Research and planning are an essential part of travel photography. The length of time you have, your budget, and the style of travel you prefer will all be factors in this, and it’s going to be slightly different for everyone. Someone with two weeks vacation time is going to approach things differently to the young backpacker who has plenty of time but a very limited budget, who in turn will have a different approach to the parent holidaying with a family who don’t share the love of the camera. So how can you maximize your ability to be in the right place at the right time?
Like so much else these days, Google is the answer. Start with a Google image search of the place you’re going to. Take note of what it brings up. Are there any particular scenes or subjects that keep appearing over and over again? For example, if I type Cambodia into Google, my screen is immediately full of images featuring Angkor Wat. With more than two million visitors annually it’s going to be crowded. The majority however travel there in high season for a few days to see the main sites. Consider traveling in low season. As well as often being cheaper, you’ll have fewer people to contend with. The second time I visited the Angkor region was at the end of the rainy season. Being the lowest season for tourism, the crowds were manageable and it was easy to find places away from the hordes of people. Although it was rainy season, in practice that meant there was an afternoon storm every other day but the rest of the day was dry.
As you continue with your search, you may notice photographs from a particular festival or other special event. You can easily check into what these festivals or events are, and when they take place. If you can schedule your travel to coincide with these you may get to witness a unique event while at the same time getting some unforgettable photographs.
Pay attention to what are basically the postcard shots. It’s easy to think of this type of photograph as something of a cliche but let’s face it – for most of us, when we go to a new place, we want to photograph that classic scene. You don’t want to copy somebody else’s photographs but these classic photos are that for a reason, and they can often give you a good sense of a place, while working as a jumping off point for you to explore an area further in order to produce something original. And if you go to Paris and don’t come back with a classic shot of the Eiffel Tower, your friends and family back home will think you’re nuts, no matter how many new and original images of Paris you do get.
If you are the aforementioned parent trying to fit your photography in with the rest of your family’s interests, you may have enough photography-specific research now. You know where to get the classic shot, you know when the festivals are taking place and you have a good overview of what other photographs are possible in and around the places you’ll be. Add in any photography you can do while your family are involved in activities, say photos in an open air market while shopping, or a beachside sunset as you enjoying a relaxing evening drink, and you may consider yourself to have a good selection of travel photographs.
A few weeks before you depart gather together all of your equipment and test it out to make sure that everything is working smoothly. Doing this a few weeks in advance will give you enough time if any repairs need to be made, or if you need to buy something to replace broken equipment. A few days out, give everything a thorough clean – lenses, sensors and so on. Double-check that you have everything you need and you’ll be all set for your travels. Happy shooting.