8 Things to Do Before Leaving on a Nature Photo Shoot - Cramer Imaging - Quality Fine Art Photography
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8 Things to Do Before Leaving on a Nature Photo Shoot

8 Things to Do Before Leaving on a Nature Photo Shoot
Ok, you want to try your hand at some nature photography.  There are tons of tutorials on how to do all kinds of nature photos from a landscape to a smaller geographical feature and from flowers to wildlife.  Each of those kinds of photography have camera techniques to think about but that's not the focus of this article.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality landscape photograph of a farm field and equipment with colorful clouds in Rexburg, Madison, Idaho
Getting a beautiful landscape photo like this starts long before clicking the shutter.
Instead, we're talking about things you'll always want to do when you're getting ready to go out.  These points may not be directly related to photography but are important nonetheless if you want to be comfortable, stay safe, and be prepared in case of other problems.
There's a lot to do to get ready for a #nature photo shoot.  It's more than you might think you need to do.

8. Plan Out Your Expedition


Do you know where you will be going and how to get there?  This is a matter of personal survival after all.  If you don't know, you'll get lost.  Use maps, Google Earth, or similar to plan out where you're going.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality stock photograph of a map and direction-finding compass laid out on top
A map and compass is outdated for route planning but very handy when lost.
Check the weather report.  Check road reports if there's a chance of snow.  Do your best to find out if going is even going to be worth your time to head out into the field.  It might not be worth it, but you can't tell for sure until you check.

We heard about a chance to get Northern Lights once.  That's rare this far south so we prepared and loaded up to get pictures.  We even bought some road food to take with us.  As we were heading out, we noticed that it was rather cloudy, so we decided to check the weather.  It turned out that it was cloudy for miles around.  Had we found out about the aurora earlier we might have been able to get outside the cloud coverage but, as it was, there was no chance.

Find out what kind of roads you will be driving on where you're going.  It's great to get into the back country but make sure your car can handle it.  If you have 4WD (4 wheel drive), you have less to worry about but make sure the roads you plan to take are actually passable in your vehicle.  A family sedan can't go as many places as a good off-road SUV.

7. Be Prepared Not to Get Anything


Not getting anything usable is actually common no matter who you are.  Sometimes the image just doesn't come out no matter what.  Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate.  There are lots of reasons why this could happen.  If you don't learn not to get upset when it doesn't come out, then you're going to be unhappy a lot.

It's a good to have an idea of what you want pictures of.  This doesn't mean you're going to get what you planned for.  When we go out, more often than not, we get a decent image.  However, more often than not, that image is not what we set out to get.  Many of our best photos were things that just worked out while we were completely failing to get what we wanted.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality nature photograph of a sun-bleached stump in weeds in Craters of the Moon National Monument
This photo is one of those where the shot I wanted just didn't work out but I got this as a consolation prize.
Even though we usually get SOMETHING, there are times when we get NOTHING at all.  This does happen a lot.  For example, we've gone to the Teton Mountain Range several times in hopes of a picture.  The first three times we tried, the mountains were obscured by clouds.  It sucks, but we go home and we try again another day.

6. Tell Someone You Trust Exactly Where You Will Be and When You Anticipate Returning


Perhaps the most important thing you can do is tell someone not going on the trip exactly where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you expect to be back.  This is critically important if there is no cell coverage where you're going.

 Cramer Imaging's professional quality stock photograph of a wooden wall clock on a white background
Someone needs to know when you're leaving and when you're returning home.
Some extended family members once left to investigate a property they were thinking of purchasing in Arbon Valley.  After viewing the property, they took a bit of a ride on some less used roads.  It was late April.  Arbon Valley, while not exactly in the mountains, has a higher altitude than Pocatello.

During their scenic trip, it snowed fast and hard.  Down in town just a few miles away, there was little to no snow.  In Arbon Valley their vehicle was snowbound and they were stuck without cell service.

They had quite an adventure for about three days without food and with very little water.  Eventually, they were able to hike up to get cell service but, by then, the cell phone was nearly dead (remember batteries don't work well in the cold).

Their dead batteries made it very difficult to stay on the phone long enough to tell 911 operators where they were.  A helicopter search was involved.  Both made it out ok but, had they said where they were going and when they'd be back, they could have been rescued days sooner.

Of course, this doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous from time to time but, if you do have a radical change of plans, let someone know if you at all can.  That way they know where to tell the authorities to start looking for you if you don't show up on time.

Likewise, if you end up delayed heading back, let your contact party know as soon as you can where you are so that they can either not call rescue or can call off the search.

5. Keep It Quiet on Social Media and In General


Composite graphic of several popular social media logos by Cramer Imaging
There are bad people who specifically search social media posts looking for those people on vacation to rob their obviously empty houses.  Don't be a victim of a preventable crime.
While you need to tell someone where you're going, you don't need to broadcast it to the world.  Social media can be fun and interesting but it can also be dangerous to let random people know you're going to be out of your house.  Sure, you generally trust your friends, but do you trust all of your Facebook friends?  How about all of their Facebook friends?

