On Saturday morning I'll be hopping on a plane up here in Boston to take me out to California. I'll be landing in San Francisco and then driving from there to Yosemite National Park for a solid four days of shooting. Yosemite has often been described as “the most beautiful place in the world,” but probably has a better chance at “most beautiful place in America.” It's a mightily subjective title, but who am I to argue?
I will stand in many of the places where Ansel Adams stood and was touched by the unique beauty of the American West. With preparation and some luck, I will return with a great deal of images to share with you all.
I apologize for not posting as much as usual, but the preparations for this voyage have monopolized my attention. To make it up to you, here are some photography travel tips that might be helpful.
Make a List
I am not a huge “fly by the seat of your pants” kinda guy. I like to be prepared for things and I'm utterly forgetful, so I require more planning than most to ensure a smooth trip. The first thing that I do when I'm going on a trip like this is make a list. I shared this tip when I went on my Death Valley trip, but it's still true. Make a list of everything you are going to bring.
For me, I need to look at where I'm going to be each day, check the weather forecasts, and plan my wardrobe accordingly. Yosemite Valley sits about 5,000 feet above sea level, which makes it slightly cooler there than in neighboring metropolitan California (San Francisco, Santa Cruz, etc.). If you are able to hike or drive to higher elevations, you will still see snow at this time of year and temperatures can be quite cold. The weather at night, even in the Valley, will not be warm. I have planned to bring a coat, gloves, and a hat, which I will have to pack because it's too warm here to wear them!
I also make a list of every item of equipment I'm going to bring. Once I've used the list to make sure I have everything I will need, I take the list with me to make sure I return home with all of it. When I came home from Death Valley, I discovered that I had left my USB memory card reader somewhere in the hotel. That's a $35.00 expense that a completely free list could have saved me! Lesson learned.
When it comes to traveling with 50 pounds of expensive photography and computer equipment, I opt for the carry-on approach. I have a sizable photography backpack (the Tamrac CyberPack), which is the largest bag that can be fit into the overhead compartment on international airlines (even though I haven't flown on one yet). I manage to cram all of my photography equipment and my laptop into that one bag so it never leaves my side (or back). Otherwise, I travel light. One checked bag and one “additional carry-on bag,” which is typically a second camera bag filled with other things (such as a Nintendo DS and an iPod; photographers can also be nerds).
Whenever possible, I take direct flights. Even if the departure or arrival times are less convenient, nothing beats skipping the whole layover mess. You can't lose your luggage if it doesn't have to change planes, and you can't miss your connecting flight if there isn't one, so take it from me–whenever possible, fly direct!
Study Your Destination
Part of being prepared is having some rough itinerary drawn up. Even if you don't follow it to the letter, it's nice to have a general idea of what sights you want to see and, more importantly, when you want to see them. If there are spectacular sunrise or sunset locations, make sure you know which ones those are and how long it will take to get to them. Knowing these things will help you to plan your locations efficiently; shoot a gorgeous sunset at a location with a nearby gorgeous sunrise if you're too far from your lodging to drive back in between. Remember, there's no shame in sleeping in your rental car.
Wikipedia is a solid reference for national parks and even most cities. Once you get a good overview of the location, you can scour the web for location-specific sites. If you're traveling to a city, the city probably has its own tourism website with ideas and photos to get your imagination churning. For national parks, there's always the National Park Service. They have a swell page on Yosemite.
If you're going to a park or natural attraction, buy a map. You can't do any better than a National Geographic U.S. Park Map. Their maps are tear-resistant, waterproof, and exquisitely detailed.
That's All, Folks
I hope that at least one of these tips was helpful for burgeoning travel photography hobbyists out there. I'll try to post as much as I can when I finally reach a hotel with Internet access! Until then, friends, adieu and keep shooting.