3am Europe/Rome

Travel Planning: Craft a photo shot list for your Travel Photography

Crafting a photo shot list is the next step after you have studied your Travel Photography destination using guidebooks, you have tuned your expectations, and you have hired a fixer. By now you should know I’m fond of planning when it comes to Travel Photography. I want to know almost exactly what I’m going to shoot, but this doesn’t mean my photo shot list is carved in stone, in fact, I always try to be adaptable to the situation.

Even though your photo shot list must not be fixed, crafting one can significantly improve your experience when you’re on location. It helps you stay in focus and on track when it comes to choosing what to shoot; it allows you to arrange a logical order for places to visit, and what and how to shoot when you’re there; it lets you choose the gear you’ll need to take with you on a more informed basis.

Before crafting your photo shot list, you should have a briefing with your editor, writer or client in general. If you’re shooting for a magazine article or a book, you’ll want to know if there are mandatory shots you’ll have to make. You have to know what your client needs from your Travel Photography.

Next, you can begin your brainstorming. Simply write down what shots come to mind. Don’t censor yourself in this phase, you can always edit afterwards. Just keep writing what comes to mind, considering everything you have researched until now. For me, photo shot lists fall in two broad categories: setting shots and detail shots.

Setting shots are those images you’ll make to let your audience understand where the story takes place. This comprehends landscapes, cityscapes, aerial shots, and so on.

Detail shots are the narrative thread of your story. These shots can be close-ups, street photography, shots of landmarks, crowds, portraits and so on. Remember that even details can be composed of setting and details in turn. For example, a street can be the setting for a portrait, and a landmark can be the setting for a close-up.

The photo shot list can be as specific as you want, but remember that, unless you already know the location, you can never be sure how a picture can be made.

A shot list can be something specific such as:

  1. Cityscape from the top of St. Peter Basilica at dawn.
  2. Shot of the Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome with tourists visiting.
  3. Image of a tourist photographing the entrance of the Basilica.
  4. Detail of the sculptures on the main door of the Basilica.
  5. Portrait of Sister Maria.
  6. Portrait of the Pope.

Or it can be something more generic like:

  1. Cityscape of Rome.
  2. Shots of tourists in St. Peter’s Square.
  3. Shots of nuns.
  4. Portrait of the Pope. (this is quite specific, but you can mix up styles)

You can write your photo shot list in your travel journal, a paper notebook (I use Moleskines), or you can use a digital medium. A simple note taking app on your smartphone can do it. There are even apps dedicated to photo shot lists, such as My Shot Lists by Ralph Velasco.

Depending on what you’re going to shoot, you may want to craft even sub-shotlists. Besides a city photo shot list, you can craft a specific photo shot list for a special event that takes place there and you may want to photograph. You may want to craft a photo shot list for a festival, which comprehends the opening shot, images of the crowd, portraits of people, and so on.

When you complete your photo shot list, you should discuss it with your fixer or your contact person at the destination. This is essential to determine the feasibility of your shots. You may want to photograph restricted areas, local craftspeople or religious rituals. Your fixer will tell you if he can get passes or schedule events for you, or if some shots are simply impossible to arrange (making a portrait of the Pope :)).

I urge you to view photo shot lists as a useful tool for your Travel Photography, but not as the Bible of your trip. You have to be receptive to what happens around you, and you have to be flexible enough to adapt to evolving situations.

There may be shot opportunities you haven’t considered during your planning; you may meet people who can recommend you new places that can improve your story; you’ll have to adapt to changing weather conditions. That’s why you have to consider your photo shot list as a guide, but you have to be ready to abandon it or to modify it on the fly.

In the next part of this travel planning series, we’ll discuss gear. As usual, I’d like to know if you use photo shot lists when you’re on a trip. Would you like to share your experience in the comments?


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