equipment review, instructional, photography, travel, writing

planning an epic road trip // equipped

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
Ansel Adams
 

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Equipment

It cannot be said enough… the equipment is only as good as the photographer using it.  With that said, I am a lover of gadgetry and get really excited when I have the opportunity to learn a new tool that will help me achieve better, more consistent results with my imagery.

So for this trip, Canon is sending me the 5D MK III, TS-E 17mm, and the new Speedlite 600EX-RT to evaluate and review here on the blog…

I know the MK III is not very new anymore, but I’m excited to put it to the test in one of North America’s most extreme environments.  And I am really looking forward to spending some quality time  with Canon’s widest and highest rated tilt-shift lens, and the newest Speedlite technology.  

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But regarding other equipment, and being prepared for a trip such as this, I have had to plan accordingly, with weather as the biggest “x” factor.

From dry bags and applying scotch guard to as much as possible, to purchasing mosquito netting for my head, I have tried my best to think it all through.  I will be bringing multiple rain covers no doubt.

Check out this video that explains a bit more, and see some of the gear that will (hopefully) get me through the extreme conditions…

“Never forget that all the great photographs in history were made with more primitive camera equipment than you currently own.”
Brooks Jensen

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To know what equipment to bring and what to leave behind, I think carefully through my shot list.  What tools will I need to give myself the best chance to achieve each image?  Only experience helps me determine that with any accuracy.  And the more you shoot, the more confident you’ll be when practicing this.

It’s a very obvious, yet important part of the planning process.  There’s nothing worse than arriving on location after days of driving, only to realize you so wish you had brought that second tripod, or the 2x extender.

Don’t rush through this step, or chances are, you’ll be frustrated later…

— andrew

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
Ansel Adams

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If you are interested in learning more about photography, taking your art to a new level, and/ or Big Bend photography tours and workshops, please check out my new workshop dates:

Big Bend Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2013-2014

More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2013-2014

If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:

Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton

If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:

andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints

For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!

all images and content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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instructional, landscape, nature, photography, travel, writing

planning an epic road trip // the plan

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”
Leonard Bernstein

Once I’ve made a decision on the destination, the real planning begins…

I chose my route to maximize productivity, making sure I touch all the spots along the way that can yield the images I need.  Below is a visual example of the route I charted for my Everglades trip.

It’s important to note, however, that this initial route often changes and flexes as I move into the next phase of planning… research.

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Research

The first three items it’s typical for me to purchase are: a good map (I like the Nat Geo Trails Illustrated maps), a Falcon trail guide, and lately (though it looks cheesy), I’ve found “The Photographer’s Guide To…” series to be very helpful.  Though I do not use much of the photography advice in the last book, it has very specific location tips and times of day/ year information that can prove valuable to you,especially if it’s your first time in an area.  Think of it as the “Dummies Guide” to a place specifically for photography.

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Another great (and free) resource is the good ol’ internet.  In this case, it was a no-brainer to go to the National Parks Service official website for the Everglades.  I found it especially useful for answering many common questions.  But it also linked me to informational videos and outside resources that began to change the course of my trip.

Despite the poor acting and shooting (sorry NPS, no offense), I was really impressed with the amount of information I could take in from these short webisodes created by the Park Rangers at the Everglades… http://www.youtube.com/user/EvergladesNPS.  It provided me the info I needed to begin to plan in more detail.  It also led me to decide to venture into the backcountry via canoe, which I hadn’t considered before.

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All this research can lead you to several helpful conclusions in the planning phase:  it will keep raising your excitement level (as if it could get any higher!), the information will better equip and prepare you for success on your trip, and it will begin in your mind’s eye the visualization process.  By this, I mean, the concept of previsualization that Ansel Adams defined as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.  And to help myself along in the exercise of previsualization, creating a proper “shot list” is my next step after research.  In general, Adams was referring to previsualizing a final image while in the field, with the elements of the shot right in front of you, but I strongly believe the creative process starts when planning.

The Art of the Shot List

After all that reading and online researching, so many images will already be swirling around my head.  The infinite possibilities of perfect images.  Those creative juices are fantastic and often drive my plan, but we also need to be realistic.  You cannot be omnipresent nor can you control the elements, so a certain degree of planning and preparation should be considered.  As a fellow photographer/ blogger, Michael J. Flaherty stated recently, “Do not try to be strict about your plan.  You either chase the light, adjusting meal times, losing sleep, etc. or you miss the light.  It’s that simple.”

