When you book an assignment or simply choose to work on your personal Travel Photography project, begins the process of travel planning. The travel planning process can take from a few days to several months, depending on the destination and your knowledge of it.
A reportage of your home town—a place you should know inside out—will certainly require less travel planning than an expedition to Antarctica. For the sake of this little article, I’ll omit the extremes, particularly the “Antarctica” one, which would require an entire book to explain.
Once I’ve decided where to go, the first thing I do is to go to my local library or visit Amazon and start plundering for travel guidebooks.
You can complain that we’re in the era of the internet and we can get the information we look for online, so we don’t need travel guidebooks. You’re right! The internet is full of useful information, but finding it is time consuming.
Your time has a value, isn’t it? Especially if you’re a professional photographer, time is money. Spending time online can cost you more than the cost of guidebooks (usually from $15 to $30). You’ll have to spend time online in the subsequent steps of your travel planning process, so, if you can obtain all the necessary information needed conveniently packed in nice guidebooks, just go for them!
I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing the culture of the place we’re visiting. It’s nonsense to go to a country and wander around without understanding why something is there and the meaning of it. Also, you’ll miss loads of photo opportunities just because you don’t know what your looking at.
Travel guidebooks are the first step in knowing about your destination. In travel guidebooks you can find an introduction to the history of the area you’re about to visit; you’ll know what and where the main attractions are; you’ll know where and when the main events such as festivals or representations take place; you’ll know where to eat and lodge.
The first brand I look for is Lonely Planet guidebooks. I find them comprehensive and very well done. However, there are loads of guidebook brands such as Routard—tailored for backpackers—, National Geographics—where you can find that “Antarctica” guide—, Frommer’s guidebooks and so on.
A single editor doesn’t put everything in a guidebook, so buying more than one isn’t a bad idea at all. I usually look for the most specific edition dedicated to the place I’m going. If I’m visiting a whole country, I’ll get that country’s title, but if I’m going to a particular city, I look for more specific guidebooks. Sometimes I get both.
Once I have my guidebooks, first of all I’ll look at special events. If I go to a place without a specific reason, I want to see if I can find something remarkable that isn’t there every day. If there’s some notable event in the days I’ll be there, I’ll need to gather more information on it and see if it is worth shooting. These events can range from festivals to natural phenomenons.
Next I’ll read the history of the place. I do this step before looking at hotspots because I want to understand the importance of those attractions. You don’t need to know the history inside out, but obviously, the more you know the better your consciousness of the place you’re going to shoot.
At this point, you can work on a first draft of what will be your schedule. I usually make a list of what I think I’ll visit, and locate the spots on a map to help me think about the logistics.
This is just the first step in planning a trip, but I consider it essential. In guidebooks there’s plenty of stuff to get your hands dirty and kick off the organization of your journey.
I say it’s just the first step because it is sufficient in the least. As a travel photographer, you probably want to go beyond the usual tourist routes because you want to capture the true essence of the place or, if you’re a professional photographer, because your editor needs something new to put in the next edition of a book or magazine (it can even be the next edition of your guidebook).
We’ll see how to research visually your travel destination in the next installment of this series, but in the meantime, I’d like to know what is your first step when you have to prepare a new assignment/personal project. Do you rely on travel guidebooks, just surf the internet or leave without preparation?