Tips for Taking the Perfect Photography Vacation
"Ooooh, this campsite is just a short hike from a lookout of the Golden Gate Bridge," I thought. "I'm bookin' it."
My husband let me take the lead for our camping trip up the coast from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula. When I started researching possible stopping points on Yelp, Airbnb, and Reserve America, the reviews and pictures either bragged about the scenic discoveries the traveller made-or dissed the barren, parking-lot atmosphere planted on the wrong side of the freeway, or miles away from its namesake.
"I should make this a photo trip," I thought. For every stopping point I picked, I already had the perfect photo planned. In my head this sounded great, but in reality, there's more to planning the perfect vacation than looking for great photo spots as any Instagram star can probably tell you. Here are some tips for taking a more pleasurable photography vacation.
First off, make sure that wherever you decide to stop is easily accessible. That campsite I mentioned earlier that was just a short hike from the lookout, unfortunately, was not. When my husband and I parked and checked in to the campsite we quickly learned that any gear we needed for the night was going to have to be lugged a half a mile or so from the parking lot to the site. Comically, the campground provided campers with hefty trashcans on wheels in order to cart their gear back-and-forth from the parking lot. While you may think watching your significant other cart around a trashcan of their belongings is a photo opportunity in and of itself, the memory of their exhaustion is not so pleasant-and enough to scrap this destination.
This next tip ties in with the first: make sure it's safe. If your resting-place is not easily accessible, there is a good chance that it is not safe. Many people may have camped at China Camp State Park unscathed, but we were not one of them. After setting up camp, munching on skewers, and dessert, I relaxed by the fire while my husband left to the car for a few more things. I listened to the familiar sounds of bikers whizzing back on the trail, and critters crunching the leaves as dusk approached. By the time my husband returned, darkness set in and he became acutely aware of the sound of something tramping back and forth on the hillside near our tent. "Anybody there?" my husband would call out, beaming the flashlight into the darkness. "It's just camping jitters," I knowingly thought. It had been a while since my husband had been camping. Then I noticed the pattern of the visitor's footsteps.
Step, step, step, step, step, step, long pause. Step, step, step, step, step, step, long pause.
It was circling us.
My husband pointed the flashlight up into the hillside one last time. Two eyes gleamed back-two mountain lion eyes. We backed out of the camping space yelling loudly. I grabbed the tent stake mallet off the picnic table on my way out, lifted it up into the sky like a mini-Thor, attempting to show no fear.
We only returned to the site once we had reinforcements-a few 20-something year olds who had made a weekend trip by taking the Bart out of town. They packed our gear up in less than five minutes, and my husband handsomely rewarded them. My frugality didn't protest.
If you're heart isn't beating rapidly yet, you may need to be reminded that it's always important to consider your health before that next trip. We're 30-somethings with okay health, but the Pac Northwest yields an allergen count like no other. As the wind whistled and raced through the trees of our Cape Disappointment campground, I silently suffered, adjusting my head at different angles in a effort to clear my sinuses. It was all in vain. Despite the promised beauty of our next stop, my compassionate husband opted for a hotel room instead. The constant filtration of the air conditioning unit, and a few antihistamines helped diminish my symptoms, but I continued to suffer for the remainder of our trip.
While we have safety in mind, it's always important to watch your equipment. Sure, if you end up in a dangerous city, unaware of your surroundings, it could get stolen. However, in my experience, my gear is more likely to get stolen in my hometown than on a vacation to a rural landscape. When I say, watch your gear, I really mean make sure you don' t place it in a situation where it could get easily damaged. The only time I have ever broken or damaged my equipment was on vacation. Bad luck may have played a part as well. Greek bathrooms don't offer a lot of options for where to place your camera. When I entered the stall and surveyed the soaked floor, I opted to drape my camera strap over the door hook. As I sat down to complete my business, the strap broke, the camera fell lens first onto the floor. The padded camera case was not enough protection to prevent damage. In order to take pictures for the rest of the trip, I had to press the lens contacts against the body of the camera while pressing down the shutter. Imagining the looming repair bill didn't help me keep my cool either.
Speaking of temperature, don't forget to consider the weather. While many of my vacations take place in the summer, the weather is not always so summery. Even when it is, summery weather can equal humidity-think Hawaii. In a location like Hawaii, bringing plenty of lens wipes and cleaner may be on your to do list. Places in the Pac Northwest face a similar challenge. With the intermittent rain it's important to plan your day's events around the weather-not just for photo opportunities, but also for your personal comfort. At times, winds in the Cape Disappointment, Washington area have reached over 100 mph.
This is something your tent may not be able to withstand-or your personal comfort level.
Another thing to recognize when thinking about comfort is how rustic the amenities are. That quaint little mud hut with mirrored mosaic art embedded into the walls may look romantic on Airbnb with it's views of one of the local Portland bridges. However, everyone has different standards for comfort. I learned that for myself, a hot night and a lack of air conditioning or window screens will not be forgotten-neither will the abundance of bug bites. And, if one or more partners are uncomfortable, it may lead to an argument or more... Just saying...
Finally, a vacation isn't The Amazing Race, so plan out a realistic timeline. On our trip, multiple stops led to multiple photo opportunities-and many adventures. We only stayed at each spot a maximum of two days. Some locations we couldn't wait to get out of. Others, I longed to soak in every inch over four or five days. Moving our bags and gear every two days ended up feeling like more of a chore after the first two stops than an adventure. Although I would never plan another coastal trip like our Pac Northwest adventure, it was a trip that made me appreciate discovery. I grew an appetite for unfamiliar places, a trust in my surprisingly shrewd husband-and I wised up in knowledge of myself-and what it takes to get that perfect vacation.