One month prior to a trip
With my photo tours starting in April and with impending reconnaissance trips and my normal increased spring shooting schedule, I've been preparing for the shooting season and I thought it might be helpful for those of you planning for your peak shooting season or planning a major trip, to document how I handle this.
My first workshop begins on April 1st and I've started working on the things listed here for 1 month out. I've loaded these tasks in a software planning tool called OmniFocus, but entering them in a computer calendar or on an old fashion paper calendar would work just as well. The key is to start the process as early as possible to make sure you have no last minute surprises.Part 1
My first priority is to make sure all my equipment is in proper working order and I get anything needing repair back to the service center for repair. All the camera equipment comes out of the bags and is put through its paces in the back yard making sure all the lenses properly focus and produce sharp images. The camera bodies are checked and the tripods and heads are set up and I make sure that they operate smoothly. All the repairs needed that I can accomplish I do myself, anything needing further help is sent off.
Everything gets a thorough cleaning. I vacuum out the bags and carefully clean the camera bodies, lens bodies, tripods and heads. I clean each of the lenses using Zeiss Lens Cleaning Wipes, available at Wad-Mart in the glasses section. My Gitzo carbon fiber tripod is disassembled at each section, carefully cleaned and lubricated using the proper lubricant and any damaged or enlarged bushings replaced, the grease and bushings are available here. An excellent how-to article on this is here. My Wimberly head is disassembled, cleaned and lubricated and my ball head is carefully cleaned(but not lubricated).
All the camera options are checked and any changes to my workflow are thought through at this time and thoroughly tested prior to the shoot.
I thoroughly check out my laptop, run diagnostics, insure all software is up to date and make sure there are no hardware problems. For example while doing the check this year I noticed the battery was bulging and would not properly hold a charge so I ordered a replacement battery. If the battery had not been replaced I would have run the battery calibration procedure to make sure it was in tip top shape. I make sure that the hard drive on the laptop is clear and has sufficient storage space for the shoot.
I check out each Compact Flash / SD card by shooting a series of shots. My card reader is tested to make sure they properly read the cards and I test my HyperDrive that I used to download images to in the field to make sure it is working properly and I clear off all previously stored images (double check to make sure they have been downloaded first) to maximize the storage capacity. I import the shots into my photo software and make sure it's functioning properly.
If I am planning a major trip to a location I hadn't previously visited, I spend time on-line researching the location I also check on articles in photo magazines as well as contacting photographer friends who have visited the sight. I am interested in finding out as much as possible about the peak season, the best time of day, and unusual opportunities or any challenges of the location. This information would be filed away on my laptop for access when I arrive at the shoot.
For my tours each year I do a reconnaissance trip, leaving very early one morning and visit nearly all of the sites in one very long day to make sure we'll get no unpleasant surprises when visiting the site. I also call other photographers seeking information specific to each year.
Thinking about the planned itinerary and the subjects I expect to be photographing, I create a list of equipment to bring. I try to make sure I have everything I'll need, but no more. Usually the more equipment I have the poorer the shots I come back with. I don't want to have to carry too much, but don't want to miss the best shots. If flying, I try to find ways to double up equipment to reduce the size and weight, for example if planning on some macro shooting, I'd bring an extension tube rather than a macro lens, I'd consider if I need both a 300 mm lenses and an 80 - 200 mm zoom, perhaps the 80 - 200 with a teleconverter would suffice.
If I haven't already done so now is the time to book the hotel and flights. I make sure I have both hard copy and copies of these in the laptop so they don't get mixed up.