A short guide to planning a landscape photography trip.

Planning a Landscape photography trip for a single day or a week long adventure can be a lot of fun. Planning carefully can dramatically increase your chances of success. Turning up to a location unprepared can result in frustration and disappointment. Planning well can also be vital to maintaining your safety.

I follow the same steps when preparing for any trip, even if it’s a location that is familiar to me. Have a read of the following and hopefully it will help you avoid some of the mistakes that I’ve made and increase your chances of coming away with good images.

Determine how much time you have and don't rush!

Managing your time is going to be essential when choosing a location. Especially during the winter months when the days are a lot shorter.

Choose a location that you can shoot comfortably within your time limits. Don’t rush!

Planning to travel a long distance and then only allowing yourself an hour on location is a bad idea. You will end up getting flustered and darting around to different spots trying to find a composition that works. I have missed many good shots because I couldn’t find a good composition and when I finally did I had missed the best light.

Not allowing yourself enough time is when mistakes are made or shots missed. Not getting the result you wanted due to an avoidable mistake or by running out of time is very frustrating. If you have a limited amount of time, choose a location closer to home and leave yourself as much time as you can to set up.

Research your location.

There are many ways to research your chosen location. From books or the internet and even other photographers. Ideally, a scouting visit is probably your best course of action.

A scouting visit will allow you to familiarise yourself with the area, time how long it takes you to get there and set up ready to shoot and work out exactly where you will be shooting from.

You can also get a good idea of what focal lengths work well with the location. Arriving with your camera and lens set up ready to go is one less thing you will have to worry about. I know that this is not always practical due to time and cost involved but if it is then I highly recommend it.

  • Journey time, allowing for a coffee stop and maybe something to eat. It’s always good to arrive fuelled up feeling fresh and energised.
  • Top Tip. Make sure that you’re vehicle is fuelled up and ready to go the night before, especially if you have a long journey to make. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have plenty of washer fluid and anti freeze on those cold winter mornings!
  • Parking location, availability and cost. There is nothing worse than turning up to a location with no change for the Pay and Display or having nowhere to park. If you are shooting at sunrise or sunset get there early or stay late. Make sure the place you intend to park will be open when you arrive or that they don’t shut and lock gates!
  • Terrain. I usually wear a decent set of wellies so that it gives me the option of composing a shot in water if necessary. It also means I don’t have to worry about getting wet or dirty feet on route to my location. I’ve driven home with bare feet before after getting soaked and its not much fun. especially in the winter.
  • Tide times. I can’t stress how important this is. (Putting Health & Safety hat on) Not only because it could have a massive effect on how you can shoot your chosen location but also because getting cut off by a rising tide is no laughing matter. You not only risk serious damage to your gear but also to yourself. The coast guard is not going to thank you if they have to rescue you from the rocks due to bad planning either. (removing Health & Safety hat).
  • The position and times of the rising or setting sun or moon. Photography is all about light so it’s important to know exactly where the light is going to be and at what time. I use an app called ‘The Photographers Ephemeris‘ that allows me to see all this information well in advance of any trip I have planned. I always make sure to have a printed copy of this information as well just in case I have no access to my phone when on location.
  • Top Tip (Health and Safety hat back on) Its also important to remember that if you are shooting a sunset you may have to make your way back to your car in the dark. I would recommend spending money on a good head torch, this keeps your hands free to climb or carry a tripod and greatly reduces the risk of trips or falls. It can also help to alert people to your position if you should get in to trouble.

3. Research the weather.

Researching the weather can be hit or miss as we all know how reliable the reports can be. I keep a selection of wet weather gear and warm clothing in my car and then decide on what to take with me once I have arrived and assessed the conditions.

Choose the right kit.

Choosing the right kit to take is going to be key to a successful image. It can also make hiking or climbing over rocks a lot easier if you pack as light as possible. It’s nice to have the comfort blanket of a bag full of every lens that you own but not only is it going to be hard work carrying a heavy bag around all day, it can sometimes give you too many options to choose from. Have you ever been to a restaurant that has a huge menu? If you have, you’ll know it can take ages to choose something to eat and when you finally do you aren’t sure if you made the right choice. Given a limited menu, the choice becomes easy and you leave knowing that you made the right choice.

Kit check.

When you’ve decided on the kit that you will be taking it’s time to give everything the once over.

Check that batteries are fully charged or chosen film is loaded into film holders or camera bodies. With digital cameras make sure that the memory card is formatted and your camera settings are correct.

Check that your ISO is set to its native minimum and that you’re shooting in RAW. Returning from a trip and realising that you have been shooting JPEG images at ISO 800 because you forgot to change settings is never a good feeling.

When required, give all your lenses a clean as well as any filter sets you have. Check that your tripod is clean and operating smoothly. If going on a longer trip make sure to pack spare batteries and battery chargers.

Always take a decent lint free cleaning cloth for your lenses as well as a handful of microfibre cloths. These are good for wiping down wet kit or covering your camera in the rain.

A good umbrella is recommended if you are expecting heavy rain or to shield your camera from wind.

It’s a good idea to give your camera a good clean after every use. Especially if you’ve been on the coast with salt water and sand finding its way into things. It’s just as important to do this with your tripod in order to ensure many years of hassle free use.

Top Tip. If your camera has duel memory card slots, set the camera to use the second memory card as a backup. This way if a card should corrupt you won’t lose any of the photos that you’ve worked hard to make. It is very rare for a memory card to fail but having those duel slots does give peace of mind.

Food and drink.

It’s always a good idea to take plenty of water with you and try to have a decent breakfast before you leave the house or when stopping on the way to your location.

On longer trips, when you may be out all day, take a big bottle of water and some snacks to keep your energy levels up. The last thing that you want is to be too tired and dehydrated to be able to concentrate on what you’re doing. Have you ever tried looking through a bright viewfinder with a splitting headache caused by dehydration?

Planning a trip well can make all the difference and allow you to concentrate on your photography. The only thing left to worry about is finding a composition you are happy with and waiting for the light. Hopefully if you are very lucky and the conditions are on your side you will go home with something special.

In the next blog post i’ll be looking at the process that I go through when on location to get the best results that I can out of my equipment. Until then I hope that the above information is useful and helps you to enjoy planning your next adventure.

Matt walkley