After you have a general idea of what to bring, it's time to start thinking about the kinds of shots you'll want to take. My subject this weekend will be cars. The event I'll spend the most time on is the drag racing on Sunday, so how will I capture the action?
If it wasn't a closed track (and a very relaxed event), I'd think about calling to see if I could get an access pass. But, I've been there before and don't feel this is necessary.
So, I reviewed last years photos. Most of the drag racing photos I took were taken from above, up in the stands. This makes me, as a viewer, feel disconnected with the racing that's going on. I feel like a spectator instead of "part of the action". So, this year I want to get closer. ...Last year my biggest telephoto lens was a 300mm. This year, I have a 500mm, so that'll help. I can stand way down the track and still get some close-up photos so the car will fill the frame. -A couple years ago, reviewing my photos revealed that empty stands behind the cars made it look like it was a small event (everyone tends to sit on one side of the track because the other side is hard to get to). So, last year I made an effort to take photos from the other side so you could see the crowd more and it worked out well.
When I'm done critiquing my own previous work, I want some new ideas. I know I've seen good drag racing photos in the past, but I can't remember the specifics of how they looked: the angle they were taken from, what lens may have been used, etc. So, it's time to do some searching. I'm a member of the P.O.T.N forums, and I know they have some talented motor sports photographers, so I hit them first and searched for posts within the "motorsports" forum, and with the word "drag" in them to eliminate photos of other kinds of racing: rally, road racing, etc. I came up with a few really good photos: 1, 2, 3 -some of which also had details about lenses, apertures, etc. Usually, however, I just search Google Images or Flickr.
...however you go about it, this prep works means you won't be wasting time thinking about angles, etc at the event. Now I know that the photos _I_ like of drag racing usually show the car head-on or sometimes from behind, but always filling the frame and shot fairly level with the car, not from above. Also, from the forum, I know that for burnout pics my 100mm macro lens set at f/2.8 is probably a good choice. -Got it. I know just what to do when I arrive!
Having an idea of the outcome you are looking for is one of those things that can improve your photography 100% overnight. And this, of course, goes for any kind of photography including portraits, kids soccer games, birthday parties, whatever!