Tag Archives: Internet

Top Internet Websites for Trip Planning

4 Jul

One of the questions I was asked in a recent interview about photography was in regards to how I did my research to  information for the places that I go.  We’ve covered this topic before and today I thought it would be helpful  to list the top websites that I use for trip research. Most of these are pretty obvious, but I’ll explain to you how I use them.

There are a couple different ways to use Google for Internet searches. The web search is the obvious primary function. The search topics I look for are the names of hikes or places and pictures.  One useful feature of this site  is the Google Images. This is an excellent way to find information. Not only is the search done by pictures, but it takes the user to the landing pages of those images. Sometimes this kills two birds with one stone. Instead of searching for articles containing your keywords, you do a keyword search on pictures and clicking on the image takes you to information on the pictures.

For online book or map purchases, I believe Amazon is the best retailer. The navigation features of the website are user friendly, they offer suggestions for related products, and the prices and customer service are generally very good. I almost always use Amazon to purchase maps and guide books for areas outside of my home state, where it is harder to find information at your local bookstore.

Flickr is probably my favorite site for obtaining or viewing images on places I am interested in visiting.  It is not necessary to have a membership in order to search and see results on their site. You can see my Flickr page here.

You Tube
I like this site for hard to find areas, especially when it comes to backpacking trips. Videos often times give even more significant and realistic impression of the places you are trying to research.

NPS has several useful features that are sometimes worth checking out depending on when and where you are traveling. Each park has its own website so the layout and usefulness varies from site to site. Thus some sites have information and navigation features that are easier to use and find than others. The top reasons I visit are for viewing general park maps, getting contact information for the ranger stations, useful links for the weather and activities, and checking the park’s webcams.

In the last ten days before a trip, there is no site that gets more use than this one. The only other site that has a longer extended forecast is accuweather.com Other weather sites that I frequent are weatherundergound.com, who also has the best mobile site for weather and weather.gov, which is the national weather service’s web page that also gives the most detailed information available on issues like forest fires and storm advisories.

Trip Advisor.com
This is my default site for doing research on hotels and places to stay. I think Trip Advisor has the best and most honest reviews online. To books the hotels, it usually works best if you just go to the hotel’s actual website. Another useful site that I usually refer to for reviews is hotels.com, although I don’t trust the reviews on it nearly as much. It has a useful search feature of organizing hotels by cost, which is normally very accurate and current, and includes last minute deals.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and found this information helpful.  If there are any websites that you love to use that I didn’t include please feel free to let me know. It always rewarding to hear from users!

The Big Three: A Landscape Photographers Guide to Sharing Their Photographs On-Line

13 Aug

 Today we’ll begin a discussion and in-depth look into the three primary places I share my images online:  Flickr, Nature Photographer’s Network, and Photo.net. There are a plethora of other websites designed to share photography, but these are the three primary ones I use and the ones I’ll be focusing on in this series of blog posts.

I know some people on photography sites are territorial and take pride in thinking their site of choice is the best one. I try to respect the opinions of others, and am not here to undermine or discredit any of these fine sites – just to provide you the reader with my personal insights and experiences when sharing my images. In an effort of full disclosure, please note the opinions expressed here are based on personal experiences and may very well be completely different for someone else. Furthermore, these opinions are general summations and there are exceptions to every one.  So please don’t take anything personal…

The opportunities available on all these sites are far too many to list here; I am only going to discuss the ones I find personally relevant.  I will not get into the technical aspects of navigating through the sites, but will simply touch upon some perceived advantages and shortcomings of using each of them. We’ll do this in three segments – starting today with Flickr. (You can view my Flickr page on the link below)


Cost:  $24.95/yr for a pro account

What is it:  The world’s largest online photo sharing website.

Brief Overview

Flickr offers something for everyone interested in photography, from folks posting personal pictures of friends and family, to tenured pro’s in business for quite some time. You’ll find it all here. This site is about photographs – period. You can save, store, show off, and shop for images while perusing Flickr.

