There are many different styles of digital photography but the basic preparation is similar. Walking/hiking is somewhere between landscape and street photography. The basic approach is Plan, Prepare, Adapt.
Planning, Tricks and Tools
I take my camera everywhere I go but if I am going somewhere specific planning is crucial. Not knowing the terrain, parking, direction of the sun and general points of interests can make your day out somewhat frustrating. Luckily planning today is easier than ever.
The first step is a basic Google search and select images. Let’s say we are interested in exploring Santa Monica, California but have never been there before. Simply go to www.google.com, search for Santa Monica and click on images. Once, there you can view hundreds of images. Click on an image that interests you it will bring up more detail or a different web site that can give you additional background information. The goal is not to recreate an image but to find a place to start.
Once I have a general point of interest I scroll back to the top of the page and select maps. Zoom in as close to where you are interested in and select Street View. Street View is the best way to get the lay of the land. Currently the information for Santa Monica is six years old but parking, one way streets, and obstruction remain fairly constant. For this example we are looking to get shots of the Santa Monica Pier. From the map, I selected a spot to the right of pier and it showed me the entrance to a parking lot. If I move my cursor forward it moves the image forward as though I was driving. However, If I had selected a point just a little further on the map it placed me on an underpass beneath the pier. I could see the parking lot but had no clear path on how to get there. Using street view is hit and miss but it can help you avoid wind up in the underpass completely frustrated.
Another major feature of maps is getting specific directions.
Google is also a great resource for specific information such as parking regulations/rates & special events. http://www.downtownsm.com/events lists ongoing and special events. I found the links to the Farmers market and walking guide of special interest.
The number one rule for photography that has been stressed to me is lighting. Having all the usual demands that a parent has, I get to go exploring when I have the time. Most of that time is during the worst possible lighting conditions. The next step in planning is understanding what direction the sun will be coming from. A great website is Suncalc.net. Once you are at Suncalc simply put in where you want to go and what day you want to go there. The map will general area associated with your search request. In the center of a circle you will see a red pointer with a black dot. by clicking on that black dot you can drag the circle around the map to place it exactly where you want it. Next select the time of date of your trip and the circle will be ready to show you the lighting information you need for the day.
In the right hand corner the exact times of Dawn, Sunrise, Solar Noon, Sunset and Dusk are listed. Above the map there is a slider that will show the position of the sun at the selected point of the day.
Researching your target area and understanding the proper lighting conditions don’t help much if you don’t remember the details on location. Suncalc and Google Maps are available as smart phone apps details such as parking and specific points of interest are better off using some kind of journal or note taking. I use an app called Evernote. Evernote is free and it syncs with your desk top and mobile devices. I create an Evernote Notepad or a simple note with all the information I have researched. Once I am on location I can open the file and all the notes are there. The basic option is a basic journal with pen and paper, the journal never runs out of battery and pens are easy to replace.
Before I started to use Evernote on my field trips I would get home and not remember some of the details about particular shots. Maybe a building has some history or a local shared information about a community garden with you. These details can change a simple picture into a story.
The biggest part of note taking in the field is preparing to revisit the location. Often I have learned about walking tours, future events or how the sun may affect a location at the right time of the day.
Over time I have changed my methods and I am always on the lookout for new apps or approaches. Please let me know If you have any comments or suggestions.