This isn’t about gear. The internet is a vast resource for finding gear and finding reviews and information about gear to do your due diligence before buying. But this blog is about resources for the photographer to enhance the photographic endeavor.
I like to plan my photography excursions, whether they are day trips or more extended trips. Especially with the latter, it is challenging to take time off and spend the money for an “exotic” trip for photography without having an action plan. When I first started serious photography, I was fortunate to live in Vermont, where I could walk out the door and shoot interesting scenes, or jump in the car and reach anywhere in the state in 2- 4 hours. In those days, I didn’t do too much planning; just watched the weather and went somewhere and shot.
As Photographers, we have been really blessed by the internet
When I got back into photography in a significant way, it was the ’90s and the digital era. As photographers and travelers, we have been really blessed by the internet. Previously, we relied primarily on “how to” books published by outdoor and travel photographers and paper maps. While those resources are still invaluable in my view, they are not as versatile (nor as “instant”) as many of the internet resources available. I have had mixed results with the “photographing [location]” type books. Some are excellent. Others are, in my view, full of fluff and are a way for the photographer to publish some of their images. Indeed, sometimes one book by the same author will be great and another just awful.
My first dedicated, week-long photography trip was in 2005 when buddy, Rich and I went to Vermont in search of Fall foliage images. The need to make efficient use of my very short time became compelling. That was my first venture into the world of the internet for travel and photography research. At that time, there still weren’t a lot of resources out there, but they were growing. There were other resources, like Robert Hitchman’s very helpful and relatively comprehensive Photograph America series, which became much more available and known through internet promotion.
My own pdf/series, “Photographing Scenic Vermont,” (soon to be offered as an eBook) and “Photographing Michigan’s ‘U.P.‘” are among the many offerings available (though for the reasons stated in this blog, I believe my pdf resources are unique). In 2011, the eBook “went viral” the popular uTube vernacular. A quick Google search turns up 100’s of new eBooks out on the market. By the end of 2012, I suspect you can get a reasonably priced eBook on almost any location or subject for your laptop or tablet computer.
But there are many other wonderful resources with information that posters and site owners have generously made available to the world, mostly free of charge! What follows is a short and certainly not exhaustive or exclusive list of resources I find absolutely invaluable for planning. I hope readers will add to this list in the comments section. Indeed, this may be a future “Page” here on this blog.
The popular and common photographers’ forums are an invaluable tool for planning a trip to a new destination. I have been a long-time member of Nature Photographer’s Network (NPN), which, in addition to technical and philosophical discussions, gear review and classifieds, and image posting and critique, also offers “regional” forums where the members post information about places in the region, including current information about season, roads, opening and closings, etc. I have found the members universally friendly and helpful when responding to inquiries about trips to the area and about specific locations and destinations within a region. There are also often specimen photographs posted by these members. This gives an invaluable glimpse of what is in store for the traveler and helpful information for planning a trip. Things like bloom and foliage times, lodging, and directions can be instrumental to a well-planned trip. Another essentially similar forum is Naturescapes.net.
For photographers in the mid-West, another regional forum that has grown out of a former local camera club or group is Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group(MPEG). At $30/year membership, it is perhaps the best “deal” on the net. The forum is more of a “gathering” place for members, but again, they tend to be members with a wealth of knowledge about the regions they live or photograph in. I have made a number of very good acquaintances who have provided me with up to date information about a location. The members are friendly and quick to offer help and even personal assistance when appropriate.
Information and Enthusiast Forums
In my quest to find good, current information about Vermont in late summer and early fall in 2005, I discovered Scenes of Vermont forum (SOV) on the Foliage Vermont website hosted by Tim Palmer-Benson of Morgan Vermont. A forum basically dedicated to all things Vermont, but with a strong leaning toward the Colorful New England Fall Foliage that Vermont is world-renowned for, this site is arguable the best of its kind in existence on the internet today. In addition to the foliage forum (which is pretty sleepy during the winter, spring and summer months, but heats up to a frenzy of posting and activity during September and October), there are other useful forums (including a photography forum which I moderate). The “regulars” there are an unending font of information about how to get there, when to get there, where to stay, etc. A couple of the moderators spend much of their spare time beginning in early Fall driving around and reporting back to the forum about current, local conditions. This is an invaluable asset for anyone planning a trip to Vermont or even Maine or New Hampshire. Yankee Magazine hosts another site, Yankee Foliage, which is more regional in nature, and different kind of information. In my view SOV offers a more focused, personal and individual view if you are looking for specifically Vermont information (though I may be biased 🙂 ). I have met a number of wonderful friends and photographers there, several of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and shooting with in Vermont. One of the local shooters has even shared some of her “local information” with me that would otherwise never have been found in any book. I have made many nice images of Vermont, but my personal favorite is the Burton Road Farm scenic that she showed me near her home in Barton, Vermont.