All it takes is a single like to share your post to potentially hundreds of other people's timelines.  This sharing is entirely out of your control.  Just keep it quiet that you're going to be away.

It's also a good idea to keep it quiet off of social media too.  We had a relative who was leaving for a few days.  He mentioned this fact to his neighbor.  His neighbor wasn't the bad sort, she was just one of those people who can't keep her mouth shut about anything to anyone.

This means that she mentioned it to several of her acquaintances including several people doing some odd jobs in her yard.  Several of them were people who had the M.O. of tracking when people weren't home, then breaking in and robbing the place.  While he was gone, his house was ransacked and he lost a lot of stuff.

4. Get Your Photography Gear Ready


This may seem obvious but, in the days before you go out, get everything you will need ready.  Clear off memory cards.  Charge your batteries and check them to make sure they still work.  Replace them if needed.  Clean your lenses and filters.  Do a spot check on your camera sensor.  Double check your camera settings and reset them if necessary.  This will save you from blowing a shoot because your exposure compensation was set too low (Yes, it happened to me).

 Photograph of Cramer Imaging's first professional level DSLR camera gear including several lenses, a camera body, and a flash

Check the function of everything you anticipate using and pack it carefully.  Nothing would more annoying than to get out, find and get set up for the perfect shot only to learn that a battery is dead or you forgot a card or something is broken.

Think hard about what you will and won't need, particularly if you have to pack it in any distance.  It's better to have a backup but, if you have to carry it, you're going to get tired faster.  Personally, I would take most everything that might come in handy and leave it in the car when I have to hike.  This gives me options if other photographic opportunities come along en route.

3. Get Your Vehicle Ready


Make absolutely sure your car is running properly.  Check the air in your tires.  Check the oil, the coolant, transmission fluid, etc.  Fill the gas tank even if it's still mostly full.  Check the tire air pressure and inflate the tires as necessary.  This will reduce your chances of being stranded.  This is good advice anytime you take a relatively long car trip but is doubly important if you're going off paved roads, or going onto roads which are open only seasonally.  Check your car kit: tools, flares, jack, tire iron, tire pump, etc.

Photograph of a sedan style grey car parked on snow in Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho by Cramer Imaging

The same goes for any other vehicles you're using such as snowmobiles, ATV's or even mountain bikes, if you're using them to get in further instead of hiking.  Make sure they're totally ready full of fuel and maintained before you head out. 

2. Get Your Emergency Kits Together


Picture of a bright red cross or first aid symbol on a white background created by Cramer Imaging
You should take some kind of emergency kit with you on any long trip but you should absolutely have one if you're going away from civilization.  (For ideas, see our article from last week on things you should take with you on a nature photo shoot.)

Do remember that an emergency kit is more than just a simple first aid kit stashed under the seat of your car.  It's what you need to survive and get you out of a bad situation.

Make sure you can make fire in case of an unexpected overnight stop.  Check your flashlight batteries and have extras for light.  Check your first aid kit and top it off if necessary.  Sharpen any pocket knives you'll be taking, if you need them.  You will want them to be sharp.

1. Get Yourself Ready


Cramer Imaging's photograph of a winter jacket or coat, a knitted scarf, and a matching knitted hat
Having appropriate clothing for all conditions is part of getting yourself ready for a nature photo shoot.  This would be good for winter conditions both planned and sudden.
You need to be prepared to survive what the elements will throw at you.  This means having appropriate clothing, food and extra water depending on where you're going and the season.  Bring extra of everything if you are going outside cell coverage areas.

Keep in mind that the weather can change so have gear for the opposite weather too.  Get a good meal and use the restroom.  If you're traveling far, use the bathroom again on the road in your last stop before you leave civilization.

Stop at the ATM and get some extra cash to have on hand just in case you need it.  Get simple items like sunscreen and insect repellent ready if it will be warm.  Take hand-warmers and extra socks along if it will be cold.  Take a walking stick if you anticipate having trouble hiking in to a location.

Make sure you have proper sunglasses.  As a photographer, you must protect your eyes.  Take hygienic items with you, including feminine hygiene products if you may at all need them.  Bring medications with you as well.  Even if you're only going for a day trip if something goes wrong, you may need them.

Conclusion


There is a lot to do in order to get ready for a nature shoot.  You must be prepared for lots of possible scenarios and weather conditions.  It's about your survival during the time of your shoot.  If you are going for multiple days, this becomes even more critical for you to do before you leave.  If you take the time for proper preparations, your outdoor photo shoot should be relatively pleasant and worry-free, at least the part about your comfort.  You can easily concentrate on creating beautiful fine art photography.

Have any more tips that we've missed?  Have any experiences out in the field of being prepared or woefully unprepared which we could learn from?  We would love to know about them.  Please share your tips and stories in the comments below.