Setting Expectations & Research
All right, let's talk about planning your photograph, or planning your trips with photography in mind. One of the most important things, I think, is setting expectations. I lead photo tours, and at the beginning of the trip, one of the most important things is the first gathering of everybody together to let them know kind of here's what to expect on a daily basis. And whether you're traveling by yourself or your friends, setting yourself up knowing what's going in. You know, if somebody ends up sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, oh, that was horrible, the mattress was terrible, all this complaining. But if you go in knowing you're probably gonna have to sleep on the ground, there probably won't be anything, oh, there was a mattress, it was kinda lumpy, but it was better than sleeping on the ground. It's all about your expectations. And so when you look at photos, my photos or anybody's photos, you're gonna think, oh, that's what it's like. And then you're gonna realize there's a b...
ehind-the-scenes look about what's really going on. And so yes, lots of people there. Oh, beautiful location. And then you go around the corner, there's a tacky gift shop right next to it. And then it's like, the photo looked really good, but when I was there, it didn't look nearly as nice. You weren't there at the right time of year, the right season, it was under construction, or who knows what's going on when you happen to show up. Oh, a beautiful location, right in the middle of nature, and all these other photographers, where there's not even room to set up my tripod. And so there is a distinction between these perfect photographs that you see on Instagram and other people posting on Facebook and anyplace else online, in the guidebooks and so forth, there is kind of a behind the scenes of it's a little different world out there. The first thing I think about, as I'm getting ready for a new trip, is, okay, what's the mode, what's the style that we're gonna be doing here? And this is gonna determine how much gear I can bring, how it's packed, how often I'm gonna be able to stop and shoot photos, what types of photos those might be, am I gonna be on a group tour bus where I can't tell the bus driver to stop or will I be with one friend and a driver that I can say stop any time? Those things make a big difference as to what I'm going to expect to get out of any particular trip. So think carefully about what that exactly means for you. If I'm on a ship, okay, there's two types of photo. There's photos on the ship and photos off the ship. What can I shoot on the ship, what sort of lenses do I need, what am I gonna do when I get off the ship? This is very important. What are your priorities when you are taking this photo trip that you are going to do? And a lot of people are traveling because we want to have nice travel experiences, we want to have nice memories from it. If you want relaxation, that might be a little bit harder to incorporate photography in a heavy sense. Just to let you know my personality, my worst vacation ever would be a trip to Hawaii to sit on the beach and read a book. Sitting on a beach is fine, reading a book is fine, I don't need to go to Hawaii to do that. Hawaii's a beautiful place, I would much rather go for a hike and look at some of the beautiful nature or walk down the beach and photograph the beach there. And do you want to take great photos? Well, yes, of course we do. Well, how much time and effort do you really wanna put in to shooting great photos? And I'm not here to tell you that this is how you have to dedicate your trips, because we all have different style trips. And sometimes photography is very low on the totem pole of priorities. But during that one little time, you can do things that make it really worth your while. Now, one of the things down here is you can sell your photos. Yes, you can travel, you can sell your photos, there are people that buy travel photos, because not everyone's there with a camera and taking photos. So let me just speak for a moment about professional travel photography. Professional travel photography is heavily regulated by supply and demand, and if you want to refer back to the earlier section about how many people are traveling and how much easier it is to shoot photos now, add that to the internet and you will see that there is a fire hose of supply right now. And so the demand for travel photographs is generally kinda low right now. I know people who are selling images online or trying to sell them in person, and it's just like, everybody's doing this now. It feels like everybody is a travel photographer. And so officially I don't recommend you quit your job and try to become a travel photographer selling your images on stock. It's a very, very low probability of success. It's not zero, but it is very, very low. Generally, this is just me thinking. Right now in our culture, a cheap price will beat quality. Somebody working at some company says, you know what, we need a picture of the pyramids. Here's one for a dollar, here's one for $100. The one for $100 is a bit better. Well, let's just get the one for a dollar. And people are willing to take free or cheap now over really high-quality, in most cases. There are always exceptions to these rules. If you do want to do this, and I'm not even an expert so I don't know why I'm giving you my suggestions here, but in my experienced opinion, if you wanna do this, I think working on packaged products is the way to go. So having a picture of the pyramids, not that valuable. Having a picture of the