Planning a Trip

I am looking at planning ~1 week photography trip. I have never planned one before. I have a few locations in mind that would require me flying to and then driving from point to point. I’m interested in hearing from some of you that have traveled for the purpose of photography. I have planned a number of family vacations, but I want to make sure I get the most bang for my buck on something like this.

Need to tell us where you starting from and where you intend to go.

I was trying to keep it generic to begin with…but, I will be traveling in early July. I would love to go to the Oregon coast. It is a bucket list trip for me and one of a handful of states I have never visited. I’ve also considered Yosemite as a hub and making some trips out from there. If I go with a cheaper option, I would be driving down to the Smokeys.

I travel for photography fairly often, sometimes tagging along with my husband who is doing something else, sometimes a separate trip just for me. It starts with the location first and any and all ‘must see’ bits of it. I try to stay at hotels that are the most convenient to those bits and the location. If I’m driving, I will meander there, looking for interesting things, places and abandoned stuff.

Be sure your rental car is adequate for where you want to go. We nearly killed a Monte Carlo in Death Valley and couldn’t get to many of the cool places.

If I’m hiking I take appropriate gear and clothing. Ditto if I’m kayaking or whatever. Planning for eventualities goes a long way, but knowing weather and terrain beforehand makes it easier.

Bring some cash for any kiosk-type payments you might have to make (not to a person who can make change or take a cc).

Food & water can be purchased when you get there. A folding cooler is a nice thing to have, too.

A suggestion for you might be to sign up for a photo workshop. I’ve started doing some and find they take the ‘work’ out of a lot of it as well as sometimes getting you to a location you might normally not explore. There are some NPN members that run some that look pretty cool, but I have no direct experience.

If you belong to AAA they have free maps and will do a booklet detailing your trip. I’m thinking of the National Parks late summer and one map in particular ( titled: Indian Country) seems to show most of the National Parks in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.


It saddens me to say this, but I would Highly recommend removing Yosemite from you destination choices - for July. The best time to “schedule” a visit would be late April or late Oct/Early November. Winter in Yosemite is magical after a snow storm, but scheduling in winter is a crap shoot. Going to Yosemite in the summer - sorry, forget about it. Most especially this year. I just returned yesterday from an overnight to the park. 1. You need a daily reservation to enter the park thru Sept '21. 2. Summer crowds - terrible. 3. MAJOR construction this year as they are making Many park improvements. 4. Ongoing prescribed burns during the summer… Being in Yosemite the other day was the worst experience in my lifetime. don’t go there in July.

Oregon coast - a noble bucket list destination. Summer along the Pacific coast usually means FOG. Now fog isn’t necessarily a bad thing and depending on you’re goals, could be a benefit. Exploring the OR coast offers much more than coastal views and sea stacks… The variety and options along the coast from dunes, to sea grass, sea stacks, redwoods… all there all year long.

If July is a given - further north presents options too? What about Alaska? British Columbia - Glacier? Some 30 years ago, me and a buddy did 4 days in Denali, then 4 days in Katmai (bears, Brooks falls…) a fantastic trip…

My other comment with scheduling photo trips to locations unknown. Unless you do extensive research, or hire a guide, visiting NEW locations are more than likely going to result in classic views, compositions and subject matter that have been done over and over. Traveling to a new location, you have no local knowledge, no knowledge of “secret” places and by default end up in the same popular locations… No fault of your own, but given you haven’t spent years exploring the locale, you end up finding and photographing the popular and oft-photographed locations.

Interesting, I had planned a trip to the Smokies last year with a couple buddies - thank you COVID for canceling those plans… but never having been there, I would have resorted to locations and views that had been photographed a million times before me. SO… there is actually a strong vote for spending time in one your favorite locations - one you are intimate with - and spend dedicated time really exploring and extracting photographs that NO ONE has ever capture and have meaning for you.

Best of luck with your planning decisions - keep us posted on your plans!


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I second Lon’s advice. July is a terrible time to go to Yosemite, especially this year for the reasons he mentioned. Also, if you haven’t made an entry reservation by now it may be impossible to get one. Regarding a trip, my advice is this: wherever you decide to go, don’t try to keep going to a different place every day. Stay put, explore the area, and if you find a shot that you like but the light isn’t good, keep going back.

