It’s time to plan your next photography road trip!
Every time a photographer plans a photography road trip does it with the obsession of going home with thousands of stunning images.
But what’s the best way to plan a road trip when you don’t know or have limited knowledge of the place?
With this guide, you’ll learn how to plan your photography road trip in the most efficient way. Learn how to use Google Maps properly to make a rich list of your favorite photography spots, label them, find how to get from a location to another and plan your shootings.
In this ultimate guide, I’m going to share with you the list of actions I take when I plan a photography road trip. I used these steps when I planned my recent trips to Japan, Italy, New Zealand and I always repeat the same actions when it comes to planning a road trip. I’m sure you’ll find it helpful.
Road Trip Photography: Your Planning Tools
This list of tools is what I recommend to have before you start planning.
You need a laptop. I use a MacBook Pro, I think that Apple computers are more versatile and give me what I need to start working on my projects right out of the box.
I use it together with my iPhone and sharing data between the two devices is basically immediate. If I write a note or a reminder on my laptop it will immediately be available on my iPhone too. You can use a PC or Android phone, I’m pretty sure that the apps I’m going to suggest are available on those devices too.
Photography Road Trip: Who is Your Travel Partner?
Another quick check before you start planning.
Who is your travel partner? Are you traveling by yourself? Are you traveling with your spouse? With friends? How about kids?
You need to ask yourself and answer all these questions because your travel partners need to be aware that you are planning to do a photo road trip and you want them to be excited about it.
They need to know that you are going to wake up really early to drive to a sunrise photography destination, that there will be hikes to do. Make sure that you make them aware of the kind of vacation they are going to expect if they want to come along. They deserve to enjoy the trip as much as you do.
Relaxed Vacation or Adventure?
If you are going on a 5 day guided photography tour and are going to sleep in a 5 stars Hotel, you don’t need to pack for an adventure.
Start thinking in advance about it, because if you don’t have hiking or camping gear, researching and buying the right tools it’s going to take time. If you are not going to plan on time you’ll get close to the date of departure and you’ll still need to get a lot of equipment. This is a recipe for disaster.
You’ll do things in a rush and no time for thinking properly means wasting a lot of money in tools that are not probably needed or worse, you might not buy good gear for your photography road trip and by the time you realize what you did it’s going to be too late.
Consider Organizing Your Photography Road in Low-Season
That way you’ll save time and money. Peak season is where a destination shows the best side of itself.
But, of course, it’s also when more people are going to be there and everything is going to be much more expensive. In a busy period, it’s going to be so hard to take good photos, because streets will be busy, famous locations will be crowded and even though you’ll wake up really early every morning you’ll find hordes of photographers ready with their tripod every day.
It’s going to be frustrating and exhausting.
During low-season you are more likely not only to experience a more relaxed environment with fewer tourists, but it will also be easier to interact with locals and ask them for advice about where to eat a good traditional meal or ask them about secret places to shoot. You might end up with unique photos of places that no other tourists have yet discovered.
Do Your Research
Be mindful of the culture of other countries.
Before knowing the type of photos you want to take, you should get to know the locations, their history, and customs. Knowing the culture of the place you are going to visit is very important.
Before you take photos of a location and share it on social media, it’s a really good thing to know if this is considered respectful towards who lives there.
There might be cultural or religious barriers and unless you are filming an authorized documentary I wouldn’t take photos that might offend other people.
Photography Road Trip: Your Photos List
How many days are you going to be traveling and how many good photos you want to get away with?
What are those photos? You need a list of the possible shots you’re going to take. Maybe you need photos for your Instagram account or for your blog.
Or maybe you’re building a new photography portfolio because you are starting a new business.
Have in mind a list of photos you need to take during your photography road trip and this will make choosing your locations much easier. You might realize you need only 5 or 6 really good photos and the rest can be just shooting for fun. But knowing this you can now go to the next step.
Photography Road Trip: Your Locations List
This and the previous step can be done at the same time. Knowing the number of spots you’ll have time to visit will affect the number of photos you are willing to plan and take.
For example, I made a list of the best photography spots in Cinque Terre, Italy, that I use every time I go there. It also includes a map.
Once you know it, write down a possible list of locations you want to see and share it with your travel partner. Start gauging if it’s feasible and you can start considering what is a possible cost for the entire photography road trip.
