Now that you've got an idea of where to look when planning your photographic trip, you'll want to figure out what to look for. Sure, you'll need to nail down little things like how you're getting there, where you're going to stay, and how you're going to get around. But you've also got to figure out what you'll want to shoot and what the conditions will be like (Figure 3.7).
Figure 3.7. For a trip to New York's Adirondack Mountains in winter, you'll need snowshoes to get away from the crowds. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Some photographers try to avoid being overwhelmed in a new city or country by picking a subject before they hit the road. Often they'll give themselves an assignment like "I'd like to photograph landscape and wildlife" before heading to a national park, or they'll look for "portraits in urban landscapes." This allows them to focus on certain things they want to capture and prevents the overload that comes from trying to photograph everything wherever they go.
There are certain conditions that can affect your travels, the gear you pack, and even the photographs you end up taking. Heading to the desert means that you'll be able to leave your raincoat at home, right? Not if you're headed somewhere during the rainy season, where flash floods and torrential rain can wreak havoc on gear. And if you're looking to photograph a religious festival, it's a good idea to make sure that cameras are allowed during the ceremonies.
Although it's impossible to plan for every possibility, there are a few key things to consider. Some of these only apply when you're traveling outside the United States, but they're all good to keep in mind.
Seasonal issues. The cherry blossoms in Washington DC only bloom at a certain time of year. Hurricanes in the Caribbean make travel less expensive but can be forceful enough to blow your hotel down. Getting an idea about what to expect at the time you plan to travel helps you pack your bags and helps prevent some nasty surprises.
There are hundreds of weather Web sites and many of the major news sites have a search function that lets you enter a zip code or city name to see current conditions and predictions. For US weather, check out the National Weather Service (www.nws.noaa.gov) or, for both national and international weather, the Weather Channel (www.weather.com). Any of the better travel guidebooksLonely Planet, Frommer's, Moon, and othersusually provide information about weather and seasonal conditions. And for more weather information than you could ever want, refer to the University of Michigan's amazing "WeatherSites" page, which its compilers describe as "The list that made us famous…the most comprehensive weather index on the Internet" (http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet/servers.html).
Keep in mind that you can take advantage of seasonal changes to get a better deal, have a better time, and get better pictures. Everyone photographs the Eiffel Tower in spring and summer, but that happens to be the prime season for thousands of tourists trying to head up the same crammed elevators. Visit Paris in the winter and you get a much more personal look at the city, for a fraction of the price.
Astronomical conditions. Partly an offshoot of seasonal issues, it's important to know when the sun will rise and set in an area, what the weather will be like, and if any unusual occurrences will happen during your trip. Doing a localized weather search on one of the news Web sites is often the easiest way to get this information.
Figure 3.8. In the early summer in Yellowstone, the animals feed on fresh growth and can be easier to find than at other times of the year. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 3.9. When visiting Joshua Tree National Park, you simply must come away with a nice photo of a Joshua tree. Knowing sunrise and sunset times will help you be in the right place at the right time. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Local events. Even if you do a lot of research, you'll never know when you might run into some little festival or event at a church or on a local street. These will be little photographic gems, and when you stumble on them you'll be thrilled. The larger events and festivals are usually listed in travel resources online and in print by chambers of commerce and travel boards. Planning for these can help you take great local-color photographs and can eliminate the headache of getting your rental car stuck at a parade route when you're trying to drive to some other shoot.
Local resources. Venice has its canals, Holland has its tulips, Punxsu-tawney has its groundhog. Some places are just known for certain things. Find out what they are before you go and you'll have an idea of what objects shape a landscape and where all the tourists are going to be.
Religion and politics. We've got a neat little thing in this country called the First Amendment. Free speech isn't a right everywhere, even in other democracies. Be sure you know a country's legal positions and cultural customs on photography, journalism, and the media (Figure 3.10).
Figure 3.10. Polite questions about local customs and cultures can result in invitations to see and learn more. While admiring a Sikh temple in India from the street, Blue Pixel's Reed Hoffmann was invited inside for a tour and his hosts were happy to be photographed. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
You might not work for a newspaper, but if you're caught up in a political demonstration with camera gear, you're going to be treated like a member of the press. Sometimes this will work to your benefit, but often the police are nicer to people they think are foreign tourists on vacation than those they think are foreign journalists in the country to stir up trouble.
Local laws. Before you go to a country, find out about any special laws regarding photography in that area. Major tourist destinations like France, Italy, Spain, and so on, are very open to tourists, but some regions are decidedly less so.
It's a good idea to make note of or even memorize the phone number and address for the US Embassy in the country you're in. The US State Department maintains a list of problem areas and can provide contact numbers for embassies in foreign countries. All US embassies and consulates have their own Web sites, which are listed with links on a single page of the State Department's Web site (http://usembassy.state.gov/). And the Department's Web site travel page (www.state.gov/travel) is an excellent resource for a variety of information on international travel. Another very thorough and up-to-date online resource for basic information about, well, every country on earth is The World Factbook compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook). You can order a print version on the Web site.