Hi David, I’ve never traveled for photography but I’ve traveled and moved across country to several states dozens of times. If July is your only time to do this than so be it, but I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere in July, especially not this year! Unless you’re planning on doing people photography! If that’s the case then it would be a perfect time! :wink: I live in Oregon at present and went to the coast end of April and that was too crowded for my taste! I’ve traveled to the Oregon coast, and done the Washington to California coast ride, a few times in the past and I think the best time is end of August beginning of September if you can swing it. I believe you live on the East Coast? If you’ve never gone, I highly recommend the High Peaks region in the Adirondacks! It’s the most beautiful place and there’s mountains and forests and hiking everywhere you turn. You could really get the bang for your buck because everything is very centrally located, that is once you’re there. And best time would be middle of September through October. That was probably more information than you wanted! Sorry! :slight_smile:

I highly recommend Greg Vaughn’s guide book on photographing Oregon.

I have used it a lot in the past. One of it’s best features is a star rating system which tells you how good he thinks a location is for landscape photography. The biggest issue with a summer trip in Oregon is that the hotel rates are the highest of the year. If you do decide to do a trip there I highly recommend crossing the border and photographing the Redwood state park next to California’s Crescent City. They’re at their best in the summer when the fog rolls in.

One of questions I have about renting a car and staying at a motel is that it may be difficult to make quality images. My experience has been that you have to become intimate with a place to make good images and that means staying there or spending many hours there. I would think that this type of travel could result in cliche images that you’ve seen before. When I go to Alaska I travel by a rental vehicle I live in and stay at spots I intend to shoot. That approach has worked best for me.

I agree with the comments about Yosemite Valley - stay away. There are other parts of the park that see fewer crowds. Olmsted Point has some great photo opportunities if you walk away from the parking area. Lake Tenaya area is good. The back side of Yosemite leading to Lee Vining has good dramatic possibilities. There are good short hikes out of Tuolumne Meadows. You can always edit small figures out of your images these days.

Thank you all for the feedback, lots to consider and I may be entering the race a bit too late for this year. Oregon is probably at the top of my list for places to photograph. I fell for the costal images there when I first “found” landscape photography. I got Oregon, My Oregon for Christmas to explore the area a bit more. I want to get there, I’m just not convinced that the summer is the best time. I would be traveling alone so I toyed with the idea of getting a camper van that would allow me to stay close to locations. @Igor_Doncov I hear you on the hotel/motel concerns. My intention was to go to the southern coast to get what I wanted (if I got anything at all) and just stay there, once I had what I wanted, I would move on to other areas. I hear the originality concerns regarding going to a well shot location, but it is also beautiful and I just want to witness it for myself (and take pictures while I’m there…). I think if I avoided places that were already well documented, I’d end up missing out on so many amazing and beautiful places. I shoot non iconic locations all the dang time, it’s pretty much all we have in Ohio! So shooting somewhere iconic for my first trip didn’t really concern me. And hopefully between sunrise and sunset I would make some time for some smaller scenes or less iconic shots. My heart says try Oregon, but my brain says go to the Smokey’s because it is closer and less “risky” and also presents a ton of amazing opportunities, it just doesn’t hold the same place in my mental hierarchy of locations. I’m babbling…

Wherever you go I think it should be a place that inspires you when you get there. A place that wows you. A place where you don’t have to ‘work’ for your compositions but be chewing at the bit to take them.

Two points that seem important when planning a trip are: Avoid the crowds and show up when the photo opportunities are also there. I offer two seasonal tours in the south that are the ultimate in social distancing, won’t break the bank and have abundant photo opportunities.
These tours are:
Tennessee River Sandhill Crane Tour - an hour north on Chattanooga - more info here

Florida Spring Break Tour - on the St Johns River in the Ocala national Forest - more info here

Good luck with your planning and remember, the main thing is, to have more fun on the next trip than you had on the last trip . . .

Thanks for this @Mike_Ramy.

I’m thinking of going to GSMNP in July. I think that is my best bet for a first trip. Now my next question…how do you all research locations, are there specific sites I should be looking at? I know nothing beats being there and being on the ground to observe for myself, but these parks are huge and I want to get myself into the right spots to make some good images. If anyone has off the beaten path locations in GSMNP that would be of interest I’d love to hear them as I assume those are harder to find in general research. My hope is to do some vistas at sunrise and sunset, but then mix in some hikes in the afternoon if I’m lucky enough to have some hazy or cloudy days.