Ask Your Friends
They might know the place, or they might know someone that has already been there.
By asking your friends you will end up adding or removing some destination from your long list.
Your friends will give you a good idea of what to expect from a location and they might share with you their experiences, positive and negative. This could avoid possible trouble or unsafe situations.
List of Websites and Apps You Can Use
Local tourism websites and apps are helpful.
On Google just type the name of the destination followed by the word “tourism” and you should get the official tourism websites of that place. Another good website to consult has the name suggests, is TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor is probably the world’s largest travel website.
You will find reviews from other people and suggestions on the cheapest flights, best accommodations, and restaurants. You’ll be able not only to read reviews but also to ask questions.
Speaking of cheap flights, did you know that in Google search if you type something like `from Sydney to Tokyo` you’ll get a list of cheap flights that Google gathered from other websites? Pretty cool!
Use Google Maps
The map you see above is the one I created for my travel in the South Island of New Zealand.
In this post, you’ll find one I created for Cinque Terre, Italy.
Google maps is probably going to be your best friend when planning your photography road trip.
I’m going to explain to you how to create your own map, how to add markers and plot your list of locations on the map, how to share it with your travel buddies and work together on it and much more!
How To Create Your Own Map With Google
I’m assuming that you know what is Google maps and how to find it, but just as a quick refresher, you can find maps at https://maps.google.com.
With Maps, you can research locations you want to put in your list and have a first but accurate idea of where you will go, search for the exact location and make sure you have enough places to start your own custom map.
Not everybody knows that Google allows you to create a map with the MyMaps feature of Google Maps. You can access MyMaps from https://www.google.com/mymaps or from https://maps.google.com you can click the side menu and access “Your Places”
Now you can click on Create a New Map. You will get redirected to the map of your Country (Google know where you are) and from there you can move around and start adding locations to the map.
If you play and get familiar with it a bit, you’ll see that it is pretty intuitive and user-friendly.
How to Find Locations for Your Photo Road Trip in MyMaps
Type the name of the location.
By start typing the name of a location in the search bar at the top, you’ll be shown some suggestions and when you select the one you’re interested in, a green marker will be added on the map.
Type the coordinates in the search bar
Another way of searching a location is by typing in the search bar the exact GPS coordinates. You might try this by going on https://www.google.com and typing something like “Sydney Opera House coordinates”. Google knows exactly what you mean and will show you this.
Now if you copy and paste those coordinates into the map you’ll get the same result as before: green marker on the exact spot you needed.
Manually Add a Marker to MyMaps
Another way of adding a location is by simply doing it manually.
Underneath the search bar, you can see a set of little icons. The marker icon is what you need. Pan and zoom to the point you want and add a marker.
You can now enter a custom name and description for that location.
In the description, I usually write notes such as: “Traffic closed by 10 pm” or something like that. I also add useful links to local websites or useful resources I might need when I’m on location.
By clicking on the little pencil icon you can modify Title and Description and by clicking and dragging the Marker itself you can re-position it. If you hit save you’ll now have your first Marker with some custom information. Well done!
The Marker’s style can be completely customized. This is my favorite part. Click on the bucket icon and change color and icon of the marker. You can also add your own image. I like to make restaurants on my map look different from museums or lookouts etc.
Don’t underestimate Layers
With Layers, you can easily create a group of markers. So, for example, you are traveling to Japan and in your research, you are listing some good restaurants you want to go to when you’re in Tokyo.
At the same time, you don’t want those markers to clutter the map too much since you’ll have also added markers for photo locations or places to sleep. With layers, you can hide/show your groups and have everything well organized.
The next step when you’ve categorized all your location and your map is to become more and more rich in detail and information is to add directions to link and show hot to reach those locations.
How to add directions to your Map
I’ve used this a lot. Even though you can’t really use it for voice-guided transportation on Google Maps, it will highlight your routes and it’s very useful for when your travel includes driving from a place to another like I did in New Zealand.
The route will go on its own layer on the map and you can assign 10 points to each Transportation layer.
You can have different transportation modes in your Map
Driving routes, walking route and biking. They’ll all go to a separate layer, so they can’t be combined. A walking layer will only have walking trails and so forth.
