The wave at coyote buttes north

Photographing a New Location: 7 Tips to Create Better Images When Traveling to a New Location

Photographing a new landscape can be exciting for many reasons and the thrill of a new landscape is something many photographers dream of, whether distant or relatively close to home. Photographing a new location brings many challenges though and often leads to very few “keeper” images, despite the initial thrill and excitement of travel. There’s several reasons for this, but there’s also many ways to get the most out of your Photography in a new location.

Hoh rainforest in Olympic national Park.
Olympic National Park – Handheld, no tripod. Only one day here.

Challenges of Photographing a New Landscape

  • Limited time
  • Unfavorable conditions
  • Unfamiliar with local weather
  • Unknown locations
  • Limited gear
  • Excitement bias
  • Knowing what to look for

These are just a few examples of challenges faced when photographing a new landscape. So let’s have a closer look at each of these while discussing ways to overcome these challenges.

1) Limited Time

This is an obvious challenge when traveling as often only have a day or a morning or a short period of time to shoot. Perhaps you have other plans which limit your time to shoot so you need to make the most of this time. A simple way to ensure you’re maximizing your time is to understand your camera, test gear and double check for the essentials (batteries/cables/etc). This may sound trivial but so much time can be lost when these basic things aren’t addressed BEFORE you go shoot. Dead or missing batteries have ruined more than one photographer’s limited time. I had this happen to a friend;)

Utah photo tours
10 image stitched pano – A location I’ve visited once…so far.

2) Unfavorable Conditions

This happens so often in Landscape Photography as Nature usually has other plans. You go to a location expecting one condition but end up with something else. Maybe it’s a hard to reach location for sunset and when you get there you discover it’s totally clear or all clouds. This can lead to disappointment for many people so how do you get around this? One such way is to ask a different question, or have a different perspective. Try considering what IS good with the given conditions instead of focusing on what isn’t matching your expectations or vision. Perhaps the unfavorable conditions are actually favorable for something else? Something you would’ve not seen otherwise? Or something that looks best in the conditions you have? This happens ALL the time in Landscape Photography but it takes skill and practice to overcome.

The wave at coyote buttes north
3 image pano @ 50mm (no wide angle lens). The cloudy day made the details pop with no shadows.

3) Unfamiliar With Local Weather

Every location has its nuances with weather and it can be difficult or even impossible to understand when just visiting for a short time. A quick and easy way to get a better understanding of the local weather is to begin reading the forecast for a location well before you arrive. Understand some of the past weather and what’s to come. This can help immensely and can tie back into maximizing your time in a location. For example, there are certain cloudy evenings to go out and photogaph sunset around Zion National Park and other cloudy days that won’t yield a sunset or good ligh. It’s not as much “luck” as you’d think.

Zion National Park. Beyond Zion. Greater Zion.
Stitched pano – Cloudy day with snow and direct light

4) Unknown Locations

Again, an obvious challenge, but in a new location you likely don’t know where to go. You can look online/ social media but will often find the same places as everyone else. You could read a guide book or blog, but again, the same exact places. You could also just go find something for yourself but this can eat into valuable time and many instances of missing something good because you were busy exploring. So how do you overcome this challenge? Google Earth can be a good start to get a feel of the area. It’s not terribly accurate in many locations (the desert/Bryce Canyon) but it’s a start. Another option is a bit counterintuitive but instead of trying to see more, try to see less. This may mean going for a hike instead of driving all around an area. Maybe it means shooting a smaller area instead of snapshots across a larger area. One last way to overcome this challenge is combining “seeing unfavorable conditions as favorable” with “knowing what to look for” which is discussed in tip 7.

5 image stitched pano – Capitol Reef National Park. Hiking instead of chasing light.

5) Limited Gear

This challenge affects people in different ways and can be a matter of bringing too little or gear missing/broken. On a recent trip I opted to not bring a tripod which limited some shooting opportunities but didn’t present an issue. Or perhaps you don’t want to travel with every lens and camera you own. Often times having a lighter setup and familiar gear is superior to heavier gear or unfamiliar equipment. The lighter setup is obvious when hiking or traveling so “limited” is often actually a benefit. Another limitation such as no tripod is to look for scenes you can shoot with a faster shutter speed/ISO or use other methods of stabilization such as a tree or rock or fence. A stable camera is a stable camera. Focal length is also often an issue with limitations of photography but can be addressed by a little planning ahead. If you know you like wide angle scenes, don’t bring your telephoto and vice versa. A final point on focal length and lenses is there are many options to rent lenses now. If you want to shoot landscapes with a telephoto or wide angle lens, you can easily rent one for the week to try it before you invest in one. Have a look at Borrow Lenses (not affiliated) and the same goes for cameras. Gear limitations don’t have to be a restraint when traveling to a new place with a little planning ahead.

