There once was a time when I would just get a call for a job, and I would head off into the sunset and wing the trip. This often meant I had no clue what I was heading for other than a few basic ideas and I missed a ton of opportunities at what might have otherwise been awesome locations and conditions!
To some, (to many photographers actually), this might have been perfect, but I am, sadly, not a natural explorer and as such, just wandering off into the great unknown poses me a lot of problems, inner termoil and stress. Dont get me wrong – I will happily wander on my own on a hike… but I seem to only be able to do so if I know a destination – so a big 8 hour hike is fine, but only if I know the end goal. Where I am not at all observant, this adds an additional restriction of simply not seeing things, so again, knowing what I am looking for, is a massive help. I am hoping that, in time, a growing confidence and skill set will help me get over all this. (There has been the odd occasion showing this might be happening already, so I feel hopeful that I may be able to explore proper as things progress). For now, I just dont feel confident enough to venture forward in this way… yet.
Some time ago, I watched a video by french photographer Serge Ramelli, and one of his suggestions when starting out, was to set yourself a personal project. As it goes, I had the perfect one. For Christmas I had been given a scratch off map of the UK. It was a present to celebrate me buying my first camper, and to encourage me out to see the country (as I have yet to brave international travel!!) When I didnt have a job, I could go to a different county and visit there. My only rule, was that I had to visit at least 3 different areas of any one county before I could scratch it off… and its proved to be a fantastic way of getting me to explore a new area. I just need to do this in a way that doesn’t clash with my psychological restrictions.
So I plan. My Skye trip was the first trip that I planned out. I didnt plan a day by day itenerary, but I made myself a little booklet of 16 possible locations, and decided to let the weather, and where I had parked for the night, dictate which ones I would visit. This proved to be a huge success, and the trip was my most successful one at that point. I am now planning two new trips, and since I have adapted my technique a bit, and learned more about searching out elusive locations, I thought I would share how I do this with you. My trips can now be planned anytime, and stored safely in a way that if I get a last minute call taking me somewhere new, I may already have some locations that I can pull up at any time. This isnt just a photography technique I am developing, its good for any visit, work or holiday, that might bring me to a new place where I might have cause to search out whats there.
So. to start. I signed up to Googles’ My Maps. My new best friend. I also got the app on my phone, signed to the same account. This meant that no matter where I am, if I see anything that inspires me, I can now note it immediately, and mark it on the map for future reference. Anything I plot onto the map on my pc at home will show up on my phone instantly, so I dont have to print any more booklets, the information will always be at my fingertips. As my County challenge is in smaller areas, I can even have a different map for each county ready for a visit. I can always add more locations to each map as I go along, there is no ‘finished’ map as such, so revisits, and new areas to see will all be together, and easy to identify.
Next up will be hunting the sources of the inspiration. Actually this is my favourite bit. My search can start with a simple image, idea, job offer in a new location, something I spot in a video, or simply, ‘I havent been to this county yet… whats there?’. From there the search starts and I simply follow the rabit hole to all the different spots it takes me.
I will give you an example. I have been spotting a number of images on Instagram of a really interesting rock formation on a coast in Scotland. I had seen it a few times, but didnt note its name. Then by pure chance, I stumbled across a You Tube video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qn6gOyqDxo ) of a chap (Imran) photographing it, and it really intregued me enough to note its name. Bow Fiddle Rock. I found out where it was, and noted it in my little county book that I had been keeping to facilitate my county challenge. Should I ever get to Moray, That was first on my list. Some time went past, when I stumbled across a fab lady photographer and vlogger, Kim Grant, and in watching one of her videos, saw a really interesting cave behind her when she discussed Portknockie. This was also in Moray. It got added to the Moray list… and so it grows.
