Take a Photo Trip!

Want a sure fire way to take better landscape photographs? Plan a photo trip. Every photo trip I have ever done has resulted in some of my top photos of the year.

Why a Photo Trip?

The reason I get such great photos on photo trips is focus, and I don't mean camera focus, mental focus. Because I am there to take photographs and nothing else I immerse myself into the task. I get up before sunrise and finish up after sunset; I take my time at the location trying different compositions and angles; I experiment with long exposures, panoramas, and HDR. I plan!


This is probably one of the more important aspects of a photo trip. Before the trip I will map out my destinations, look at tide tables, and sunrise/sunset times. But even when my plans go awry I still get good shots, because I have time, I have a purpose, and I have a single task. Take photos.

Dedicated Time

This is why photo trips are so successful. You have time to take photos, you aren't rushed. When I am travelling with my family they are somewhat tolerate of me taking photos, but they expect me to get a shot in a few minutes whether the lighting is right, or the tide is wrong. When I am by myself or with other photographers there is no problem setting up and spending an hour at a location waiting for just the right conditions and getting the best shot I possibly can.

It Doesn't Have to Be Far

A photo trip doesn't mean that you have to pack your bags and book a flight. It can be somewhere local, somewhere you can drive to in a day. It's not the destination that is important it is dedicating the day to photography that is going to allow you to take better photos.

Look for Opportunities

Do you need to travel for work? Perhaps add a day or two onto the end of the trip and go photograph the local sights. I recently did this on a trip to Portland. I was there with friends the beginning part of the week, after dropping them off at the airport I headed West and spent several days photographing the Oregon coast (where I took the photo of the Wreck Peter Iresdale at the top of this post).

I did the same thing when I went to the Palm Springs Photo Festival in April, after the festival I spent a day at Joshua Tree and then an additional day at the Salton Sea finishing off a project there. Airfare was already paid, the car rental actually went down because I was renting for a full week. I just needed a couple of cheap hotels for the extra night.


Plan to Improve your Photography in 2014

Almost every photographer I talk to wants to improve their photography. But when I ask them how they are doing that, they will have no plan or just vague thoughts about perhaps getting around to watching some online tutorial. Not a very efficient or practical way to improve.

Photographic Goals

The best way to improve is to plan your photography. Set photographic goals.
Since it's the beginning of the year a lot of people make New Year's Resolutions. I'm personally not a big fan of resolutions, but I do think this is a good time to review/set your photographic goals and create a road map for achieving those goals.
Start with the BIG GOALS. For example, here are some of my  for 2014 BIG GOALS
  • Become a Better Photographer
  • Grow my Photography Audience
  • Create Epic Photos
As you can see these are big, nebulous goals and if I stopped here they are meaningless goals. I could probably make progress on each of these in a couple of weeks and claim I had met my goals for the year. What's the point in that?

What's Your Target

To make these big goals meaningful you need to add metrics. How much do I want to grow my photography audience? 1 person, 100 people, 200%? The actual number is less important than actually having a number to shoot for.
The famous quote by Peter Drucker applies here, "What Gets Measured Gets Managed", by adding metrics to your goals you will be able to track your progress and know what the goal really means.
So add metrics to your goals to turn them into Targets.

Create a Roadmap 

I recently talked to a photographer who said they wanted to take 12 great photos over the next year, photos they would be proud to hang on their wall. That's a great goal! I then asked them how they planned to do that, and they didn't have a clue. So then I asked how they had done last year and they said they had only taken 2 photos that were "wall-worthy". After further discussion it turns out they had only been out shooting 5 times over the past year. It's going to be very difficult to get 12 great photos in a year if you only go out to shoot 5 times in the year.
So now that you have to listed your BIG GOALS you need to think about how you are going to achieve those goals. Listing the steps necessary will become your roadmap to follow throughout the year to make sure you acheive your goal. In the above example of creating 12 great photos during the year you would first determine what steps would be necessary to create a great image. Going out and shooting is the obvious first step, so you should probably shoot a lot. So perhaps the step necessary would be something like "schedule 2 photo shoots a month", or perhaps more. The point is to create a sub-goal that will help you realize the BIG GOAL of 12 great photos for the year.
Here is a breakdown of what I'm going to do to reach my BIG GOALS
  •  Become a Better Photographer
    • Attend one workshop or conference every quarter
    • 30 mins of photography education every day (see this blog post)
    • Schedule one photowalk every month
    • Schedule one photography trip every quarter (Oregon Coast, Zion, Boston, Page)
  • Grow my Photography Audience
    • Post 2 photos/week on social media sites
    • Submit every new project to print publications until it is published
    • Enter a photo contest very month
    • Pursue and participate in a galley show every quarter
  • Create Epic Photos
    • Schedule one large production shoot every quarter
    • Complete 4 current photo projects
      • Shoot Multiscapes II in January
      • Shoot one conceptual photo each month
      • Schedule 3 shoots to complete Paper Doll project
      • Edit and compile Reflections photos
    • Start 4 new projects
As you can see I have a detailed plan of how to accomplish each goal. In addition I have a spreadsheet where I schedule which month I'm going to do each of these sub-goals. This makes sure that I'm always making progress on my goals and don't push off a goal to the future.

Plan to Improve Your Photography in 2014

So what are your photography goals for 2014?  Share them in the comments, I would love to hear them.