pyramids in all seasons, having a picture of, pictures of Egypt and Cairo and a whole story so it's a package of products, a collection, that's more unusual than a one-off nice shot. And so if you can put your pictures into a package of some sort, and you can make any sort of story or package you want, I think it's gonna hold more value than a single one-off interesting image, in most cases. Planning your next trip. Very important figuring out here. Who are you traveling with, and what sort of relationship do you have with these people? Are they on board with this whole photography thing you're into? And so I have seen some husband and wife teams where one person's into photography, the other person isn't, and sometimes they go off in their own separate directions and they come back and they're perfectly fine. Sometimes the second person kinda gets into it after a while. Or maybe they're both into it. It can be really tough, I took a family trip. This is kind of like a family reunion trip. We went to Hawaii, great place. And I'm just thinking, oh gosh. Mom, dad, brother, sister, and we're gonna rent a car, and they wanna go here and there. When am I gonna get in good photography? Well, I found out something very interesting about my family. They all sleep in til about 10 o'clock in the morning. That's when John takes the rental car out at six o'clock in the morning to go shoot sunrise. My brother and sister like to go for a hike. They want to go for a hike to go for the hike. I like the hike too, but at the top of the hike is this great bamboo forest. So I'm hiking the whole way going, I get 10 minutes of photography at the top, I get 10 minutes of photography at the top. I get my 10 minutes, they get their hike in, I get my photos in, everybody's happy. And so you have to kind of figure out how can you get a little bit of what you want without ruffling everybody else's feathers on it? And I know that can be challenging when you're traveling with friends and family that are not interested, but it can be done. You just have to taper back your expectations. Setting a realistic agenda is very important, and a lot of this comes down to what I talked about earlier. Scheduling enough time. Because if you say, photography, five minutes. That's not enough time to be creative and to deal with the problems that you typically have when you're out shooting photographs. But just, you know, be aware of the physical requirements. Oh, I wanted to go all the way up to the top of the hill, but I didn't realize it was that far. These are the types of things where research will really pay off. Last fall, I went over to my nephew's wedding in Europe, and I knew that during the wedding days, there was like a whole several days of things going on, I was gonna have to taper way back what I'm doing. I got in like an hour of photography in the morning where I could go out, shoot some photographs of the places we were at, and then I'd come back and do the family stuff. Yeah, I take my own family photos, which are not gonna be in here. And so, you know, understanding how much time you have and when you can squeeze those things in is very important. A lot of times we are traveling purely to travel, and we're just trying to take photos to document the trip. Sometimes we're taking photos because that's what we want the trip to be, but in some cases, you know, photography can be a lot of work, and it might take away from the rest of your trip. And so you need to figure out where it sits in. I learned this lesson on my bicycle trip around Iceland. That's me and my buddy there, and we've got camp set up, and I was keeping a very detailed journal of the travels, 'cause we were trying to document our story and what we felt and what we did each day. And towards the end of the trip, I just started to get weighed down by the journal-writing. 'cause I was writing like six, eight pages a day, and this was taking two, two and a half hours, and I'm like, do I really want to be spending two and a half hours in Iceland writing in a notebook? And I had to taper that back to a level of I'm gonna do one page a day. And so for a lot of travels, I just did one page a day, 'cause I don't want to spend my whole time doing it. And those other, those of you out there might feel that way about photography. It's important, but you don't want it to run amok of everything else in your travel. So I'm gonna try to do three good photographs a day, or I'm gonna do photography on this one day but I'm just gonna leave the camera behind on another day. And that's perfectly fine, in my opinion, 'cause you need to keep yourself in a happy place, a positive state of mind. What are you trying to do? So a lot of times, people are trying to document their trip. I'm going to show you what my trip, like, was to X location. And so that's when you're gonna focus on you. We want to see pictures of you in different places, and that's gonna kinda be the parameters of what you do in something like that. Maybe you're really interested in a location. You're going to be going to a city that you love, maybe New Orleans, I love New Orleans. And I'm gonna photograph this district and that district and this famous building and that street, and then you're gonna be focusing on that particular location, so you need to brush up on that location and all the different places that you wanna go. You might be trying to tell some other separate story of something that's going on, maybe a personal project that you're doing, and so that's gonna change the direction of what you want to do. Selling stock, you know, that professional travel