If you are a nature photographer, no doubt you have a number of places you would like to visit for the purpose of photographing a certain species of bird, animal or landscape. If planned properly, these kinds of trips can be very rewarding. Here are a few suggestions for such a trip:
1.) Do your homework. Plan as far as possible in advance. There are a lot of things to consider – travel, weather, air fares, car rentals, logistics, lodging, locations, not to mention how much equipment to bring and who to bring along. One very important thing to consider is weather conditions. Find out the best times to travel for the purposes of your target species or objective. Air fares are typically more affordable at off-peak periods when people travel less.
Warmer and tropical places tend to have a rainy season or hurricane season. Big snowfalls can occur at higher elevations even in late spring or early summer. I experienced a foot of snow in Yellowstone in June! Also bring proper clothing to protect yourself (and your equipment) from the elements, insects, the sun, and the rain. Bring a hat and make sure you have enough water. Wet wipes and lens cleaning supplies are good to have along.
2.) How long will you stay? It is important to give yourself enough time to get to all the places you want to go for your photography objectives. Be realistic otherwise you could end up trying to do too much with too little time. Perhaps you want to shoot a number of different types of birds in several different locations all of which are dispersed over a significant area. Consider how long you will need at each location and how long it will take to get from place to place. Keep in mind also that if you are in unfamiliar territory, it will take you a bit longer to get from place to place. It also helps to put together a general itinerary to plan which days you will shoot where and for how long.
3.) Navigation. Perhaps this is so obvious that it goes without saying, but having a number of good maps is essential. A GPS is also useful. I bring several types of maps, each with a different level of detail and specific maps also on how to get to and from the airport and hotel. You really do not want to spend valuable hours lost, driving aimlessly that you could be spending in the field getting the shots of a lifetime!
4.) Equipment. I have to be honest here and admit that more than once I have left behind valuable pieces of equipment which I regretted not having. Make sure you bring everything you need but not too much. You will also want to bring any really valuable as carry-on luggage in the airplane. Leaving it to the mercy of checked baggage is too risky. Bring a backup camera body if you have one and extra lenses. Also, make sure you have enough CF cards and batteries.
Something else I do is making sure I rent a car with a trunk and I put my equipment in there. I have heard of more than one case of someone having their vehicle broken into while out shooting and the very expensive gear, lenses and CF cards with images being stolen. What a horrible loss!
5.) Eliminate surprises. Visit photography forums and ask lots of questions. Get information from those who have been there and know from experience. Ask the locals! Browse others’ photographs who have traveled to the destinations you intend to go. If you are a member of a Flickr or Pbase or similar community, then you can ask members of your photographic community for advice. I have found people to be very helpful in this regard.
6.) Go with a group. Why? Sometimes getting out with others who know the area and have similar photography interests makes a huge difference. I was fortunate enough to have several friends in Louisiana take me to very remote areas of the state to photograph many species of wildlife I would have otherwise not be able to do and give me numerous pointers.
There is another reason to go with a group – safety. There is safety in numbers and if you are in an unfamiliar, even isolated place, especially very early in the morning or late in the evening, it is not only nice to be with a group, it is preferable. Group photo tours can be very useful as many of the details have already been looked after. You just need to get yourself there and focus on getting the right shots.
Good luck and good shooting!