A beginners guide to photography: 10 ways to maximize your photo day trips

Early fall just before the leaves start to change. Nebraska Notch Trail. Underhill, Vermont.

Day trips are the lifeblood of my current photography work. Working a day job can certainly limit the amount of shooting time for anyone but when I do go out to shoot I try to make the most of my time. Most of my trips involve at least an hour or more of hiking and definitely at least an hour of driving time. All of this time is an important factor in planning a day trip as most locations in Vermont can require two or more hours of drive time. The money I do make from my work is sporadic right now so I must plan ahead and use my time wisely when I do venture into the woods of Vermont.
In the past few years I have spent a great deal of time learning how to best utilize the precious shooting time that I do have every week. Belive me, The knowledge did not come overnight but through much practice. When you first start to shoot there is this tendency to want to shoot everything, To try to capture it all in one day but after a while you start to realize just how impossible that this is. Learning to realize what you like and don’t like to shoot is the all important first step to narrowing down what you want to specialize in. By doing this you can save yourself much wasted time and you can then focus on getting as many images as you can in  a short day photo trip. I don’t want to waste my time, I don’t want to waste gas and I certainly want to ensure that I get at the very least one quality image out of a day trip. Even that one image will make the trip well worth the effort.
1. Use maps. (topo and otherwise): Currently I use topographic maps of the state of Vermont, a detailed road atlas of Vermont ( Roads are notoriously miss marked or not signed at all here in the state), google maps and google earth and Delorme’s Topo U.S.A. 9 with some downloaded satellite imagery for the areas that I often explore in. All of these things are key in researching locations and knowing where you want to go ahead of time.

2. Stay within a certain zone: Take a map and draw a circle around where you live and extend that circle out say 150 to 200 hundred miles. For me this is a huge area of Vermont with lots of photo locations to explore. I know within that zone is about 3 hours or so of driving time. Of course you can extend that zone but at least this will give you some idea of how far you are going to go and what it will take to get there. It sounds limiting but it also will allow you to be more creative in  how and where you make images.

3. Plan for several locations: Within this zone you can pick a particular area and plan to shoot at several locations within say fifty miles of each other. Here in Vermont this is easy to do with the Green Mountains cutting right through the center of the state. Spending the day working at several different locations ensures that you get your photography work in and adds some variety to your shooting.

4. Know the seasons of the area and how things change from month to month: This is important for a number of reasons, Here in Vermont there are certain times of the year where some locations get flooded with visitors and the in-between months as I like to call them where the seasons are changing and the photo ops are limited. March is one example as the transition from winter into spring  can be quite dull and in September we lose the green of the forests but the trees are not yet ready to start showing off their brilliant colors.  The change in the seasons is also important as you need to know the weather pattern for an area and especially in the Winter when the snowpack will be too much or too dangerous to walk through without the right gear.

5. Look up, down, left and right: You have to look in all directions and for all photo possibilities when out shooting. Take advantage of your time and have an open mind about what subjects there are to shoot. I don’t want to miss anything so I try to think out of the box when I am out and about.

6. Take into consideration your impact on the environment: While I am not a hippie, tree hugger type (no offense!) I do care about the environments in which I shoot. I am a leave no trace type, I don’t scar or destroy when I am shooting. I have been to too many out-of-the-way places and shot lots of images only to get home and discover in the editing process that there was garbage or other human evidence within the image, Making the shots unusable. Check your locations and become familiar with them before you shoot. I often visit locations several times throughout the year and sometimes I may only scout out potential photo ops. Be aware and mindful of where you are because for me I always want to go back to a location. I treat it with respect and if I am on someones property I don’t trash the place.

7. Pack light but pack the right equipment: Most of you know that after a few hours of hiking your gear starts to get heavier. I don’t have a lot of gear but I try to target what I bring with me for the type of work I will be doing. It’s a compromise between what work you want to accomplish and how much gear you want to carry. Learning to only bring what you need and to previsualize what you will be shooting can go a long way towards packing light and moving fast in dense forest locations.

8. Never have the attitude that there is no image to be made here: These trips are an important use of my time as I only have a precious few days to shoot so I never say that there is no image to be made at a location. I always scour each location for shot possibilities and try to be creative about angles…etc. Always say to yourself that there is at least one image here no matter where you are.

9. Dont be afraid to explore an area: I think some of the best images are made well off of the beaten path or when you are not expecting to find them. I try to get to out-of-the-way or less travelled places when I can to get some images. Even if I am right in my hometown I still will go out and explore in new places. Do the unexpected and look for ways to frame your shots that are different from the other guy or gal. I like to look at books or magazines in my area and see what other people are shooting and change accordingly. If I see a lot of the same images then I look for something new and fresh or a different way to frame a shot.

10. Don’t limit yourself to sunrise and sunset shooting: I love these times of day and shoot often here but don’t forget about the middle of the day as well. While not the best time to shoot and often the light can be quite harsh there still are possibilities there…Think about doing some HDR or using a ten stop neutral density filter to extend your shooting time after the sun rises. Learn to be flexible and don’t put limits on your work.


9 thoughts on “A beginners guide to photography: 10 ways to maximize your photo day trips

  1. Great post Andrew. I’d be interested in hearing more about #10 – have you made any real keepers in the middle of the day? What tricks do you use to tame mid-day light?

    • Thanks for the comment…After during and after sunrise I will either shoot with a 10 stop neutral density filter and a two stop graduated for really long exposures or a combination of either a two or three stop neutral density filter and a two stop graduated. I would say after 10 oclock in the morning even using this system can be limiting with the harshness of the mid day sun. There is creative ways to shoot during the day however and I never limit myself.

    • For sure Aaron..Same here on the gas prices, However here in Vermont because of its small size you can get to many locations within a 150 mile radius of my home. Not so far that you spend all day driving. I try to limit my longer drives to just a few times a month and I try to shoot several locations near each other when possible on a longer trip to maximize keeper images and to save on gas.

  2. Great tips, and I like #10. I like sunrise and sunset as much as the next person, but there is a full day of activity to catch, and it is sometimes forgotten due to the golden hours. Great list!

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