photography? Well, then you're kind of at the whims of whatever's popular. I remember back in 2008 leading up to it, I heard about photographers who were going around shooting the number eight. Because in Japan, number eight is really popular, and so they would take photos of number eight on the street sign and the billboard and every place they could find an eight written. So that can lead you to kind of some weird photos there. Sometimes I just want to take great photos. I don't care what they're of, I don't care what story they tell, I just want them to be a great story in and of themselves. And that's gonna lead you and change your direction about where you go. Some key tips for setting the schedule on your trip. Fewer locations, more time. One of my first big trips was going to Iceland. Iceland, island, one country, six weeks, that'll do it. That's my type of really good vacation, a lot of time in one place. Think about how many people in your group. Generally the smaller numbers gives you more freedom and accessibility, less people you have to wait to go to the bathroom and all those other things. Now, I did say health and safety is your number one priority, but I do say here, maximize travel time, rest when you get home. I do tend to push things a little bit hard. I've been called the Energizer Bunny more than once in my life, because if I'm there, no, this is not the morning for sleeping in! I have a chance to go out and shoot something that I'll never be able to shoot again, maybe, in my life, I wanna get out there and do it. And so I do push myself a little bit, you just can't push yourself too far. If you have signed up on a trip, your buddy, your friend, your partner has decided to design for you, we're gonna go to New York City and I got it all planned out. Oh, that's great, I don't have to do any planning. But boy, are they gonna plan for your photography time in there? You need to go, hey, what are we doing here? What are we doing there? Hey, can I insert this little thing here while you're doing that, and you need to get involved in that itinerary if you can. And I talked about this before, moving those dinner times, breakfast times, to times where it's not the best light. Now, the exception to that rule, actually Ken and I were leading a tour in Morocco and we were trying to figure things out, we had to have dinner kind of at a certain time. So he says, well, if we're gonna have dinner at this time, at sunset, let's do it on the balcony of a roof where we can shoot photos from the dinner table. And we got some great photos doing that, and so that's an exception to the rule. There's lots of exceptions to the rules. Here's a good formula for you. This is the only formula in the class, I think. Time is greater than money. Yes, I know there's some exceptions to this, but a lot of time when we're scheduling our trips we're thinking money, 'cause as I said before, travel is expensive, and I've gone through this before. Let's see, I can get a hotel right in the middle of town, but it's pretty expensive. Or I can go way out of town and get a really cheap hotel. And then you find out that it's gonna take you an hour of commuting to get into town, you're gonna have to spend money, and then by the time you get to the middle of town, it'll be wasting an hour in and wasted hour out, and then you're already gonna be tired from that experience just commuting back and forth. And so think about where do you actually wanna be and try to get right there. Which is why I'm more than willing to sleep in a tent if it puts me right at the base of where I wanna go. A motel room an hour back? Wow, I could sleep in an hour if I'm willing to sleep in a tent. So whatever gets me closest to the action is usually what I'm picking. Think about the day, and the quality of light. We get a sunrise and we get a sunset every day, and those tend to be really good times where the light is not as contrast-y, it's good for landscapes, it's good for people shots, there's just a lot of good stuff going on in these photography times. And so when you are scheduling things with your friends and planning out the trip, yeah, we'll take care of that other stuff, you wanna go to the museum? Yeah, let's do that at 11 o'clock in the morning, we can spend the hot hours of the day, bright sun right in there, and then four, five o'clock in the evening we'll come back outside where we have some beautiful photography action. And so this is gonna lead me to when I get up, what time I eat breakfast. A lot of times I have found that the traditional three meals a day doesn't work for me. I need to have a quick snack before I go out, go shoot sunrise, come back, have a proper breakfast, have a late lunch, and then maybe have a late dinner after everything's all done. It varies according to the type of trip and where you are, but you wanna be out there at these best lighting times 'cause that's just gonna make your photos better in most cases. Can't stress this enough about time, giving yourself enough time. Just plan to arrive early for everything. Traffic, I was in Mongolia, Ulaanbataar. The worst traffic ever, it took us like an hour to go a half mile. And it was just crazy, and so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. The other thing to think about on time is what do you have control of versus what do you not have control of. And there's a lot of times that we travel where a good amount of our time is not controlled by us. It is uncontrolled. I'm on a tour, and I'm going there when the bus gets on, but I have that little bit of time when the bus gets off, and really trying to maximize this time that you have control here. Now, as much as I've been talking about planning, which I think is very important, I love not planning. I love having the luxury of not planning every once in a while. I have gone on road trips where I said, I've got the car packed up, I'm pretty sure I know the three states I'm gonna go to. But I don't know the order, and I don't know how long I'm gonna be in any particular location. But those trips can or cannot work out well, depending on the type of environment that you are in. And so I started thinking about when do you plan, when do you just wander, just go unscheduled? 