First things first; choose your locations, illustrations, and desired flora/ fauna.

What do I mean by all of that?  Well, since you’ve done your research, the books you’ve read and websites visited, you should have a great idea of what specific locations and important plants and animals you want to photograph.  And by illustrations, I simply mean, what’s your creative vision?  What images do you want to capture that might be outside of the normal realm of stock footage?

For example, I knew that I would be reviewing some gear on my RMNP trip, so I added a few self portraits using that gear in the field to my shot list.  I also added “art landscapes” to the list.  My style is more artistic typically than the traditional “postcard” images.  So although my stock agency prefers the traditional images (because they sell consistently), I wanted to be sure to exercise my creativity too and be true to my style.

So all that to say, be thorough with your shot list.  On that same trip, I added “iconic summer elk silhouette”.  Kind of specific, huh?  Well, I knew exactly what I wanted, and because of that, when the opportunity presented itself…. I was ready.

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Don’t be afraid to set the bar high.  Just be realistic with your expectations.

Your shot list will be somewhat general to start.  But it will gather momentum and specificity as you go…

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If I come away with 70% of the photographs on this shot list, I will be very happy.

The fact is, the more planning and research you do, the more prepared you’ll be.  But just as the weather changes at a moment’s notice, so too will your well made plans.

–andrew

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
Denis Waitley

“You must plan to be spontaneous.”
David Hockney

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you are interested in learning more about photography, taking your art to a new level, and/ or Big Bend photography tours and workshops, please check out my new workshop dates:

Big Bend Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2013-2014

More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2013-2014

If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:

Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton

If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:

andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints

For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!

all images and content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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planning an epic road trip // the destination

“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
Henry Miller 

The first thing, and sometimes one of the toughest to determine when planning a road trip is picking a destination.

Choosing should be very systematic and logical, but let’s be honest, a road trip is also a living creature that does not much appreciate the confines of a cage.  This dance needs to be predicated on realistic expectations… then, and only then, you can be prepared to have your expectations exceeded.

Now, we are primarily discussing a photographic work trip.  And that means that my primary goal can be at odds with what we traditionally view as the essence of a road trip, spontaneity.  But this doesn’t mean they cannot coexist.

Just a few weeks ago on my Rocky Mountain road trip, I had a very well thought out plan in place.  And… gasp… the plan changed several times.  About half way into my trip, I received an email from my awesome cousin.  He wrote a very kind note, sharing his fond memories of RMNP in some detail.  He’s a fan of what I do, and I consider myself blessed to have people out there like him.  So at that moment, I decided to change my plans considerably.

He mentioned his favorite spot to fish and camp… a small, high mountain lake in the backcountry of the park called Odessa Lake.  I wanted to capture a spectacular image for him, so I hiked in, spent the night, and was rewarded with a few of my absolute favorite images from the whole trip.  It really was the most beautiful spot in all of RMNP that I visited.

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And I never would have even seen that magnificent place had I not been open to suggestion, remained flexible, and kept the adventuresome spirit that comes with being on the road.

With that said, a plan is still very important.  Several factors go in to my choosing a destination:  my level of desire to visit a place, is of course highest on the list, but I also factor budget, feasibility, preparedness, how big is the need (either for my photographic library, or for client’s/ stock agency/ etc.), and the volume of work I think I can come away with (are there several spots along the way that I could easily visit and might help round out my work too?).  I am trying to make a living, after all.

So after much deliberation, a trip I’ve been planning for years, to Glacier National Park, quickly turned into a vastly different beast.

Due to more immediate stock needs, budget, and personal factors (i.e. the fact that my wife would be on vacation in Florida during the timing of my trip), I decided to plan an Everglades detour.

The dates of this trip have already shifted slightly several times, thus remaining flexible can really help you and your stress level.  :)

It also happens to be the height of hurricane season… so sometimes a good backup plan helps as well.  Believe it or not, I have two.

If I happen to be on my way to the southern-most tip of Florida, and the weather turns, Plan B is to head north and spend my time in the Smokies.  If, on the other hand, tropical storms and hurricanes begin to batter my original destination before I even set off eastward, I will be revisiting my original plan to head north…. way north.  To Glacier National Park.  But at this point, I really hope it doesn’t come to that.  As much as I truly do want to visit Glacier, most of my prep (and thus my enthusiasm) has been for this long-awaited return to the Everglades.  So keep your fingers crossed!

