Itineraries, maps and teaching notes are scattered across my studio table at the moment. Piles of photo gear are stacked around the room, waiting to be sorted into what goes and what stays. Preparing for a seven-week, 2,600-mile road trip that includes four workshops and an artist residency has me thinking about the trip planning process.
When it comes to planning photographic excursions—whether to shoot on assignment, teach a workshop, work on a personal project or simply explore a new place—I have found there is a delicate balance between planning and being open to experience, a balancing act that can be easily thwarted by inadequate preparation or excessive expectations.
We research destinations so that we are prepared, don’t miss what’s most important, and can use our time efficiently. Knowing when the sun rises and sets and where the best views might be at those times of day is especially important to a landscape photographer. When shooting along the coast, knowing the tide schedule and whether locations are best photographed at high tide or low tide is critical. In national parks, historic sites and botanical gardens, we need to know opening and closing times, as well as the rules regarding photography. When photographing on private land (such as for gardens and architecture), we need permission and property releases.
It is a terrible feeling to arrive somewhere for a limited amount on time and to have no idea where to get started, no feel for direction, no place to stay, no sense for where the best shots might be waiting. It is frustrating to discover that the museum we wanted to tour requires advance reservations, that the lighthouse we wanted to photograph is closed for renovation, or that it is peak black fly season in the woods where we planned to camp.
However, it is also possible to go overboard with preparations—creating tight, overly aggressive schedules or developing expectations for what a place should look like (based on photographs we, no doubt, saw when making our plans). We fail to leave time to wander, relax, follow our sense of curiosity around the bend, and make discoveries of our own.
We must each find our own balance. When traveling on my own, I tend to keep plans fairly loose. I prefer road trips over air travel and believe getting there can be half the fun. When making plans for a group workshop, however, I nail down as many details as possible and have a working itinerary. Still, I leave plenty of flexibility in the schedule. This gets us off to a good start, but allows us to adapt to group interests and experience levels, as well as to changing weather or unexpected challenges. My goal is to be open to unexpected opportunities—knowing that adequate preparation helps make that possible, but having too many expectations is like wearing blinders.
I want to be like the woman in one of my recent workshops who declared, “I make U-turns.” If I’m traveling down a road something piques my interest, I want to be able to go back and check it out.