Fast forward to now and my current plan. Daughter is changing her student digs, and boyfriend is moving in with her, can I drive his stuff up and help move as soon as lockdown allows? Glasgow here I come…!!! Ohhhh, but hang on… as I have no work at present, why dont I simply turn this into a huge photographic trip? Initially, as British lockdown ended earlier than Scottish, I intended to move her in, drop down to Northumberland for 10 days, and then go back up to Scotland to do a further 2 weeks touring up there. I really wanted to get the Highlands scratched off my map! So, I started searching locations for the two areas. (Sadly, flat after flat fell through, so the plan didnt quite come to pass as I initially hoped.. but it did give me more and more time to add locations to my Highlands My Maps)
So, for this trip, I started with google images and the simple request ‘places to photograph in…’ a whole bunch of images started to cross my path, some interesting to me, many not. I looked at the places that caught my eye, and started plotting them on my map. I then followed the images I liked, and found them from a variety of sources, Instagram, Flickr, photo libraries, You Tube videos, photographers portfolios, trip advisor, hiking sites, even fishing sites – there are so many more too! By clicking on an image I liked, I found myself following leads from each site that led me to yet more locations that I could add to my list. Then there was google maps itself. when I looked at a location that looked bereft of markers, I could zoom in and see if I could literally spot anything that might look intreguing, if I did, I typed it in to see if anyone, anywhere might have tagged the spot to help me see it any clearer (quite often, local village groups). Then there were Googles own markers with little cameras on – mostly just average pictures of random dogs or food available nearby, but some gave me some ideas I might want to investigate. The rabbit hole seemed endless!!!
Slowly, my maps grew from a couple of locations to over 70 in the highlands! More than enough to keep me going for a LOOONNNGGG time, and a fantastic variety of subjects. Knowing my post covod fitness level, I couldnt consider any long, strenuous mountain hikes, but I know there are even more options for those shots I could add if I wanted to. (There is one I really would love to do though…..*ponders the idea*….)
As I plotted each site on the My Maps app, I could add a screen grabs, website details, hints and tips, my own notes and even hiking instructions… anything that might help me find the locations that I had been researching. The app on the pc immediately added it all to the app on my phone, so I have it all when I am on the move. As time goes on, I will replace the yellow ‘I want to go here’ marker with a green ‘been here!’ one, and I can change the screen grabs to my own photos and my personal notes for future reference… or, indeed, for others to follow in time. My excitement at looking at these maps really helps build anticipation, and the love of the hunt absolutely thrills me. I added my Skye sites, and the Glencoe ones I had noted on scraps of paper.. and my map grew and grew!
So, for the trip that should start any week now, there is a downside. On the Scotish part (not sure if Northumberland will come off just yet), many of the locations are on the NC500… a long route of around 516 miles that ring the highlands, and as such they are largely bucket shots. This may be a two fold issue. One, the NC500 will be packed with tourists keen to get out at last, and the narrow roads will be hard to navigate if I keep crossing paths with other motorhomes, and two, where they are such popular bucket shots, everywhere will be targets for those same tourists. Getting people free images may be a huge issue. A bucket shot, by the way, if you dont know it, is one that you dream of shooting if you are a photographer, or a shot that you have seen that you desperately want to emulate or recreate in your own way. For a tourist, its place they have spotted somewhere, and simply want to go to see for themselves.. On the flip side, my list is now in my phone…I can visit any time. The locations, on the whole, arnt going anywhere… so what I cant get on this trip, I can try another time. I suspect I need to consider this trip as a reccie, rather than a full on shooting expedition, just so that I can judge how I might like to try these shots myself when I can get them (sunset? sunrise? spring? winter? misty, moody or bright and cheerful??)
A final note. As I write this Thomas Heaton has just released a video covering his tips for planning. He does point out one very big issue with my method of doing things right now… that the problem with going with pre planned images or copies of those taken by someone else, is that you will very, VERY rarely get the same conditions as any photograph you try to emulate. If you set yourself up to take THAT shot, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. He is 100% correct with this point… so if you follow what I am currently doing, do NOT expect to see or take the same images as any of those you may have saved for a reference. The landscape will be how it will be, when you get there, I have no illusions about that when I compile my self guide. You shouldnt either. The screen captures I have plotted, are starting points on what might be possible, and when I get to each of these, thats when I will try to put my stamp on things, or make notes for a revisit.
I cant wait to see what I might find!!!