Planning a Photography Road Trip? These simple tips will help ensure success!

I recently spent a month on the road and found these tips to be crucial to success.

  • Identify your intent – This is of the utmost importance. I have found that not knowing what you want to photograph leads to countless hours of downtime while traveling and waiting for something to catch your attention.

I have photographed a wide array of subjects and styles over many years. Recently I found myself growing a bit restless and wanted to update my fine-art landscape portfolio. For me, this usually means photographing landscapes during “Golden Hour” and having a lower percentage of success than many other styles of photography. Trying to time when conditions will be just right is equal parts luck and preparation.

Golden Hour on the Oregon Coast

  • Locate your destinations – If you are on a long journey with multiple stops to photograph be sure to give your self more than enough time to get there!

I have found an amazing number of landmarks, National Parks and hidden locations throughout the western half of the United States. Being able to identify a few of these places as a “Must Stop” or “Must Have Image” will allow you to research each place and set your itinerary accordingly.

During this most recent trip, as stated earlier, I wanted to photograph certain locations at fairly specific times. In order to do this you need to take several things into account.

  1. Identify “Time of event” - If you are shooting sunrise or sunset you can imagine that it would be helpful to know when to be there.
  2. Know travel time from A to B – For me this mostly means travel time from camp/hotel to parking lot of point B.
  3. Setup time and place – Do you have to hike a ways to get to your location? Do you know exactly where you are going to setup?

  • Plan your route – Now is the time you get to play! Once you have identified your “Must Haves” you get to work out all the stops in between.

This is the part that you get to decide just how much of an adventure you want to have! By adding a bit more time to your journey you can find countless amazing roadside stops to photograph along the way! One great example of this from my recent adventure is traveling from Death Valley National Park to a few of my favorite stops along the southern Oregon Coast. If pressed for time you could take the Interstate all the way from southern California north to Oregon. With a bit more planning and time you can also choose to take the endless back roads that travel to Yosemite, Mono Lake and countless cafe’s and wonderful people!

Deadwood South Dakota

Enough talk! Let’s get to the examples and see them in practice!

For my example I have chosen a recent trip from Portland, Oregon to Palouse Falls in Eastern Washington State.

Weather Conditions

I had photographed these falls once before and had seen some amazing photos from here for years. As we were in the area I began to watch the weather forecast for either a “partly cloudy” or “mostly cloudy day”. I did this because I find perfectly clear skies to make for boring sunset photos and wanted some clouds to fill in the negative space that shooting this terrain would give.

My weather forecast came in! Time to hit the road!

Destination is set, but how do we get there?

From Portland to the Falls is not that long of a drive in ideal conditions and no stops….

Google Maps is an invaluable tool road trippin'

We were making this trip on Feb. 6th, 2017 – It was cold, overcast and a fair amount of snow in places so you could easily add a fair amount of time to the 4 hours and 42 minutes that Google estimates.

Once you get the suggested route, take a moment and look at the things along the way using Google Earth. The many roadside (or nearly roadside) attractions along the way may add a bit of time to your journey but can produce some amazing photo ops along the way! For me I wanted to stop off and see a Stonehenge Monument in Maryhill, Washington on our way.

But do you have time to stop?

The devils in the details. We now know our destination and our estimated travel time without stops. Lets see if we have any wiggle room.
  • First stop is ShotHotSpot as we know the destination but where are the iconic images taken once you arrive? Using this site you are usually able to narrow down where to shoot from once you arrive at a known location. Palouse Falls is a heavily photographed area and has one vantage point that I love to shoot from
A great site to narrow down that final shot!

  • Next stop is The Photographer’s Ephemeris to find out sunset times and locations to the area you found. This is an incredible free app that can take a bit of practice but overall rewarding.
A must have app for photogs!

  • Now onto one of my other favorite nerd stops – How many hours of light in the day? This handy website will help you narrow down how many hours you can realistically travel throughout the day. This is not a required stop as The Photographers Ephemeris above gives you your estimated sunset time. I simply use this one as follows… Type in your city and state as I have here.

Once done simply hit “Compute Table” - You will get this handy chart -

We were traveling on 2/06/2017, you will see that there was 9 hours and 56 minutes of daylight that day.

Now you have all the information you need!

Google estimates 4 hours and 42 minutes drive time in a day that has 9 hours and 56 minutes of daylight. In ideal conditions this would give you 5 hours and 14 minutes of time for other business such as gas stops, food, exploring other areas, setting up camping and finding your best image composition at your destination.

As mentioned earlier we were traveling in snow and icy conditions so it makes sense to add a fair amount of time to Google’s estimate, though I did decided we had time to stop at the Stonehenge Memorial along the way.

Stonehenge Memorial Maryhill, WA

In this instance we arrived in time for a fairly bland sunset….

A rather boring image with too much negative space

The winds were in our favor and the forecast held true, the cloudy skies came in for the following mornings sunrise….

Sunrise delivered some clouds to fill the negative space

And after a good day camping and photographing the surrounding area and wildlife…..

Eastern Washington Moose

The skies gave up their colors and treated us with this...

Sunset at Palouse Falls, Washington State

In closing I hope that these tips help you gain success on your upcoming journey. As you now have some tools for your roadtrippin’ toolbox don’t forget to be flexible and don’t pass up a chance for an epic photo just because you feel the need to get somewhere else. The joy is in the accidental finds and not always in the planned.

Happy light chasing!

John Ramer
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