I have developed a good list of links to other talented photographer’s websites over the years. This is a good resource to find specimen images of places you read about, to see if you want to make the effort to photograph the place, and to study viewpoints, angles, time of year, etc. I find that most of the time, these photographers will respond to inquiries and give you helpful information and encouragement. Many of my favorites are linked on the sidebar here (though I confess I really need to update it and add a few good links). And, of course, every pro photographer now has at least a website, if not a blog.
Flickr, Facebook and Google +
Flickr, 500pix, Google’s Picasa, and other similar sites are also very useful resources. I should note, here, that I am not necessarily endorsing any of these sites. Indeed, early on, I downloaded Picasa (I am a big Google user and for the most part a fan, using their Chrome Browser, Gmail, and [gasp] Blogger, for some other blogging I do) and was personally not happy with the way it took over my computer images. But they are for the most part, free photo uploading, album and sharing sites with the power to “share” your images with 1000’s of photographers worldwide. In addition to my own LightCentric Photography Website, I maintain a Flickr pro site, which gives me the ability to upload an unlimited number of images. However, both Flickr and Picasa offer free site to upload images which give lots of ability to maintain a nice site at no cost. I have found the Flickr site has given as much or more internet exposure than any other single site. I expect that with the “moving-target” nature of the internet and some of the new offerings (like Google+), this will change. But as a resource, even if you do not have your own site, you can search these sites and see photographs and often glean other information about places you want to visit.
Facebook, of course and now Google+ have opened up a “brave new world” for photographers. Through feeds, I have been streaming this blog and my Andy’s Photo weekly image blog onto Facebook for a couple years, now. Facebook allows me to connect with other photographers around the word. Google+ is even better, as a format that really lends itself to connecting with other photographers, even those you do not know. As you do so, you begin to have relationships with others who can be a very useful source of information about regions of the country and the world.
Informational and Technical Resources
These resources were the first place I stared searching for information some 15-20 years ago, when the internet was a relatively new phenomenon. Using internet search engines, I searched for terms which were related to where I planned to go or what I wanted to know about. Informational sites – particularly back 15 years, would most often bring up informational sites such as the National Park Service’s site, which will give you a good starting point for any national park you plan to visit. Likewise, most states have a pretty good State Park website and database.
Over time, some very generous and helpful persons began to compile topic-oriented databases. Some wonderful examples are the waterfall websites. Waterfalls of the Great Lakes covers hundreds of waterfalls around the Great Lakes and well beyond, extending to Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and even a few in California. In most cases there are representative photographs, detailed directions, and information about the ease of access. New England Waterfalls covers Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont waterfalls, with a similar approach of photographs where available, directions and information. Waterfalls of the Northeastern United States is yet another comprehensive on-line reference database to waterfalls. Waterfalls West features the photography of John Turnbull and has images and information about many waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest and California. I have not searched for other region-specific waterfall sites, but I am virtually (pun intended) certain a Google search will yield fruitful results.
Another great photography subject is lighthouses. While researching for this Blog, I came across the really comprehensive Lighthouse Fans database, which appears to be worldwide, and is searchable, with information and specimen images. A good starting point to perhaps more focused sites, like New England Lighthouses (gives illustrative images, directions to, and information about lighthouses on the New England Coast (principally Maine), or for Great Lakes light houses; Michigan Lighthouses is a great site.
When I started my quest for information in 2005, when I made my first, dedicated, week-long photography trip to Vermont, I purchased a computer software program by DeLorme which gave me “street” maps and topographic maps. It is a software program that I use almost every day and it is always resident on whatever computer I own. With it, I am able to search the maps, tag them, obtain information about roads, rivers, lakes, etc., and obtain gps information. And, I can print custom maps. While I have never used it that way, it is possible to upload information to and from a hand-held gps device.
TPE is a nothing-short-of-incredible little reference tool!
And now, the best for last! TPE (“The Photographer’s Ephemeris) was recommended by another photographer on one of the forum sites and I played around with it one weekend morning and immediately downloaded and started using it. The computer-resident version interfaces with Google Maps, requires a (free) download of Adobe Air software, but most importantly is offered free of charge! There is also a very modestly priced mobile version for ios (iphone and ipad) and now for android. This is a nothing short of incredible little reference tool. Searchable, and with savable locations, this program renders civil and nautical twilight times, sunrise/sunset times and moonrise/moonset times for any month of the year for a given location. But that’s not the real magic of the program (there are numerous websites that will render up this information). This program also interfaces on Google Maps (with a choice of map/Google Earth-type interface/hybrid views) and produces a directional-arrow overlay showing sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset angles. How very cool! Imaging having a Google Earth style image zoomed in on a location showing you where the sun will rise (or set) at any given time of the year!
The foregoing summary may have scratched or even dented the surface. You should be able to go out and dig even more deeply and find any piece of information you want or need about photography, literally at your fingertips.
Filed under: PHOTOGRAPHY, TRAVEL | Tagged: Andy Richards, databases, fall color, Fall Foliage, foliage, internet, LightCentric Photography, Maine, maps, Michigan, National Parks, New England, planning, travel, U.P., Vermont, water, waterfall |