Type of Map
You can choose the type of map you prefer as a base by clicking on the Base map dropdown menu. You have different options, such as Satellite map, Dark landmass, Mono City etc. Choose the one you prefer and that make your visual navigation through the various points you added easy.
Save and Share your map
Google offers a series of really powerful tools that work really well together such as Google drive https://drive.google.com/drive/my-drive there is where your map will be saved. As long as you have a google account you will have access to all the products Google offer for free.
You can create a Google account here https://accounts.google.com/signup.
While you work on your map, it will be automatically saved on your Google drive account so you can find it there anytime and from any device you have when you’ve logged on your Google account. Really powerful.
You can add collaborators to your map, share it with someone and this is another feature I love since it makes it so much easier to work with someone else organizing a trip.
The share button is on the left sidebar menu at the top. After clicking you’ll be prompted a window where you can add collaborators emails and they’ll receive a link with the map. You can decide if they are able to only view the map, or if they can edit your map so that they can work with you.
Plan Your Photo Road Trip With Instagram
We briefly discussed about useful websites and apps.
I think that we need to talk about Instagram separately and how to use it to plan your trip.
Nowadays, Instagram is one of the first tools we have always in our hands, not only to explore but to share our travel locations.
Posts and Instagram stories are the place where people share their epic travel images and we can take advantage of this to plan our trip based on the beautiful and photogenic things that make it into our story feed or post feed.
If you don’t know how to use the Instagram story feed, I wrote an article about it. Here you can find my article How Instagram stories work.
Instagram allows you to use geotags in images. Geotags are very useful because by clicking on a geotag or typing the geotag name on the Instagram search, we can see all the photos people posted at that location.
I also use this feature to know what to order at a restaurant haha, I just see photos of a meal posted by people and I go for that. But this is so true for your landscape photos too. I
Instagrammers will post epic images of the location they visit and this will give you a real hand in deciding what location you want to visit and refine your list, but it gives you also an idea of what are the vantage points to take photos from in that area.
Also, you can use hashtags for your research.
Even though sometimes hashtags are used in a spammy way by Instagrammers to get noticed, I think they’re still relevant and reliable and you can use it too to plan your photography trip. Type the hashtag on the Instagram search bar or click on it when you see it on a post and same as geotags you’ll be directed to a view with all the posts using that hashtag.
Plan your photo trip with Pinterest
Pinterest provides unlimited inspiration, allowing you to create boards and collect travel images and useful information. You can organize your boards however you’d like, ‘pinning’ photos you find on travel websites or anywhere on the Internet or uploading images of your own.
Pinning from a website or blog though will allow you to maintain the link to the source. This way when you click on a pin it will direct you to the source of the image.
You can literally use it to bookmark your favorite images related to the location you’re planning to visit. You can also build up a list of travel guides, tips, photos and follow people with similar interests and see what they share.
If you browse Pinterest, you will find it very useful to do your research directly in it. Since every image or pin is linked probably to a blog article or website, you’ll find a lot of interesting travel blogs through it.
Create several pinboards on Pinterest to keep a list of the locations you’re going to visit. It’s a really awesome visual way of listing things. You can also use it to pin helpful articles of activities and restaurants you want to visit. At the end of the day, you want your photo trip to also be enjoyable.
Other Photography Websites for Planning Your Photography Road Trip
They are a bit less known by non-photographers but still a really good source of inspiration for your photo trip.
500px is an online photography community that photographers used to use to gain global exposure in the pre-Instagram days.
With 15 million users, I think that 500px is still a relevant platform despite being less popular and used these days.
You’ll find a great number of quality images from photographers all around the world. Beautiful landscapes geolocated so that you can click and see all the photographs from a destination and search for it. 500px allows you to share images on your Pinterest and grow your collection that you can go back to and to your map like explained above.
Another ‘Old’ but to me still relevant platform where you can find tons of photos from beautiful places around the world is Flickr.
Flickr used to be THE platform for photographers. On Flickr too you can easily share your best inspirations on Pinterest.
Don’t Forget Guidebooks
I think guidebooks are coming back. With an overwhelming overload of information coming to us through our social media channels, the old standard guidebook is finding its way back to our list of resources for planning a trip.