'cause you hear both types of advice, and it's that they work in different locations. Iconic locations, you know, something of interest. If you said, I wanna go to New York City to photograph Times Square on New Year's Eve. You don't just wander around on that one, you come up with a plan. Where's your hotel, when do you make the reservation, how am I getting here, how am I getting there? You gotta get everything in its place. If you were trying to get a very specific image, I wanna get the fire fall in Yosemite National Park. That happens over just a short window of time frame, you gotta make a lot of planning. You just don't go down there and wing it on something like that. If you have a rich environment, a place where there's a lot of different things you can do. That way if something is all tied up or not working, you can move on to something else. It mostly requires more time, but I, personally, I prefer just wandering, I prefer not having a schedule. And it's driving me absolutely nuts right now that the national parks in the United States are going to a reservation system on their campgrounds, and so they only have a few that are available day of. And so you have to start planning in those cases, 'cause they're just too popular. And so I encourage you to try to do a mix of both of these, because they're gonna lead to different types of successful photographs. So if you've got your trip all planned, make sure everyone knows what's going on. Know what the schedule is, have you checked the weather, you got all the right clothes for it. Know what to expect, know what everyone else is to expect, and a fifth one, what are you gonna do with all your photos? I'm gonna talk about this more at the very end of the class, but this is an important thing to know. Are these just gonna go on a hard drive and sit there forever? Am I gonna print them? Am I gonna put them together into a story? Am I gonna make a slideshow for my friends? I know on my first big trip to Iceland, I knew I wanted to take a lot of photos, I knew I wanted to document the journey, but I didn't know exactly what I was gonna do with the photos. I ended up making this 45-minute Ken Burns-styled documentary, and I realized after making it I missed so many shots. 'cause I didn't know what I was doing with them. So the next time I did that picture, we were taking pictures that normally I would never, like, I'm taking a picture of my pedal and my foot and my hand, why do I need that? Because when I'm telling the story, that comes up in the story, and I need that visual little photograph, it's not a great photo, but it helps tell the story of what you're trying to do. And so if you are trying to tell a bigger story, you need to start acting like a Hollywood movie director. You might need to start storyboarding, okay, well, I've got this element, how do I get from this element to this, oh, I need this element here. I wouldn't have thought to go shoot a photo of the front door of my hotel room, but now I know I need that shot. And so when you know more about what you're doing with your photos, that's gonna give you a whole shot list of things that you're gonna need. Any good trip needs a little bit of research. You can start with all of your standard travel guides. These are gonna be perfectly fine, they're gonna tell you the hotels and the popular destinations. They are not particularly good in advising what a photographer is interested in doing. There are a few photography guides out there that will help tell you what the best time is to be at a particular place or how busy it is. But that's a good place to start off with. One of the things I will do is I will look on, do an internet search for any particular location, and then I go on and I wanna look at the images. And I wanna see what other people have shot in a particular location. And I'm not looking to copy what they did, but I'm trying to see what the realm of possibilities of where I can go and what I can create while I'm there. And so there's a number of great places, you can go to Google or Bing, you can go onto Flickr, and then from here you can start making your shot list. Hey, I like these concepts. And if you haven't traveled a lot, let me just tell you something that will just shock the heck out of you. Wifi is not available everywhere you go, okay? I know, we're so used to it. Is the signal a little low here? Let's go over here. There are places that you are far and away from any sort of internet connection, and it has thrown the current population off a little bit. Oh, I'll just Google that! Oh, my phone doesn't work. And it's nice to have this information either in a notebook or on a laptop or on your iPad or your phone where, you know, you can get to this one corner, where is this? And you can like, show the security guy, where is this picture taken from? And like, no, you go around the outside over there and that's where you get to it. And so having this with you in the field can be very beneficial in some cases.