Bryce Canyon – Handheld, no tripod, hiking.

6) Excitement Bias

This is a concept you may or may not be familiar with but it has an impact on your Photography. It’s natural to feel excited about a new location or landscape but this excitement is a sort of filter over your eyes. Excitement is also a good thing but it’s also a challenge because it leads the mind to think something is better than it actually is. For example, you visit a new place and take 500 photos because it all looks new and amazing. Fast forward one year and how many of those images still have that same excitement? I’m guessing it’s much less than 500. This is natural though and the excitement can be hugely beneficial if we’re aware of it. A simple way is to just pause for a moment after you frame a scene. Pause, step back, evaluate the frame more objectively, then click or adjust. This simple step will lead to more intentional images by nature and help overcome the excitement bias of the eyes. Another way is a little opposite of this approach and it’s to simply shoot more. Shoot more intentional variations, more than what you think in the field because your eyes will not be the same when you’re home behind your monitor. This isn’t spray and pray shooting, it’s intentional variations with a pause before clicking the shutter. It takes practice but will give better images if practiced in the field.

Oregon coast
Shot 5 days ago, handheld. Oregon Coast.

7) Knowing What to Look For

The final tip is in a way a summary of the previous 6 tips. Using your equipment that you do have, understanding local weather, preparing your equipment, seeing less geographic area and shooting effectively through the excitement, all contribute to knowing what to look for in a new location. Prepare your gear and technique so they don’t interfere with your eyes while in the field. Use some of your gained knowledge to anticipate and react to conditions. Allow some additional time for observation and most importantly, trust your instincts. If you’re enjoying an area of a location, don’t worry about what else there is to shoot, just focus on making a better image of what’s interesting to you. Through these simple tips you’ll get a better feeling of what to look for and your images will be better and more meaningful as a result.

Hoh rainforest
Hoh Rainforest – handheld. You can’t see every place here.

Conclusion – Photographing a New Landscape

These tips are things I personally use all the time as I explore a new landscape and location. Although I love becoming familiar with a landscape by repeated visits, the excitement of a new location is human nature I believe. I also understand many people don’t have the opportunity to make repeated visits to a distant location or even an unfamiliar yet nearby landscape. This is a main reason I love doing what I do and helping people gain skills to use at their next “New Landscape” while maximizing their time while visiting a new landscape.

If you’re interested in learning more about these approaches and tips, we invite you to join us for a 1-Day Workshop, Photo Tour or a multi-day Workshop in Utah & Beyond. Please feel free to contact us with questions or more information and we’ll see you outside!

<span class="uppercase">Horizon Photo Tours</span>
Horizon Photo Tours

Winter Photography in Bryce Canyon National Park: Part 2

Part 1 of this blog shared information about gear and clothing to consider while photographing in Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter.  Part 2 will discuss logistics and other considerations during the Winter.  I’ll also share some recommendations for locations as well as some tips for techniques and practices for cold weather shooting.  Of course all of this information is meant to be a guide and a starting point and you will learn so much more about shooting comfortably in Winter after actually shooting in the Winter.  There is NOTHING better than experience for learning.  Reading blogs or watching YouTube and IG videos will only tell you so much, the rest you’ll have to go outside and learn through experience.

Cool tree at Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon in the Winter is generally more restricted due to snow and road/trail closures.  Despite this, the potential vantage points and compositions will overwhelm you, especially in the early morning.  Bryce Canyon is one of those places where you’ll get a pretty good picture no matter where you point your camera.  This approach works great for phone snapshots but I have a feeling you purchased a camera and a lens for more than what your phone can do.  Composition in Bryce Canyon photos can be achieved in 2 different ways: Above the Rim and Below the Rim.  In the Winter, the Rim Trail is open between Inspiration Point (higher elevation) and Fairyland Point (lower elevation).  All compositions from the Rim Trail are generally looking out and down as the hoodoos are below you.  Other trails within the canyon are open during the Winter (depending on conditions) and generally offer compositions which are more engaging and surrounding.  Seeing the sunrise over the sea of hoodoos is truly incredible and being among the hoodoos below the rim at sunrise, will literally leave you speechless. No particular compositional style is better than the other but you’ll likely be able to make a more unique composition and image from below the rim.

