Photography was all about being in the right place at the right time. Many times we might have stumbled upon a perfect place at the perfect time by accident. But as an experienced photographer, I have developed a work flow to maximize my chances to be in the right place at the right time intentionally.
Below is my 7-step homework to make this happen:
1. Find Inspiration
Search on the internet and find inspiring photos of the subject. It gives you an idea of the possible places to stand. A few of my favorite photo websites include Google Plus, 500px, Flickr and Pinterest. Of course you can bookmark or follow your favorite photographer and compile an inspiration list yourself.
2. Find What
Find out the name of the overlook where your favorite photos are taken
3. Find Where
Search the park map and find out the direction of the overlook. Most national parks or state parks have their websites, and you can download the park maps for free. For example this is the Grant Teton National Park map I downloaded.
4. Find When
Decide whether you should go at sunrise or sunset. If the overlook is facing east, it probably is a great location for sunset photography. If facing west, then sunrise. It’s not always the case for experienced or advanced photographers but I use it as a guiding principle to maximize chances to photograph colors. See my video tutorial about where to stand.
5. Check Weather
Check out weather.com to know what is a good day to visit. Apparently I don’t want to get up super early for sunrise photography if it’s raining.
6. Know The Shooting Hour/Minutes
Check out sunrisesunset.com and find out the exact time to visit. You’ll find detailed minutes when sunrise, sunset or moonrise happens. I typically would plan to set up my equipment at least 30 minutes before sunrise/sunset. If it’s a new place you’ve never been, plan on getting there early so you can scout the best vantage point. See this video tutorial and plan your trip accordingly.
7. Plan Your Logistics
Estimate the travel distance and time required (either from your smartphone map, or maps.google.com) to be at the overlook on time.
Last and the most important step, of course, is to show up with the right equipment and knowledge and capture the best colors of the mother nature.
Of course if you are the geeky type, there are a few apps that can help you scout the best time, day, location and even angle of your shooting to help you plan, TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) and Photopills are two major ones. The former has desktop and smartphone, iPad version while the latter only has iPhone version but has a few more functions. I didn’t know these apps until recently and relied mostly on my experience and judgment in the above 7 steps, and it worked out well almost all the time.