In terms of landscape photographers, you’ll find some of the best contemporary work around. However, it can be a little hard to find if you don’t know how to search for it.

The Community

The community is extremely friendly and very supportive, and even more importantly – objective. This is the site where I consistently get the most positive feedback on my work. If I am looking to test the popularity of a certain image, I will most likely post it on Flickr first. Abstract landscape images don’t seem to do as well on Flickr. If it is an image where I am struggling with the processing, I’ll look for help elsewhere and post the finished product on Flickr.  

Because Flickr has the largest community of people, you are sure to find plenty who are interested in seeing your work. It’s finding those people that takes time. The easiest way to do it  is by joining themed groups – where people display images of a certain genre or related theme.  The groups on Flickr have their own pros and cons, but are an almost necessary way of finding others on the site. As with all the sites, networking is very important here and it takes a consistent approach of spending time on the site everyday. Nonetheless, it is an achievable goal. Generally speaking, the better your work is the easier it is to do it. Overall, it is a joy to be part of the Flickr community and the uplifting spirit it presents.


There are lots of fun and interesting ways to customize your account. One of my personal favorites is to sort your images based on the order of “interestingness,” a secret algorithm indigenous to Flickr. I like to see which of my images rank the highest using their formula. Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense, but its like a Top 25 countdown and its fun!

For me, a very important feature of Flickr is that my images can show up on high on Google searches if properly tagged. This is a critical advantage of using this site.

In terms of educational resources, Flickr comes up short in comparison to its counterparts. You can search for answers to specific questions, but if you are looking to post a question and get specific feedback to that question this is not best site to do so. This is especially true of questions regarding processing, printing, and marketing. There are other, more useful forms for that particular subject matter. Your best bet for obtaining information or getting answers to your specific questions is to email the person directly through the site. The vast majority of people are very cordial and will respond when contacted.

However, there is one aspect of research that I do on Flickr that I find particularly useful and almost indispensible. Because it involves looking at pictures and not reading technical information – it also provides some of the most fun I have while doing research. I do find the photographic database tremendously useful. It easy to search using key words and  I specifically use it to locate images of places I am thinking about visiting. Before I invest a lot time and effort into driving ten hours and then hiking 20 miles to take pictures, I want to see what others have captured from the location to gauge the aesthetics and whether it is the best place for me to spend my time.

The tools on Flickr are very easy to use in organizing and structuring your portfolio.  Uploading is a piece of cake, there is no limit on size, and from there it’s pretty much a drag and drop system which works extremely well. Further, the automatically generated slide show is a great future and fun to use.

What I love:  the community, Flickr statistics, web-based search engine optimization, huge, easy to search database, excellent online portfolio display and organizational tools

 What I dislike:  pornography is allowed and can sometime show up in unrelated searches, the graphics of the group awards can be obnoxious and some of the groups are pretentious

 Educational Resources:  B           

Ease of Use:  B + 

Benefits:  A –

Fun Factor:  A

The Dichotomy of a Park

26 Apr

First off,  sorry for the delay in between posts. I really apologize for the lag. I am going to more than make it up to you today with an information packed double post that you don’t want to skip. 

Moving forward, let’s continue with hot tips for summer travel in America’s National Parks. Last time out we talked about the importance of research and guidebooks. Let’s follow-up on that thread and focus on visiting parts of the park that receive less traffic. 

 Before we get into this,  I want to define the word “parts” for you – so you can fully understand what exactly I am talking about. Most of the larger national parks have different areas within the park that offer different visitor services. These services may or may not include things like: gas, convenience stores, lodging, restaurants, a ranger station, visitor center, campgrounds, gift shops, extra parking, trailheads, and even a museum or art gallery.  Some of these areas or “parts” are larger than small towns, while others just meet the bare bone, minimum requirements to be considered; that’s basically an official designation on a park map, usually because it is near a featured geologic or historical attraction. 