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 Budgeting

Thankfully, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time planning all three of the aforementioned trips, and have constructed a budget for each one.  And there’s even an art to that.

Bear with me for a moment; I have a lot of accountant friends (strange, I know), and they just love to tell me how they don’t have an artistic bone in their body.  I couldn’t disagree more.

Putting together a realistic/ successful budget takes logic/ reason and creativity.  And once I choose my location, it is absolutely the next thing I do, because let’s face it, unless you have an unending supply of cash, properly budgeting and allocating your funds is very important to keeping yourself profitable.  Photographers are business(wo)men too.  So here are my steps to a realistic road trip budget:

  1. Figure out your (realistic) mileage.  Use google maps, or similar, to chart your route, and tally the total miles.  If you think that route will flex at all to accommodate stops or detours along the way, add in several hundred miles extra to be sure.  For me, when it comes to mileage calculation and budgeting, I always overestimate.  I’d much rather be prepared for the worst and happily surprised when I spend less.  Again, it helps with stress.  Now, take the total mileage of your trip, and divide it by how many miles you get out of one tank of gas.  If you don’t know this number, it’s quite easy.  Next time you fill up, reset your mileage counter to 0.  Let it run until you are again on empty.  There’s your number.  Once you’ve divided your total mileage by how much you can get out of one tank, you have the number of times you’ll need to fill up.  Now you multiply the number of tanks by how much it costs to fill up your car.  For example:  my ENP trip will be 3500 miles rt (overestimate), my Subaru can get 350 miles per tank, and it costs approx. $60 to fill it up (overestimate).  So a minimum of 10 tanks, which at the most would cost $600 in fuel.
  2. Lodging.  How much will you spend on hotels/ motels/ camping fees.  This is something that you simply must evaluate realistically, knowing yourself and your tendencies.  Don’t set yourself up for budget failure by proposing to camp the entire time to save money, if you know that you’ll be dying for a hot shower.  I am very comfortable camping for three week stretches, but I always budget in at least 2-3 nights at a hotel just in case.  You just cannot predict how a trip will go with certainty, so it’s best to budget for the worst.  If conditions are good, I usually challenge myself to not use any of my hotel money the whole time so I can buy some other piece of equipment I want/ need without guilt.  Everyone likes a good reward.  Regarding camping fees… do your research.  Everywhere is different, including from one national park to another.  Thank God for the interweb.
  3. Food.  Once again, this is a very personal aspect of your costs that you should carefully think through to create a realistic budget.  It’s easiest to learn your road trip food habits through years of experience.
  4. Misc. Supplies.  Inevitably there are expenses that you simply cannot always foresee.  Camp fuel, bug spray, emergency medicine, mosquito net, spontaneous canoe rental.  It’s really good to have extra money budgeted in for the necessary unforeseens.  And if you end up being really prepared and don’t need the misc. funds for needs, it also comes in handy for wants, a good book, or a souvenir/ gift for someone perhaps.  Can’t hurt to over prepare when it comes to budgeting.

Once I arrive at the final, hard budget number… yep, you guessed it, I add a hundred or two in there for good measure.  Just in case.

It’s also not a bad idea to bring an emergency credit card with you.  I don’t advocate the use of credit cards in my own family, however, it can absolutely save you if your car breaks down or some other catastrophe befalls you.

Feasibility/ Preparedness/ Productivity/ Need

Is this trip realistic for you?  This is a tough question that we all have to ask ourselves.  It generally directly correlates with these three things: physical fitness, outdoor gear, and photographic equipment.  Do you have health problems that have rendered you unable to walk for long distances?  Then I wouldn’t plan a trip to a place that you will have to hike much.  I know it seems elementary and simplistic, but I think through these things every time.  For instance, a 50 mile hiking trek I did several years ago to Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado.  I did not take seriously the condition of my gear, so about 5 miles into the first day, the soles of my hiking boots literally fell off.  I had not worn them much that previous year, and over the course of time the rubber sole dry rotted.  So, I had to hike the remaining 40+ miles of extreme mountain terrain in my chacos.  Thankfully, I am very comfortable hiking long distances in these particular sandals, but it could have been disastrous!  A ruined trip.

For my ENP trip, I know that I will be there during the Florida rainy season, so I thought through that, and decided that I needed to re-scotch guard all of my outdoor gear.  It’s things like that, that can make or break an epic road trip.

