Taking a Photo Trip? 4 Tools to Help You Plan

Photo trips are exciting. Planning can be daunting. I'm hip deep in planning a photo trip to the Portland, Oregon area in a few weeks. Here's a rundown of the main tools I'm using to help me plan the trip.

500px Maps

500px Maps

500px Maps is my new favorite for finding cool places to shoot. Zoom around the map to the general area on the planet you are interested in and look for clusters of photos. Chances are, a cluster means there's something interesting there! I find the maps interface to work better than standard searches. For example, searching for "Portland" returns many Portlands across the USA, people named Portland, photos where someone mentioned "Portland" in a comment... a lot of noise.

Hey 500px! Wanna make me really happy? Add the filtering you have in your standard search to the maps view. I want a map that only shows me the landscape and architecture/city categories.

Stuck On Earth

Stuck on Earth

From the mind of Trey Ratcliff, Stuck on Earth is another map-based tool that helps you you find an interesting place to shoot. If you're unfamiliar with a place, zoom out a bit, find a good density of pins, then zoom in to browse the shots in that area. You can also download all the photos on the map to a saved trip and browse offline (such as on the plane, if you're a procrastinator). 

Why do I use both 500px and Stuck on Earth?
I like options. 500px obviously draws from its own pool of photos. Stuck on Earth trolls Flickr. There's pros and cons to both. I prefer 500px because the site attracts quality work. Flickr has plenty of good photographers, too. Although it's also a place where consumers store all their photos. Nothing wrong with that. It just raises the signal to noise ratio.

So on 500px, a cluster of photos is more likely to be an interesting place and less likely to be a memory card dump of a backyard barbecue. Conversely, Flickr's photo base is absolutely huge and I'll get more hits in areas off the beaten path (including some barbecues). 

Google/Apple Maps

Google is my go-to tool for logistics. I map the driving routes between locations and get a ballpark estimate of travel time. Google Maps has a photos view as well. I don't rely on Google Maps to show me the best photos of an area – there's a lot of street view shots that appear. However there's no harm in seeing the images. If an interesting photo appears as I'm mapping routes, that's gravy.

I sometimes also use the 3D modes of mapping tools. I turn to Apple Maps for that task. Why Apple Maps? It's already loaded on my Mac, works on my iPhone as well... it's "just there" in my ecosystem. 3D rotation lets me see real perspectives on a landscape location. For urban areas, Google Street View works very well.

Google Maps

Apple Maps

The Photographer's Ephemeris

The Photographer's Ephemeris

A brilliant application, but a lousy name. Pick a spot on earth, set a day, and TPE shows you when and where the sun and moon will rise and set. The light is best during the golden hour and knowing where it will rise or fall in relation to your chosen photo spot means less scrambling once on site. It's a must have.

These four tools get me about 80% of the way with trip planning. I've got a list of photo spots and the logistics of getting to, from, and between the spots of chosen. I will then turn to Google and do deeper research on the locations. Things like operating hours, entrance fees for parks, temporary closures, parking situations, ease/difficulty of hikes for remote areas, safety concerns, etc. I'll also refine the travel times if a location involves travel on foot.

For any given day, I generally have two "must shoot" locations – a sunrise and a sunset – and a few "optional shoot" locations for the rest of the day. The optional spots allow me to be fluid during the day. If I'm having fun at a mid-morning location, I'll spend more time and forgo the afternoon spot. And vice versa. The optional sites also serve as scouting trips – one might become my next "must shoot" locations.

What other tools do you use to plan a trip? Drop me a line or leave a comment below.