This is my focus for our conversation today: specifically seeking out and visiting some of these lesser known “parts” of America’s parks. This sounds like a great idea, right? It sure is because there are some real gems out there. However, before we get too far into this,  I want to touch upon roadblocks or causes for concern when trying to visit these areas. 

This is a going to be a complete and exhaustive list and for the sake of time, we’ll get started on this today and finish up sometime later this week the good Lord willing. This topic is addressed in a question and answer format to help you understand potential issues you may encounter and how to resolve them. These are factors you should always consider before making any travel plans… 

Problem:  How do I deal with weather, climate, and temperatures at certain times of the year? 

Answer:  When dealing with huge tracts of wilderness, you also will have extremes in temperature ranges. This is normally because of the difference in elevation. Make sure you know the elevation of the “part” you are visiting and the best time of the year to go there. You can find elevation levels on any park topographic map and probably somewhere on the Internet as well. 

 For example, one area of the park may be at 7,000 ft elevation, while another is at 3,000 ft. That difference in elevation represents anywhere 12 – 15 degrees in temperature. Again, a little research goes a long ways. If you get stuck – your best bet is to call the ranger station in that “part” and point-blank ask them when is the best time of the year to visit and find out your information that way. 

Problem:  What other seasonal considerations are there? 

Answer: Temperature is obviously the biggest, but there are several other major factors as well. Bugs are another huge consideration. Depending on the year, most of the high altitude parks have both mosquitos and biting flies and they can be just brutal. The months of June and July are when they are most active. This is a time when many high altitude areas are still drying out and it is especially bad near lakes and large swaths of melting snow. By the middle of August, the bugs are usually gone in most places, but make sure you call ahead because every year is different.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic answers for you when it comes to solving this problem. Just the usual advice: wear long sleeves, gloves, a mosquito head net, DEET, and try to avoid areas where they are high in intensity and concentration.  Please make sure you are aware of the potential circumstances of your visit and prepare accordingly. Because these little pests can severely affect your overall enjoyment level of your trip. 

A graphic reminder not to overlook mosquitos when visiting the parks - that's part of my leg! Ouch!


Another more pleasant consideration are wildflowers. Again, this all goes back to elevation and also latitude to some degree. Wildflowers bloom across the board in the spring and summer throughout North America varying from April in Yosemite Valley up to the beginning of August in areas like Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Also, some areas of the park you are visiting might have prolific wildflower blooms while another area doesn’t have any. I found some park’s actually have online forums dedicated to people’s recent hiking and trip experiences and you can get some great information on them for this type of research. It is probably even more reliable than calling the ranger station as sometimes the information you get from them can be dated a week or two weeks and is simply not accurate. 

A final consideration is water levels. This is where you really have to dig deep for research. Generally speaking, water levels decrease as the summer drags on high in the mountains. I am talking about streams, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes…just about everything except the ocean. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing – it just depends on where you are.   To be continued…

Research Works Wonders

21 Apr

Here is another sure fire way to improve your time at the parks, especially during peak crowds. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but do some research. What’s the best place to start? Drum roll please…it’s the Internet, of course. Below are few simple ways to use it to your advantage when planning a trip:

1) Buy a guidebook and/or map of the park online. The best place to find these is on Amazon.com and this is a great place to start planning. Please make sure you read your guidebook thoroughly. These books are not written and designed to be entertaining and it’s very easy to overlook key information by giving it the old once over.

2) Do an exhaustive google search for information you find in your guidebook. This will further help you find the information you need in order to make important decisions about your trip. I use it specifically to look for images of places off the beaten path. They don’t have to be fine art photos, I just want to get an idea of the look of the landscape. Other than pictures, you’ll find all kinds of good information on sites you might not have considered like You Tube, Flickr, etc.

3) Experiment with Google Earth. This is just another way to prepare and equip yourself with knowledge to maximize your time in the park. You can literally study the landscape from above.

I hope you find this blog post useful and in couple days I’ll continue on this topic. Thanks for stopping in.

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