art, landscape, nature, photography, travel, writing

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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big bend // revisited… part 2

Once again, I woke up before the sun…

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And witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Chihuahuan Desert, with both Texas and Mexico in view.

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Everything in the desert seems to want to hurt you.  It’s an amazingly inhospitable place.

Maybe that’s why I love it.  It continually screams at me to leave, and I, unrepentantly scream back at it, “no!”

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Mariscal mine settlement.  When you visit this small village (seriously) in the middle of nowhere… it really does make you think about how beautifully tough our forefathers must have been.

This place is so difficult to get to and remote, that few people even nowadays visit.  What with our air conditioned cars and four wheel drive.

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So I finnally exited the River Road and hit pavement.  It’s funny the feeling you get when you’ve only felt super bumpy, unimproved dirt tracks underneath you for two days – driving 20 miles an hour, because if you drove any faster you’d surely bottom out or receive a flat for your insolence and disrespect to the road – finally being lifted up on to the smooth ride of a highway, and potential speed of 65.  I love it.  Kinda feels like you just won the lottery.  Undeserved and glorious.  Thankful you made it off that God-forsaken death trap of a road.  The reverse can also be true.  I LOVE THE RIVER ROAD!!

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So I spent the next several hours scouting a few different locations.  The first being my evening “epic” Big Bend landscape, that attempts to sum up the place.  Tough indeed, if you’ve ever been to BBNP.

The second shot was a night, road photograph I’ve had in my mind on this trip.  I got one in RMNP, but really wanted to try one here.  I had several nice spots from which to choose.

The third and fourth theoretically could be the same spot.  One shot would be in the very early morning hours… a star picture.  And the other was a morning “epic” Big Bend landscape.

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I finished my scouting with several hours to spare, so I decided to hike to one of my favorite little spots in the park, Cattail Falls.

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I always go when water is scarce, so I’ve never come away with the waterfall picture I want, but it’s a great little hike and the only place I’ve ever seen a bear in the park.

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By the time I got back, it was late afternoon… time to begin my work for the evening.

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I ended up with a few shots I like, so I called it a night… at least get a few hours of sleep.  Back up at 4 a.m. to shoot the stars and catch what would be a gorgeous sunrise.

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That morning was a sunrise-to-end-all-sunrises.  At this point, it was as good a time as any to quit while I felt ahead.

And besides, I was into my third week of being on the road…. living out of my Subaru, eating lots of peanut butter and honey, sleeping alone (an activity I used to love – that I am now quite weary of) on the hard ground.

It was time to go home.  Hard to leave, but definitely time.

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So I composed my last shots of the desert and mountains of Big Bend National Park, and bid it farewell… this time thankfully, it won’t be so long between visits…

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 + content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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big bend // revisited

It didn’t take long to get back into the rhythm of Big Bend.

After all, it had only been 18 or so months.

But this lesser-known National Park, in the middle-of-freaking-nowehere on the border of Texas and Mexico, has been a refuge for me for the last 10 years.

In many senses of the word, I found myself in Big Bend.

I’ve found myself lost in the middle of the desert in 110 degree heat.

I’ve found myself 18 miles from any person or paved road in a almost completely submerged truck… in 110 degree heat.

I’ve found myself purposefully leaving civilization and humanity.

I’ve found myself at the top of the world on the South Rim looking out on the expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas and Mexico, in awe.

I’ve found myself coming to terms with my insecurities and problems.

I’ve found myself watching a total lunar eclipse from the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains.

I’ve found myself spending New Years Eve alone atop the Dodson Trail, happy as a clam.

I’ve found myself sharing my alone time for the first time with my (then) future wife.

I’ve found myself kissing said future wife in Boot Canyon in the fall with the maple leaves ablaze around us.

I’ve found myself returning annually to celebrate her birthday.

I’ve found myself pushing the limits on how many miles I can hike in 1 day… turns out, it’s at least 18 miles… done on two different trips :)

I’ve found myself chasing a black bear in a desert oasis.

I’ve found myself standing in the middle of the Rio Grande alone at 4 o’clock in the morning to get a star picture of Santa Elena Canyon.

I’ve found myself (more times than I can remember) talking with the God of the universe in all the glory of His creation.

I’ve found myself entering the park ill, leaving well… entering heavy hearted, leaving renewed… entering empty, leaving full.

Big Bend is a very special place to me.

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I arrived in the middle of the day, so no sweeping, epic landscapes available to shoot.

I set up camp and focused on the details.

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I decided to start with Santa Elena that evening, so I hiked out to scout my location.

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Done.  That was quick.

I then went to Mule Ears overlook to hike the desert a bit.

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Made friends with a black-tailed jackrabbit, then headed off to catch the sun going down at Santa Elena Canyon.

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I went back to camp to shoot a few desert star pictures.

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Got up well before the sun (4am) to shoot a star picture of Santa Elena.

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Bats flew all around me as I stood in the middle of the Rio Grande until sunrise.

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The sun rose high quickly.  So I moved on and headed for the infamous River Road.

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Prickly Pear Cactus flowering late.

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I hiked Pine Canyon.

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After driving several hours on the River Road (where I drowned my truck a few years ago), I arrived at one of my old favorite campsites, Jewels Camp.

It overlooks the Rio Grande, Mexico, and the Chisos Mountains.

I would come to learn (the next day on my way out) by a border patrol agent who searched my car, that it also happens to be a favorite spot for the cartels to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Good thing I slept that night with my .45.

On a serious note though, I have NEVER had any problems in Mexico, Big Bend, or on the River Road.  I think it’s important to draw from experience rather than fear.

Okay, so back to my trip….

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Evening at Jewels was gorgeous, as it always seems to be.  The colors of the desert come alive at dusk.

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I read a little that evening, and then crashed.  All this getting up at 4 a.m., hiking all day, then going to bed at 10 p.m. was truly exhausting.

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But I was there to work… so before I could go to bed for the night, I had a few star pics I wanted to capture…

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I slept SO well that night, once I actually went to sleep.  And I would need it… the rest of the trip would be jam-packed and one of the most productive adventures in Big Bend yet!

Stay tuned for the second (and possibly) third part of Big Bend // revisited!!

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 + content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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guadalupe mountains // an overnighter

Another quick stop I made on the road trip was Guadalupe Mountains National Park, on the border of Texas and New Mexico.

Yet another first for me.  I mean, I’ve passed this park on the long drive from Dallas to El Paso a few times, but never stopped long enough to photograph.

So, on my way from ABQ airport, where I dropped Elle off, to Big Bend National Park, I stopped to stay the night at Pine Springs Campground the Guadalupe Mountains.

I arrived after dark… so the darkened outline of mountains against a big sky full of stars were all I could see…

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The Milky Way shone bright and colorful.

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I got a few hours of sleep, then woke before the sun to find a spot to photograph what is called “the signature peak” of West Texas, El Capitan.

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This exercise reminded me how insanely difficult it is to show up, in the dark, at a brand new location, and expect to find “the perfect” location for a sunrise shot.

I did my very best, but never really felt I came away with the image  wanted.  Oh well… a good excuse to go back and explore this beautiful park!

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I tried several locations, and then decided it was time to move on and high tail it to Big Bend!

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On the way, the ranches of the Chihuahuan Desert beckoned me to stop frequently to shoot…

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I was excited and anxious to get to Big Bend.  Like I’ve said before, I’ve been going to Big Bend every year for the last 10+, with the exception of 2012.

It was high time to get in a good visit to this desert/ mountain/ river paradise.

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

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