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What I Learned From a 5-Week Photo Trip Around the United States


I just returned from a 5-week photography trip. I had a few weeks off work between contracts and figured why not hit the road instead of paying insane rent in the SF Bay area! It was still a great idea in hindsight. However, it wasn’t all bliss and glory all-day-every-day.

From a photography aspect, it was highly unproductive in my opinion. Did I get some banger shots? Hell yeah, I did. But I got them at the same rate I did when I was at home doing photography locally. If I went out every day, I would expect 1 or 2 great shots per week, if all the stars were aligned. Going out and traveling the west coast in a furry yielded no higher results. Here’s why, along with some other thoughts I had.

Planning is Everything

Okay so if you’re thinking about doing a photography trip like I did, my recommendation is to plan well in advance every little detail. Where you’re going, where you’re staying each night, how long you will be in each location, etc. Plan locations around what is open and if the season is ideal for each locale.

Personally, I hate planning, so I just winged it. If I had to do this again, I would probably still wing it. I’m just saying to have the best results you need to plan, meticulously. I showed up at Glacier National Park and 90% of the park was still closed. Whoops. Would have been helpful to Google that. Despite being totally unprepared, I still met some great people and took some epic shots. But I feel like if I planned a little more, it would have been better.

Take a week, take some Xanax, and get the planning out of the way.

Burney Falls, California

Take Your Time

One of the problems I noticed right away was that I wasn’t spending enough time in each location just exploring. It takes a lot of time to make a great photo. Notice I said make, not take. You have to go to a location, think about what you want, and make it happen. You can’t do this in one day. You can do this in 2 days with subpar results. Realistically you need to know what you want and revisit a location several times to achieve decent shots. If I had to do this again, I would spend at least a week in each location.

If you see a photographer doing local expeditions, go join them! They know far more about the area than you do — don’t kid yourself. Plus you’ll be supporting and learning from someone in your industry. There is a thing called karma.

Weather is Everything… Yes, Another “Everything”

This one you don’t have much control over, but you can play by its rules and work it to produce some magic. If it’s winter time, go to places that look amazing with snow! Pretty simple. If it’s foggy, have a fog plan. Don’t go to Death Valley in late May like I just did. Don’t believe Yahoo weather reports unless you want to wake up at 1 am and it’s still 103f and you’re dripping wet. Yes, I’m still bitter about that. (Hint check Furnace Creek not Death Valley)

When you’re new to photography, you seek clear blue skies and nice weather. When you’ve become a little seasoned, you look for moody terrifying skies and aren’t bothered by the rain. Weather makes everything interesting. Go outside.

Glacier National Park, the only possible view since the park was closed.

Don’t Be Annoying

There are photographers, and there are people with cameras. Have some respect. Enjoy the place you’re at. Leave the camera in the car and smell the fresh air.

Don’t fly your drone at a national park where people are doing bird photography. It’s illegal. It’s how to be a jerk. Don’t block everyone’s view for hours with your tripod. Ask people if standing here is ruining their shot. Just be respectful. When you don’t, it makes us all look bad.

Also for heaven’s sake don’t be the photographer that pulls their car over, rolls the window down, pulls out the cell phone while traffic swerves around them, just so they can get their shot. Just don’t.

Warning: If you go to Yellowstone National Park, expect this every 7 minutes.

Advocating Local Photography

One final thought: traveling to take photos is simply unproductive and harmful. There’s a good chance you won’t have the knowledge or time that a local photographer will have. Your results will not be as good. They might be great, but your skill level does not guarantee this. It’s just luck and the weather.

Something that was apparent and I thought of almost constantly during my photography trip was: I traveled almost 3,000 miles over 5 weeks for about 12 great photos. Yes, I enjoyed taking them. I am quite proud of them. But the environmental impact was the equivalent of burning a barrel of oil for each photo. Imagine burning a barrel of oil and watching the smoke rise to the sky. Was that worth your handful of photos that you enjoy? Photos that others might just simply press the “like” button on and scroll past on Instagram?

You can take better photos near your home, with less environmental cost, with the same amount of enjoyment. Do that.

About the author: Michael Lund is a nature photography and nomadic minimalist. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Lund’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.