Failure to Plan is Planning to Fail
This phrase was on a sign that hung in the conference room in the building where I had my first professional job back in 1982. I have no idea who it was that came up with this saying, but I feel that it really relates to Travel Photography.
Quite often, we tend to plan everything other than what it is that we hope to capture on our trip with the exception of the "cliche" shots. In fact, we may even put a lot of effort into planning for those shots. What we don't do is try to figure out what the overall story is that we want to tell.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans. We stayed in the French Quarter. For me, the story I wanted to tell was about the music, and architecture along with some of the landmarks.
A great starting point is to simply jot down a list of what it is the you are hoping to capture. At least for me, this helps me to then derive the story. If I try to go the other way and create the story first, I tend to get writer's block. Here is an example from that trip:
It is pretty simple. I use hotel notepads. I have them on my desk, in my computer bag, and in my camera bag. They are compact enough to fit just about anywhere, and they are free.
If you notice in the center, I have a list of subjects. I then think about what it is that I want to capture as it relates to those subjects. For example, for music, I wanted to capture both street musicians as well as people performing in a club. I really didn't think the latter was going to be possible, but I wanted to at least try.
The next step is to add a little bit more structure to the plan. There are a number of ways to do this, but for me the easiest is to think in terms of opening shot, closing shot, and the icons, or landmarks. This can be put into a simple spreadsheet as shown:
Having this break down of what and when with alternatives, let's me also experience the locations separate from constantly shooting. We can then plan our days so that everything is not just about photography. This is especially important if traveling on a tour, or with other people that are not photographers.
This does not mean that you cannot be flexible in what you shoot. Sometimes you will encounter things that you did not expect. As an example, I did not expect that a police car would be one fo the shots that I would take. Not just any police car, but a Police Smart Car with flashing lights:
This shot wasn't in my plan because I didn't know such a thing existed. The other important aspect about having a plan is that you need to think about the photos that you take as a whole, with each one adding a little bit more to the story. In fact, some photos may not be able to stand on their own. For me this is a bigger part of the challenge. Being mainly a landscape photographer, it is hard to break away from each shot needing to be complete and be able to stand on it's own.
For example, I would not normally take photos of signs or a coffee shop. When these shots are added to the bigger story, they start to make sense.
Also, notice that in some cases I added an alternate subject. One of the biggest challenges that I ran into was getting a shot of the Bourbon Street sign. Almost everyone I came across had been defaced in some way. I was able to get a shot, but it did take some searching.
The result was 22 photos that were used to make the following video:
It is also important that part of travel is to experience the location. Make sure that everything isn't about getting "the shot." Relax and enjoy all that the location has to give you.
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