I am a guy who usually travels to someplace to do my professional photography. In the old days, I usually used a travel agent to do most of my research on the travel part, and my assistant researched my subject for me.
Travel agents are few and far between and I can no longer justify a full-time assistant since I am trying to semi-retire (again.)
But the good news is that the Internet offers the chance to do a much more thorough job of providing data for any photo trip so I don’t need a travel agent or an assistant.
I have two research categories for each of my photo trips.
I try to find out as much as I can about both, long before I pack my camera bag. Believe it or not, sometimes a trip is doomed (or blessed) just because the research was wrong (or right.)
RESEARCH THE PLACE
Let’s start with the place and hopefully this will show you how simple it can be for research to help you be in a position to win. (While I am primarily a bird photographer and will discuss this information from that point of view, it applies to almost any kind of photographic discipline.)
Back when I first started visiting Bosque del Apache in central New Mexico, my trips were just quite literally – for the birds. But in my third year, I asked my travel agent (and my assistant) to see what else was around. To my astonishment, there were two places that I was really interested in visiting and a third I was hot to trot for.
Bosque del Apache is near the town of Socorro, NM. It’s very near the Very Large Array – National Radio Astronomy Observatory – located in central New Mexico on the Plains of San Agustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, ~50 miles west of Socorro.
If you saw the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, this is where they filmed major portions of the movie. I had always been interested in space and astronomy and was amazed that 50 miles from one of best locations for bird photography was this unique place.
I also discovered that the White Sands National Monument was located south of Socorro about two hours away. I found out that there were many bird species in the area that are commonly seen in the desert scrub. I was looking for Swainson’s hawk and Western Kingbird, both of which are fairly easy to spot at the Monument.
Lastly, I really got excited when I found out the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site was close. It’s located midway between Tularosa and Carrizozo in Otero County on Highway 54. When I started studying ornithology one of my professors told me that the Native Americans who created the petroglyphs had made several featuring birds and that these early images of birds had been used to catalog species propagation and more. This was a gold mine for me.
Before I go down a rabbit hole here, let me summarize this portion of my post by saying, you may be in the area to photograph “A” but then find out “B” – “C” and “D” are also nearby allowing you to get more images out of one trip.
The Internet now makes it possible to do most of this research in a few minutes. Using a combination of standard search sites like Bing or Google and then visiting sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp you can find information about area attractions. YouTube probably has videos featuring the location(s) you want to visit and 20 minutes of skimming through those videos can often lead you to a place you didn’t even know you wanted to visit. Also, the big hotel chains usually have local tourist information. Lastly, you can visit forums and groups using both web searches and social media searches to find groups with specific knowledge of the place you want to visit.
RESEARCH THE SUBJECT
If you are going to photograph birds – you would want to know as much about the target species you are looking for as you can possibly find out. The same goes for any animal. Take that a step further. If you are going to photograph a person, learn everything you can about them before you have your session so you can build rapport and find common ground during the shoot. These things are pretty rudimentary.
How you go about doing this research matters. The section I wrote above on researching a place can help you here too. Many or most of those techniques will help you research your subject.
But there are specialty places you want to figure out if you are researching subjects and they themselves take some digging to find.
Let’s say you get an assignment to photograph a prominent lawyer, then you’d want to learn about the kind of law he/she practices, where they went to school, etc.
ONE MORE THING
If you are going to the photography shoot of a lifetime, you may be spending lots of money to get there – stay there – and make the images. It could make sense in some cases to hire professional research assistance. You can visit places like UpWork and find all sorts of people to help with your project.
I’ll leave you with this. Even the great Spike Lee knows how important research is and how simple it can be. He said:
“You have to do the research. If you don’t know about something, then you ask the right people who do.”
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