Next, evaluate your photographic equipment.  Are you prepared to get the best images possible with what you have?  If you’re like me, you’ll never have all of the equipment you want, and you can always think of new gadgets and tools that will help you achieve new levels of imagery.  Don’t get mired down in that kind of thinking, all I mean is; do you have the necessary equipment (or the means to borrow/ rent) to make this trip successful?  And this brings me to my next point…. productivity.

You are going to spend some coin on this trip.  If you’re a professional like me, you have to make it pay for itself several times over to make it worthwhile, but even if you’re not a pro, you want it to be a productive learning experience/ portfolio booster.  I have a tendency to fall in love with a location and visit it several times a year.  Not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but often times it’s a creative boost to go somewhere new, and you can build an entirely new facet to your stock library or portfolio.

I am often guided (lately) on trips like these, by my stock agency’s “wants/ needs” list.  Why not all but ensure that my trip will be financially profitable?  And even more so if I can find stops along the way that will fulfill stock needs as well.

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It’s a lot of information to consider, I know… but my approach is that if I do the tough work on the front-side, I will be freed up while on the trip to only worry about getting the best shots and having the most fulfilling experiences possible.

It’s funny… to hear myself makes me think that many of you might be thinking, “wow, this guy really knows how to sap the fun out of a road trip!”, but I’ve really come to enjoy the process and preparation.  It gets me excited in new ways for my upcoming adventure.  And it helps me be a better photographer.

Let me know what you think!

Thanks so much for reading,

— andrew

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you are interested in learning more about photography, taking your art to a new level, and/ or Big Bend photography tours and workshops, please check out my new workshop dates:

Big Bend Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2013-2014

More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2013-2014

If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:

Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton

If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:

andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints

For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!

all images and content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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planning an epic road trip // intro

It is said that “the road goes on forever”, but I prefer to think of it as having both a beginning and an end.

And the place to start and finish is always home.

For many years, the road was like home to me… now it is more a means to an end.

But it still has just as much of a draw on my spirit as it did before…

“Road…”, you are not home anymore, “…yet I love you, you express me better than I can express myself” (Walt Whitman).

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Often times people will compliment my images, and then inevitably ask how I did it.

I’ve found that many folks assume that I wander around, aimless, in amazing locations, and simply “happen upon” the perfect shot.  While that can happen, it’s really rare.  More often than not, a lot of work and planning go into each and every photograph.  And even after all that planning and hard work, sometimes it just doesn’t come together.  I am completely dependent on nature.  But it wouldn’t be as fun if it weren’t so challenging!

So it occurred to me after feedback from the last few posts that it might be interesting to my viewers to get a more in-depth, “behind the scenes” look into what it takes to plan, execute, and achieve success on a big road trip shoot, like my Rocky Mountain road trip and my upcoming Everglades adventure.

I will try to cover as much process as I can without boring you :)  I’ll season the raw information with poignant examples, along with hilarious and terrifying stories from the road.

You can expect several in-depth posts over the next few weeks, leading up to my trip… and here’s a brief outline of what I’ll cover:

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So thirteen years after my very first road trip alone – fittingly, also to the Everglades – I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way!

Planning an epic road trip is truly an art.  Don’t believe me?… check back in, follow this series, and then tell me what you think!

I would love to hear from all of you…  What have your experiences been, and what lessons have you learned on the road?

Thanks for tuning in!

— andrew

A lot of people don’t like the road, but it’s as natural to me as breathing.

Bob Dylan

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.

J. R. R. Tolkien 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If you are interested in learning more about photography, taking your art to a new level, and/ or Big Bend photography tours and workshops, please check out my new workshop dates:

Big Bend Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2013-2014

More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2013-2014

If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:

Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton

If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:

andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints

For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com

Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!

all images and content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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petrified forest + painted desert

A really great spot we happened upon was Petrified Forest National Park.

You probably won’t want to spend a week there, but it’s a fascinating and beautiful day trip at least.

They do have backcountry camping, but I would not advise it in the summer.

Thankfully, we had great clouds and summer storms to add to the already dramatic landscape.

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Remnants of ancient trees litter the desert…. now huge, colorful stones that were once a lush forest.

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And the painted desert!  Probably my favorite section of this park, for the amazing earthen colors and big blue sky.

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The historic Painted Desert Inn.  Worth a quick stop.  Ask a ranger to show you one of the rooms… amazing!  Great views too.

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all images and content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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