Hi David, if I were you I’d pick up the lonely planet great smokey mountains book. I just looked it up and they sell it on Amazon, it’s the latest version. The lonely planet series of books are the best guides for getting into the off the beaten path areas of places. It’s mainly geared for hikers, backpackers but that’s kind of what you need to do to get some awesome scenery in my opinion!

Found this on eBay:


David you have gotten some great advice already. Pre-Covid I did a lot of fly/rent a car type trips out west. This method of travel does not necessarily guarantee “tripod hole locations”. To avoid this trap you need to :

  1. do a lot of internet research on locations, looking beyond the obvious locations
  2. be willing to drive a lot, especially pre-sunrise and post sunset
  3. have an open mind, and be willing to hike a bit. Get more than a 1/4 mile away from overlooks
  4. look for small scenes, and not just grand landscapes
  5. be aware that weather may work against you on a one week trip, see item #4 for a remedy to “bad” weather.

For landscape photography I am a big believer in going to flying locations during their prime seasons, it increases your odds of doing better. Avoid Yosemite in summer for sure, too crowded. And I would also avoid the Smokies in July. For landscapes the Smokies are best done in spring (late April or early May) or in autumn. The mountain parks are great in July, such as Glacier, Canadian Rockies, Mount Rainier. Glacier would be my first choice of these. Base in St. Marys and you can easily do Going to the Sun road, Many Glacier, East Glacier, etc. July is the best month for Glacier IMO.

Here’s an outside the box idea. To paraphrase Horace Greely, go east young man. July is prime time for Acadia NP in Maine. It’s somewhat crowded but not as bad as many of the western national parks. And Acadia is much more compact than the western parks, basing out of Bar Harbor puts you only15 to 30 minutes away from the best stuff. Because its on an island, you can also do seascapes at both sunrise and sunset, try doing that on the Oregon coast !! Seascapes, mountains, forests, lakes, lighthouses, Milky Way/night, Acadia has a lot to offer in a very compact area. This is much more efficient than driving a lot from location A to location B, especially if you only have a week.

You can fly into Portland, ME (2.5 hours drive), or Boston (5 hours drive).

The other advantage of Acadia is cheap and plentiful “lobsta”, if you like seafood.

Here’s a good resource on Acadia

This brings up an interesting subject.

The guides available always rate locations by the grand landscapes. Small scene locations are often very different than grand landscapes. You should be aware of that. For example, the Alvord Desert in East Oregon is rated a 3 star (out of 5) photography location. That seems like a fair evaluation for it as a grand landscape. But for intimate landscapes it’s a 5 star location. There are no guides to my knowledge for such places. In some cases, like Yosemite Valley and Acadia, you get both but that’s not always the case. There are many 2nd tier locations that have great intimates.

Here is another good resource on Acadia NP, an ebook for sale. I own this book and it is first rate.

@Ed_McGuirk If you wanted me to come visit in NE all you had to do was ask… :rofl:

But seriously this was actually the first place I thought of. I told my wife this spring we should do it as a family trip…clearly that isn’t happening, headed back to the beach. I am very interested in going there. I started looking at flights (not terrible) and lodging (a little more challenging to find on a cheap solo budget). Now I start searching!

Stay in lodging in or near Bar Harbor, despite the cost it make the logistics easier. Lodging is somewhat cheaper on the mainland, but it puts you too far away from where you need to be at sunrise. The town of Bar Harbor will be crowded, and certain parts of the park will be crowded, but less so at sunrise/sunset, or on rainy, foggy days, ie when stuff is better for photography. And even at its worst, Acadia is less crowded than Grand Canyon, Yosemite, etc.

I suggested Acadia because there is a extensive variety of subjects in a very small geographic area. When you only have a week that makes the photography much better than trying to do say Zion, Bryce, and Capital Reef all in one week, where you spend more time driving and less time shooting.

Acadia also has a section on the mainland, the Schoodic Peninsula, that is an hour from Bar Harbor. This section of the park is much less crowded, and still has good photography opportunities. Acadia also has pretty dark skies, so if you want to try Milky Way shooting, plan your trip to coincide with the July new moon phase.