In reality, they’ve never gone anywhere. Social media and Internet represented a decline in sales for a few years, but with the struggle of finding the right information in the ocean of today’s Internet, guidebooks give just enough info on that beautiful destination you’ve always want to visit.
Travel Guidebooks you will definitely like
Travel Guide Japan
Lonely Planet New Zealand
Plan for golden hour shots
During my photography road trip to New Zealand, I planned so that I was getting to a spot in the late afternoon and leave the day after before lunch. What this meant was that I could plan my driving hours around my shooting hours and get to a new place before sunset and leave after sunrise (after a nap 😉).
The golden hour in photography is the period of time before sunset and shortly after sunrise. It’s the hour of the day when the light is softer and diffuse. The sun is near the horizon and the atmosphere acts as a huge diffuser, making the light less intense.
The light also appear more reddish since the light has to travel through more atmosphere.
Technicalities apart, during the golden hour you’ll have longer shadows, which will help you make your photo look more 3D.
Foreground, mid-ground, and background will be more defined and this gives more depth to the image. To shoot epic photos you need to become an expert in manipulating light, and during the golden hour you will get the best light possible to play within your compositions.
There are a few things to know about the golden hour. Unless you are in certain areas of the world, the golden hour is very short.
Even if it’s an hour-long (not always), that is not enough time if you need to scout the area, think of your composition and so forth.
I think the secret when you’re traveling is to plan your trip around the golden hour. Know when it starts by using the website photoephemeris.com.
Then you will know roughly at what time you want to leave every place to get to the new location. A good thing to do is to arrive well before, scout the location and then come back later for a sunset shoot.
After the sunset, if it’s not too late and you’re not too tired you can go and scout out the spot for your sunrise shot so that the day after you’ll know where to go and more or less what composition you’d like to create.
This trick will save you a lot of time and will allow you to pick the best vantage points.
Plan your trip around the golden hour!
After you have a map and a list of beautiful images of locations you’d want to visit for your photo trip, it’s time to do these things:
Decide how you’re going to move around and learn about the transportation.
On my trip to New Zealand I decided to move around with a Campervan as New Zealand is a destination famous for this, where you want to go from a place to another and stop for the night on the shore of a lake and be ready with my camera for a sunrise shoot.
Rent a car. For my trip to Japan in 2019 moved by train a lot, but there were areas I couldn’t reach easily unless I drove.
Sometimes it’s worth renting a car for at least part of your photography road trip, but don’t wait until you get to the destination.
Plan in advance and call the car rental company or you can end up not finding a vehicle or getting charged for more money as they will always try to upsell and you will buy something you don’t really need.
On the phone, you’ll be more relaxed and have more time to decide since you’re not in a rush.
Tell your bank if you’re going overseas. When I was in Bali, my Bank didn’t know I was there and noticed several payments from my card. They thought those were suspect and temporarily froze my bank account.
So when I was at a restaurant and tried to pay with my card it was declined. Disaster. Luckily I was able to call immediately and after a few hours everything was solved, but trust me you don’t want to end up in that situation.
Call your bank and let them know you’re going overseas so that they will know it’s you spending your own money.
Tips for Planning Your Photography Road Trip
Thank you for getting it to the end of this ultimate guide on how to plan your photography road trip.
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- Your planning tools
- Who is your travel partner
- Is it more of a relaxed vacation or you’re looking for an adventure?
- Consider traveling in low season
- Do your research
- Your photos list
- Your locations list
- Ask your friends
- List of websites and apps you can use
- Use google maps
- How to create your own map with google
- How to find locations with MyMaps
- Add markers to MyMaps
- Use Layers in MyMaps
- Add directions to the map
- Transportation modes on MyMaps
- Type of maps
- Share your map and collaborate with your travel buddies
- Plan your photo trip with Instagram
- Plan your photo trip with Pinterest
- Other photography websites for planning your trip
- Don’t forget Guidebooks
- Plan for golden hour shots
- Decide how you’re going to move around and learn about the transportation
- Rent a car
- Tell your bank if you’re going overseas
Before You Go
Writing articles like this one takes time and effort.
I’m really happy to share with you these tips because it took me so long to put together a good and efficient planning process for my trips.
If you are finding what I write useful and want to help me grow the readership of this blog, share this article on your social media by using the buttons below! Thank you!
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.