunrise / golden hour
- Early morning (when days are shorter this may roll into sunrise / golden hour)
- Late morning
- Early afternoon
- Late afternoon (when days are shorter this may roll into sunset / golden hour)
- Sunset / golden hour
- Blue hour
- Night time
You may not want to photograph at every single one of these times but by breaking the day up you can pick and choose when to take photos and when to take breaks.
Typically the best times of the day for outdoor photography are sunrise and early morning and sunset and late afternoon as there is a soft light that illuminates the landscape but that’s not to say that you can’t capture great images at other times in the day.
To build your shot list from here you simply start to enter the locations that you highlighted on your map into the relevant time that you want to capture them. Start with your “wow” shots, these are the amazing iconic sunrise / sunset shots that you want to capture. Once you have these entered you can start to put in the other locations on your list. Try to look at your map with distances on to ensure that you are factoring in travel times from one to another and don’t try and be too ambitious with packing in too much. You’ll inevitably end up rushing and as a result your photos will suffer.
One thing you could do to avoid wasting unnecessary time travelling between locations is to aim to photograph a cluster of the locations around the same few hours. So rather than sprinting across town you can cross off 5 or 6 locations in close proximity in a few hours.
By the end of this process you should have a shot list which clearly details where you should be at what time. Now clearly whilst you are on location things might change due to things like adverse weather conditions or closures or building works at that historical site you were going to photograph. So it’s worthwhile also making a list of potential things that you could photograph on cloudy or rainy days and also other things that might have not been on your first list – like a back up plan.
Then when you are out on your trip make any adjustments as and when you need to.
Every travel photographer will tell you that their first and most important action is the research and planning that goes into a destination before they even leave their house. Only by doing this can you ensure that you maximise your time and output from a trip. Of course sometimes your plan and shot list might change or moments will present themselves that you can capture in that instant, but the majority of the time your research and preparation is what will get you the photos you want.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. Dreamstime. No usage without permission.