Through the Gadling Lens: Prepping for a trip

Recently, I received the following email from someone I’ll call “Willy” (because that’s his name):

We’re going sailing in Tortola this summer with another couple, and I want to take some great shots. How can I prepare in advance of my trip to maximize success? All I can think of now is to look through Flickr and get inspired. Any other ideas?

This is such a great question, Willy — and I’m not just saying that in the vain hope that by flattering you, you and your wife might take me with you. I’m of the firm belief that a little pre-planning before you get on that plane (or boat) can result in the photographs of a lifetime. So, if you permit me a little fantasy time, here’s how I would plan if I were invited on a sailing trip in Tortola with friends. (But, you know, no pressure, Willy.)
1. First, buy a guidebook. I know, I know — this is very un-web-2.0 of me. But the fact is that chances are really good that while you’re traveling, you won’t have access to an internet connection (particularly if you’re on a small sailboat), and it’s always nice to have a handy guide that has just about everything you could possibly want to know about your destination country. A quick search on Amazon reveals that this guide book on the British Virgin Islands is one of their more popular — but if you have friends who’ve already visited, and have a recommendation, take their word. In any event, get the book.

And then, before you actually start your vacation, read the book. Many of these guidebooks are written by people who have actually spent considerable amount of time in the location (or, in some cases, live there), and can give you lots of insight into your destination — which, in turn, can help frame the types of shots you’d like to take. Read it with a photographer’s mindset, and mark the pages you’d like to return to, and plan accordingly.

2. In addition to guidebooks, check out blogs and travel websites. If there’s one thing that blogging has brought us, it’s first-hand experiential opinions of every topic under the sun. So, in addition to perusing Gadling for stories on your destination, use services like Google Blog Search and search for terms like “British Virgin Islands” or “Tortola” or whatever your destination to see what people are talking about, what images they upload, and any other nugget of inspiration. And for what it’s worth, I never head anywhere without first checking out — their “Fodor’s Choice” category on their destinations listing their don’t-miss sights has never let me down.

3. Now that you’ve done your research, start looking for inspiration. By this point, you’ve read your guidebook, and checked out the websites. Now is the time to start searching for images for inspiration. Do Google image searches and Flickr searches based on your destination name, but also based on what your research has turned up: remember, you’re not just trying to copy the images of your destination that have already been taken, but you’re also looking for inspiration from shots of other destinations or activities which might be similar to what you’re going to be experiencing on your own holiday.

Let me explain.

Taking Tortola and the British Virgin Islands as an example, in addition to searching on the destination name, you can do searches based on “beaches.” Looking through our Gadling Flickr pool, you might stumble across this shot…

… uploaded by StrudelMonkey, which is sort of the classic beach shot. Note the play of the colours of blue, white and green, and the coconut tree placed off to one side to help frame the shot. Beautiful.

But then, you’d also come across this shot:

… again, another amazing shot, this time by Arachide, and again showing the play of blues, whites and greens. However, in this shot, it’s all about the tree, and not just the ocean and the sky. It makes you think about other, different ways to frame your shots, and keeping both of these shots in mind when you travel can help you broaden how you might want to capture the seascapes.

Finally, check out this shot:

Okay, so this beach shot (captured brilliantly in Nova Scotia by borderfilms (Doug)) undoubtedly looks nothing like the beaches of the British Virgin Islands — but how cool is the perspective provided by his fisheye lens? You probably wouldn’t want to take all of your holiday shots with this lens, but for a fun change of pace in your vacation album, this provides some additional inspiration.

One more example — this time, doing a search for “sailing” in the Gadling pool, produces this pretty fantastic “in the moment” shot by Kouiskas:

… but you know what? What if, once you get out there on the boat, the sunsets aren’t perfect, and the water isn’t that blue? Are you just going to give up, and put your camera away?

Likely not, if you also found this shot:

I think you’d agree that the weather was hardly cooperative in the shot captured by il lele, above — but what an amazing image! The contrasts are beautiful, you can almost feel how hard the rain is coming down. A shot like this almost makes you hope for a bad day at sea!

And all of the shots above were found before we even started doing searches for “tropics,” “sunsets,” “lush,” “green,” “sand,” “surf,” “seafood,” “drinks,” “mountains,” “coastline,” and heaven knows what other words we can come up with. Just let your mind go, and see what you find.

4. Once you’re inspired, decide what sorts of photographs you’re going to try to capture, and the equipment you’re going to need to do it. Remember that you’re not just going to shoot scenery shots, but you’re going to want to capture some still lifes, some shots that show the colours and the moods, all types of shots (we talked about the kinds of shots that make a complete album here). And in Willy’s case, since he’s going to be traveling with his wife and friends, he’s definitely going to want to capture some portraits of his travel companions as well. Once yo
u’ve figured out what types of shots you’d like to take, this will help you decide what equipment (particularly lenses, if necessary) you’ll want to pack.

5. Finally, if you don’t have all the equipment you’d need to take all those shots, consider renting. So now that you’ve been inspired, and you feel like you won’t be able to live without that huge 18-200mm lens, or that fantastic fisheye, (or, heck, and underwater camera for your once-in-a-lifetime SCUBA dive), do you go out and spend tons of money? Not unless you really want to — remember, there are companies that will allow you to rent photographic equipment just for your trip. As described in this great post on Shutter Sisters, companies like LensRentals will allow you to rent particular lens, with reasonable insurance rates in case something happens to the equipment. If you do all of the above planning early enough, the equipment will arrive at your doorstep via FedEx in plenty of time for your trip.

So, Willy (and those of you who are planning equally exotic vacations), hopefully this post will help you plan for your trip. And, you know, make you so grateful, you’ll feel moved to invite me along.

Just saying.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks, and feel free to send her your photography questions directly to karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom. She’ll happily tackle them in upcoming posts.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.