a31 May 2013

Thoughts: Research before photo shoot

Impressive entrance to the cathedral in Montpellier, France.
Capturing a good travel or landscape photo is never easy. It requires a lot of skills, a lot of luck and a lot of patience. Well, it requires good equipment too (never believe that you don't need good equipment to capture good photos). With so many factors you have to do something to increase your chances. And what I have in mind is doing a research before arriving on location. By research I mean checking various things about the location (eg. shape of terrain), conditions (eg. weather, time of sunset). Why is it important? I listed a few examples below:
  1. You want to capture a night photo showing Milky Way over the mountains but when you arrive at the location it turns out that Milky Way is not over the mountains but on the opposite side.
  2. You want to capture a long exposure photo of water during high tide so the water looks silky smooth but when you arrive at the location it turns out that it is in fact low tide and you wouldn't be able to take photo you had in mind. Also it could turn out that you would have to walk on the slippery rocks to get decent shot what becomes quite dangerous.
  3. You want to capture golden hour in the city but it turns out that sunset isn't above the most interesting building but opposite to them.
  4. You want to capture photos with nice blue sky but it rains all the time during your stay.
  5. You want to capture nice photos but don't know what are the most interesting spots so you waste time moving from location to location and you end up with rather mediocre and random collection.
Sunset in Warsaw, Poland as seen from the Poniatowski Bridge on 31st May 2013.
Research would help in all these cases by providing useful tips and details about the location. There are many tools you can use to do the research. Here are the ones I use most frequently:
  • Travel guides - they help me to make preliminary choices of places I would like to visit. I also try to think which of them would look good during golden and blue hours. Good travel guide might be really helpful because it can give you hints for instance on using public transportation to get there quickly what is essential when you try to photograph more than one subject during sunset/sunrise as they last very short.
  • Weather forecasts - of course weather forecasts are only predictions and they are often wrong (especially long term ones) but if you see a weather forecast telling it will rain for 2 weeks there is great chance it really will. So it might be better to choose different location.
  • Looking at the photos - I spent quite a lot of time looking at the photos of chosen locations. You can use Flickr, 500px or Google Images for that. Thanks to looking at the photos I can learn how the location looks at different times of day and what are the most popular compositions - then I know which compositions to avoid :)
  • Google Earth - one of my favourite tools and a very powerful one. You can learn a number of things from it including terrain curvature, location of 3D objects (buildings, statues, etc.), photos from different places, etc. You can even use it to plan your trip. But one of my favourite features is that it shows exact sun position and real-time shadows on terrain and buildings. As it's possible to set the time very precisely (smallest unit is a second!) you can use it to plan your sunrise/sunset photos.
  • Blue/Golden hour calculator - very useful tool giving you details about blue hour, golden hour, sunset and sunrise at location of your choice. Details include start and duration of them.

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