Photographing a New Location: 7 Tips to Create Better Images When Traveling to a New Location
Photographing a new landscape can be exciting for many reasons and the thrill of a new landscape is something many photographers dream of, whether distant or relatively close to home. Photographing a new location brings many challenges though and often leads to very few “keeper” images, despite the initial thrill and excitement of travel. There’s several reasons for this, but there’s also many ways to get the most out of your Photography in a new location.
Challenges of Photographing a New Landscape
- Limited time
- Unfavorable conditions
- Unfamiliar with local weather
- Unknown locations
- Limited gear
- Excitement bias
- Knowing what to look for
These are just a few examples of challenges faced when photographing a new landscape. So let’s have a closer look at each of these while discussing ways to overcome these challenges.
1) Limited Time
This is an obvious challenge when traveling as often only have a day or a morning or a short period of time to shoot. Perhaps you have other plans which limit your time to shoot so you need to make the most of this time. A simple way to ensure you’re maximizing your time is to understand your camera, test gear and double check for the essentials (batteries/cables/etc). This may sound trivial but so much time can be lost when these basic things aren’t addressed BEFORE you go shoot. Dead or missing batteries have ruined more than one photographer’s limited time. I had this happen to a friend;)
2) Unfavorable Conditions
This happens so often in Landscape Photography as Nature usually has other plans. You go to a location expecting one condition but end up with something else. Maybe it’s a hard to reach location for sunset and when you get there you discover it’s totally clear or all clouds. This can lead to disappointment for many people so how do you get around this? One such way is to ask a different question, or have a different perspective. Try considering what IS good with the given conditions instead of focusing on what isn’t matching your expectations or vision. Perhaps the unfavorable conditions are actually favorable for something else? Something you would’ve not seen otherwise? Or something that looks best in the conditions you have? This happens ALL the time in Landscape Photography but it takes skill and practice to overcome.
3) Unfamiliar With Local Weather
Every location has its nuances with weather and it can be difficult or even impossible to understand when just visiting for a short time. A quick and easy way to get a better understanding of the local weather is to begin reading the forecast for a location well before you arrive. Understand some of the past weather and what’s to come. This can help immensely and can tie back into maximizing your time in a location. For example, there are certain cloudy evenings to go out and photogaph sunset around Zion National Park and other cloudy days that won’t yield a sunset or good ligh. It’s not as much “luck” as you’d think.
4) Unknown Locations
Again, an obvious challenge, but in a new location you likely don’t know where to go. You can look online/ social media but will often find the same places as everyone else. You could read a guide book or blog, but again, the same exact places. You could also just go find something for yourself but this can eat into valuable time and many instances of missing something good because you were busy exploring. So how do you overcome this challenge? Google Earth can be a good start to get a feel of the area. It’s not terribly accurate in many locations (the desert/Bryce Canyon) but it’s a start. Another option is a bit counterintuitive but instead of trying to see more, try to see less. This may mean going for a hike instead of driving all around an area. Maybe it means shooting a smaller area instead of snapshots across a larger area. One last way to overcome this challenge is combining “seeing unfavorable conditions as favorable” with “knowing what to look for” which is discussed in tip 7.
5) Limited Gear
This challenge affects people in different ways and can be a matter of bringing too little or gear missing/broken. On a recent trip I opted to not bring a tripod which limited some shooting opportunities but didn’t present an issue. Or perhaps you don’t want to travel with every lens and camera you own. Often times having a lighter setup and familiar gear is superior to heavier gear or unfamiliar equipment. The lighter setup is obvious when hiking or traveling so “limited” is often actually a benefit. Another limitation such as no tripod is to look for scenes you can shoot with a faster shutter speed/ISO or use other methods of stabilization such as a tree or rock or fence. A stable camera is a stable camera. Focal length is also often an issue with limitations of photography but can be addressed by a little planning ahead. If you know you like wide angle scenes, don’t bring your telephoto and vice versa. A final point on focal length and lenses is there are many options to rent lenses now. If you want to shoot landscapes with a telephoto or wide angle lens, you can easily rent one for the week to try it before you invest in one. Have a look at Borrow Lenses (not affiliated) and the same goes for cameras. Gear limitations don’t have to be a restraint when traveling to a new place with a little planning ahead.
6) Excitement Bias
This is a concept you may or may not be familiar with but it has an impact on your Photography. It’s natural to feel excited about a new location or landscape but this excitement is a sort of filter over your eyes. Excitement is also a good thing but it’s also a challenge because it leads the mind to think something is better than it actually is. For example, you visit a new place and take 500 photos because it all looks new and amazing. Fast forward one year and how many of those images still have that same excitement? I’m guessing it’s much less than 500. This is natural though and the excitement can be hugely beneficial if we’re aware of it. A simple way is to just pause for a moment after you frame a scene. Pause, step back, evaluate the frame more objectively, then click or adjust. This simple step will lead to more intentional images by nature and help overcome the excitement bias of the eyes. Another way is a little opposite of this approach and it’s to simply shoot more. Shoot more intentional variations, more than what you think in the field because your eyes will not be the same when you’re home behind your monitor. This isn’t spray and pray shooting, it’s intentional variations with a pause before clicking the shutter. It takes practice but will give better images if practiced in the field.
7) Knowing What to Look For
The final tip is in a way a summary of the previous 6 tips. Using your equipment that you do have, understanding local weather, preparing your equipment, seeing less geographic area and shooting effectively through the excitement, all contribute to knowing what to look for in a new location. Prepare your gear and technique so they don’t interfere with your eyes while in the field. Use some of your gained knowledge to anticipate and react to conditions. Allow some additional time for observation and most importantly, trust your instincts. If you’re enjoying an area of a location, don’t worry about what else there is to shoot, just focus on making a better image of what’s interesting to you. Through these simple tips you’ll get a better feeling of what to look for and your images will be better and more meaningful as a result.
Conclusion – Photographing a New Landscape
These tips are things I personally use all the time as I explore a new landscape and location. Although I love becoming familiar with a landscape by repeated visits, the excitement of a new location is human nature I believe. I also understand many people don’t have the opportunity to make repeated visits to a distant location or even an unfamiliar yet nearby landscape. This is a main reason I love doing what I do and helping people gain skills to use at their next “New Landscape” while maximizing their time while visiting a new landscape.