You are looking forward to that vacation you have wanted so much? You are not the only one. Amidst our work, family and everything else, we all need a little getaway at times. I travel extensively throughout the United States and based on my experience, I am going give you some tips to make the most of your hard-earned vacation time. Please be advised that I speak from a photographer’s perspective but most of what I say applies to any kind of vacation, not just a photo trip.
Plan, Plan and Plan
I cannot overstate this. Whether you are traveling across the ocean or a place only a few hours from home, the better you plan, the more time you will have on your hands when you arrive. Plan for the time of the year and time of the day.
Allow for more time during peak tourist seasons and in the middle of the day. Most people sightsee between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Photographically, that time generally doesn’t yield good light (do not give up, read on) so if you are wondering why the fall colors do not look awesome in your pictures, that is why.
You could use midday for visiting indoor attractions like museums, cathedrals, barns, checking out the downtown or perhaps do some street photography. I should clarify – I do not mean to say that street photography does not benefit from great light – however, you can often pull off a shot in diffused light or just based on the emotion of the people involved.
If you are into Infra-Red (IR) photography, you have a great advantage over those who are not. IR can be shot in strong daylight, often requiring long exposures even in the sun.
We live in an age where you can find more information about a place with a few clicks, than was possible by visiting that place twenty years ago. Put Google maps to work for you. Check out sites like for first hand information from other travellers. Ask questions in forums. If the place you are traveling to offers tourist guides and maps, order those ahead of time and use them in your planning. If you are planning to shoot a famous landmark, check out sun and moon positions for best light. One app I use for that is The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). Look at other photographers’ images made at these locations. I am not suggesting that you plagiarize, but there is nothing wrong in drawing inspiration from well-acclaimed work.
Keep an Eye, or Two, on the Weather
Weather plays a crucial role in any outdoor photography, especially landscape. Human beings have yet to invent a softbox that could light a mountain or a diffuser that could soften the harsh light on a forest.
Weather also dictates the choice of subjects. On overcast days, you are better off shooting intimate forest scenes and waterfalls than, say, rocky shorelines. The greenery in the forest can literally glow on overcast days. Break open a polarizer and you have a winner.
Moving water can be shot with slow shutter speed (long exposure) to get that milky effect. Depending on the available light, you may have to use a neutral density filter to achieve a slower shutter speed.
Bad weather can make for some very compelling images where the ominous clouds, play of light and shadows create a mood and drama that are not found under clear sky.
Even if it is raining, you do not need to give up. Unless it is pouring cats and dogs, you could add some macro shots to your portfolio. Colorful storefronts also make great rainy day subjects where you could literally shoot from inside the car letting those raindrops on the windows add drama to the scene.
Be Prepared to Adjust the Plan
Perhaps this is a continuation of what I said earlier about planning, but it is so important that it deserves separate mention. It’s all good if you have a great plan but you cannot control Mother Nature. She may decide to throw a curved ball at you and if you are not ready, it could cause big disappointments. Roads may close unexpectedly, rain could kick in suddenly, and sites could be closed due to increased wildlife activity. Things could happen that are beyond your control. Be open to shuffling your itinerary, adding things that you thought you would not be able to do or see, and giving away on some others. The point is, being flexible is key when you are traveling.
This may sound a little odd, allow me to explain. To be able to fully enjoy your time off, you should be very clear about the things that you like to do and those that you do not. If the word “vacation” means to you sleeping in, relaxing by the fire with a drink or taking a boat ride, you may not be happy to pack seven mile hike, rock climbing, or canoeing into your schedule. On the other hand, if you are an outdoor buff, staying indoors could seem like a terrible waste of time. When traveling with family, it is important to know everyone’s preferences, then if they are different, strike a balance amongst them all.
When traveling with a companion, it is a great advantage to have similar likings. That does not only mean way of living. Meal habits are very important too. Perhaps you are one who does not like to spend a lot of time looking for an Italian restaurant in an unknown place. Your companion, on the other hand, could be a strict vegetarian and very picky about where they eat. Unless you are conscious about those differences, you could be spending time resolving conflicts instead of doing what you are there for.
Have Extra Cash Available
When you are traveling, being a Scrooge is often not the best way to go. I am not suggesting that you splurge but most vacation spots make their money from seasonal tourism. Thus, everything will be more expensive than usually justified, and that means everything from food, to room rent, to souvenirs. If you are constantly counting pennies, it will occupy your mind, rather than important things. Keep some budget for unforeseen expenses and when those happen, do not sweat it. Enjoying your time matters more than money.
Do not Take it too Hard
Sometimes unfortunate things happen even after the best of planning. You cannot do anything about that. I hope not, but should you run into any such situation, just take it in strides. During my trip to the Acadia National Park, I took a fall, twice. I got several deep cuts, hurt a finger so bad that I was afraid that I might have broken it (luckily not), worst of all my camera gear was damaged. I did not lose heart or cancel my vacation. I just dealt with it; got the injuries checked out at an urgent care, did first aid, took painkillers and did what I was there to do – photography. The point is, bad things happen; it’s not the end of life but rather, part of it. Have fun!