I recently went out to Canyon Lake here in Arizona to shoot some star trails at about 3am. I got to the place I wanted to shoot, set up, and realized I forgot my wireless trigger! So guess what I had to do? Yep, I had to sit there and manually snap the shutter about a hundred times back to back to back, because I was unprepared.
Even if you're a beginner, I can assume you have a similar story about forgetting an important piece of gear, or not charging your battery. Well, as I write this, I'm preparing to leave tomorrow night on a 12 day trip to Guatemala! So I felt it appropriate to write about this very important subject for us photographers. Now I won't spend too much time on the obvious, like passports, clothes, etc. I want to talk about the importance of details like equipment, making lists, knowing about your destination, and logistics.
I'll start with the obvious, equipment. Since I will be going for 12 days, batteries and chargers are paramount. After some research, I found out that the hotel my girlfriend Brittany and I are staying at, in Tikal National Park, turns off the power at night and periodically throughout the day. I guess that's the way it goes when you're staying deep in the Mayan Jungle! So I am making sure I have 4 full batteries, my Nikon battery with a secondary AA battery insert, 8 rechargeable AA batteries, GoPro Hero 5, Karma Grip, lenses, tripod and ball head, filters and a wireless trigger.
Since I plan on flying, I had to find out all the airline and FAA regulations on batteries, storage and camera gear. Just a heads up, you can not have free floating batteries in your checked bag. You can have spare batteries in your carry on, so long as they are separated in their own container. You have to eliminate the possibility of the batteries touching and shorting out. I went on Amazon and bought AA cases and a Think Tank DSLR battery case.
The next part I want to tell you about is planning your actual shoots. This involves using apps and the good ol' internet to plan out all the little details of your trip. Google maps and Google Earth are great starting points for finding good locations to shoot from. Now if you plan weeks or months ahead, the weather is hard to predict. However, its good to know what you're getting into a few days before you go. My favorite weather app is WeatherBug. It's accurate and even tells you the closest lightning strikes for all you storm chasers. The next app that I use religiously is The Photographers Ephemeris(TPE). Its a pay app on Google and Apple stores($4.99). The desktop app is free. It tells you the times of sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, civil, nautical and astronomical twilight, and which way the sun and moon rise and set( See top left image). SkyView is also a good one for astrophotography. My last and favorite app is Photopills. It is an all-in-one iPhone app that shows sunrise/sunset times, moon phases, and has an augmented reality feature that lets you physically see where the moon, Milky Way, and sun are at any given time, and any given location!
The last thing I will say is make a list a few weeks ahead of time. Write everything down. Add or subtract to it later. You may realize you need to jump on Amazon and order cases, batteries or chargers. You may need a smaller backpack for a carry on, or use those apps to see where you want to shoot, and get a hotel near there that doesn't turn the power off at night!
Now we've prepared ourselves, got every last detail covered, our gear packed, our list checked, 50 extra batteries and our passports, lets cross our fingers and hope the weather doesn't hate us...