Getting the most out of your photography while traveling requires the ability to adapt, which is much easier when you're armed with good information. This is even more important if you're traveling with someone who is not a photography lover like you: using your time effectively becomes paramount for both your sakes. Either way, you've likely spent a considerable amount of money for your trip, and may not have another similar trip for some time. While your mindset is important in not getting frustrated or dejected, it's also easy to avoid common frustrations and wasted time. It's may not be adventurous or sexy, but playing by the 5 P's:Proper Planning Prevents Poor Production (thanks Dad!) will ultimately free you to relax and have fun, eliminating needless stress. Before setting off, there are 5 favorite tools I always use in planning, letting me get the most out of my travels.
Google Earth: This is by far my favorite way to explore, for fun and for practical purposes. If you've never tried out Google Earth, clear an afternoon and tour the world. It can be as detailed as you wish, but I use it to check out the multitude of photos from Panoramio that are linked to each location. This is a great way to sketch out a location map and even the mundane images will help you get a handle on what that piazza you were reading about really looks like.
The Photographer's Ephemeris: While the mobile app is pretty pricey, the desktop app is free. Just plug in a location and date, and you can see what the angle of the sun will be through the day, as well as moon paths. It also shows the moon phases, an important tidbit for night shooters. Will the facade of the Baroque building be lit up at sunrise? Use TPE to find out - since the angle of the sun varies throughout the year, it can aid in tie-breaking location or timing choices based on where the light will fall. I love that you can place the map pin wherever you wish, allowing you to be super specific in your quest for light.
Rise: This is a free app for iPhone that offers a simple but effective function on the go. You can look up the sun rise and sun set times for nearly any location on the globe, and it includes first light/last light details for that perfect blue hour shot. You can step up to the pro app to include weather, but I find the free app does just what I need.
Sun Seeker 3D: I haven't yet had a chance to try this out, but after recently watching a review video I immediately decided I MUST have it in my arsenal for next time. I'm fairly obsessive about knowing where the sun will be at a given hour, and since I've not mastered a real compass, this does it for you. It's not the cheapest app at $6.99, but it is most definitely unique. In addition to a flat view compass, it also provides an augmented reality view via your camera that will display the sun's specific location in the sky at any time of the day. Want a shot of the sun peeping over the horizon just behind that old bridge? Don't wait til sunrise to find out if you're right, check on it at any time with this app to decide if your ideal shot is even possible. The video below isn't the slickest, but you get the idea of how this works. Bonus: it's available for iPhone and Android.
Screenshot of Weather Spark's average annual rainfal for Milan, Italy
WeatherSpark: I adore this website, which comes into play before I've actually selected my dates or destination. It's the most comprehensive and user-friendly site I've found for weather averages. It provides information on temperatures, rainfall, snow, cloud cover, and more. You can also get current forecasts as well as a 12 month history, letting you see if the weather has been wacky this year or pretty on par with averages. Naturally, weather is the least predictable element of all, but you can at least avoid peak rainy season or give yourself the best chance at capturing snow-covered streets.
Do you have a favorite app, site, or trick for planning your travel photography? Please share your thoughts in the comments section - and then share this post with your travel and photography loving friends!