Another often overlooked consideration for Bryce Canyon photography in the Winter is public restrooms.  Sunset Point has restrooms but the other viewpoints do NOT.  The other option in the early morning for sunrise is at Ruby’s Inn (outside the park) so plan accordingly.  Bryce, Inspiration and Sunrise Points do NOT have restrooms in the Winter.

Another overlooked detail in Bryce Canyon for early mornings is coffee.  If you’re a coffee drinker, plan ahead because there is NO PLACE to get coffee at 6AM in Bryce Canyon.  Preparing for this the night before can go a long way to making the next morning better!

So now that you’re prepared with clothing, gear, restrooms, coffee and general locations, what’s next?  You show up to Bryce Canyon in the early morning and it’s ice cold, windy, the sky has some clouds and some fog and it’s quickly becoming light.  Where are you going to shoot from?  Are you ready to get out of your warm car and face the elements?  Is your camera ok in these conditions?

There is a lot to consider when shooting in Winter conditions which we don’t have to consider as much in the Summer.  Camera batteries, lenses fogging, precipitation, discomfort and gear malfunctions are all possible complications which affect Photography more so in the Winter.  Camera batteries can often be an issue when the temperature nears 0 degrees F. Some camera batteries handle cold better than others so it’s best to simply carry spare batteries and put them in an inside pocket of your jacket to keep them warm.  I’ve used Nikon batteries for a long time and I’ve always been ok to keep them in the backpack and found they handle cold well but different batteries respond differently.

Lenses and viewfinders/LED/LCD screens fogging and icing can be another concern when shooting in drifting snow or during precipitation.  One solution is to carry lens cloths, a lot of them.  This will help more so when it’s snowing or from condensation on the back of your camera from your breath.  If you’re using lens cloths to clear fog from your lens, a better solution is to prevent your camera/lens from fogging in the first place.  One way is to start with your camera cold/cool and keep it cold.  Letting it “chill” in your backpack will often work fine.  Once it’s cold, keep it cold.  Don’t put the camera or a lens in your pocket as the cold lens/camera will fog when in a warmer environment.  Change lenses and keep the other lens cold and it’ll remain fog free.  If you stop for lunch or need to go inside somewhere warm for a while, another trick is a large ziplock or airtight bag.  Wrap your camera/lens inside this and it’ll help prevent fogging, but the best option is to not go from cold to warm to cold in a short period of time.  Lastly, when it’s below zero, breathing near your camera can cause icing too.  At -15F, your breath will ice the viewfinder and even the lens if you’re not careful.  Just refrain from breathing directly on/towards your camera during these exceptionally cold times and you’ll be fine.

While it’s cold, another consideration mentioned above is gear malfunctions.  Simply put, when it’s cold things break.  Things get ice and snow in and on them and get stuck.  Everything is more difficult when wearing gloves and when it’s cold.  The only suggestion I can make is to go slow when handling equipment or adjusting knobs/tripods.  Know your camera and operations of lenses and changing lenses because it’s much more difficult when it’s cold.

Bottom line with all these preparations, logistics, tips and tricks is to help you spend LESS time on worrying about gear and equipment when out in the field and MORE time focusing on your photography.  If you’re out for sunrise in stunning conditions but it’s cold and you’re struggling with gear, conditions and camera operations, you’ll likely miss the opportunity or be rushed into shooting.  There could be the most amazing light but if you’re not prepared or are uncomfortable, you likely won’t get the image you’re capable of.  I’ve had this happen so many times to myself and experienced it many times with others.  Through many misses and much experience, I’m able to feel comfortable outside in the Winter while shooting and am able to focus on Photography.  This blog series is a start to getting you comfortable outside in the Winter but again, there’s no better way to learn than through experience.  You simply have to go outside and learn.

If you’re interested in practicing or learning more about Winter Photography, our 1-Day workshop is available on demand in Bryce Canyon and the Winter Wonderland Workshop in Feb & March 2021 (& 2022 TBD) are both great opportunities.  Being comfortable outside in the winter among a breathtaking landscape is one part of making great images of Bryce Canyon. The other part is exploring and learning which are only possible if you’re comfortable.  Hopefully this information helps some people and feel free to contact us with any questions about Winter Photography.