Location Finding and Scouting for Landscape Photography

December 15, 2017  •  2 Comments

Location Finding and Scouting for Landscape Photography 

This month I thought I would talk about the bit of landscape photography that sometimes gets forgotten in all the talk over focal lengths and f stops. 

Finding and scouting locations.

This is more of an insight into my approach and the tools that I use.

I will also just say that I have provided links for two of the tools that I use but I am not affiliated with them in any way. I'm providing the links just in case you want to look at using them yourself.

A great location can be a real asset to a landscape photographer. If it’s close enough to home then it can be a place to return to again and again. This allows the chance to really get to know the place, a chance to see it, and shoot it, in different conditions and, if fortune smiles, to get some really great images.

Even if it’s a one off location, maybe on a trip, then knowing where to go, and when, can really help to increase the chances of getting a good image.

I have a kind of process that I go though that I find helps me to find locations that I can shoot.

The first step involves finding general areas where opportunities may exist and I have a number of resources that I use to help me with this.

1. Google maps and Google Earth. Both great tools to get a general feel for what’s in a general area.

2. Websites and forums dedicated to walking or Geocaching. These two pastimes often involve finding beautiful places to visit and this can be a great way to find out about them, as well as getting information on how to get to the location.

3. Photography sites. I’m not going to name them all but there are lots of sites out there that display photographers images and these can be a great way to find out about possible locations.

4. Other photographers or people who know the area well. There’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge and just asking someone can really help.

My next step normally involves more detailed investigation in Google Maps to try to get a feel for the general area, and also to find out how to get there and where I can park the car. 

At this point I normally also review the likely position of the sun using The Photographers Ephemeris. This helps me to narrow down the areas based on when I plan to go and what the light is likely to be light.

Then it's time for...

Location scouting

Scouting sometimes happens weeks or months in advance of the actual photoshoot, or sometimes it happens the same day. Scouting is all about looking for the best composition options in a general area and considering how they will work at different times of the day, different times of the year, and in different weather conditions.

Sometimes I will spend a whole trip just scouting and making notes for future shoots. Alternatively, sometimes, I will go out in the afternoon and scout for a location to shoot at, or around, sunset on the same day.

If I’m planning on shooting that day then I always try to get to the area at least a couple of hours before I intend to shoot, just so that I have time to explore properly.

Using my previous research I find somewhere to park the car and then start exploring on foot. This means that I can concentrate on looking for possible compositions rather than having to deal with the process of driving. Also, by walking, I move a lot slower and also tend to explore places that I, perhaps, wouldn’t see if I was driving.

When I find scenes that look promising I will normally make a quick check on the likely position of the sun at the times I want to shoot. While for my pre-planning I use The Photographers Ephemeris on my computer at home, in the field I use the PhotoPills app on my phone because it gives me the chance to view the sun position in a virtual reality mode which is really useful for fine tuning the idea.

A beautiful scene doesn’t always make for a beautiful photograph and now is the time to start getting some ideas about compositions. I rarely do this with the camera to start with, it’s more about checking different viewing angles by moving around. Getting closer or further away, moving left or right, and sometime getting higher or lower depending on what I think I need. I’m sure when people see me doing this I look like some absurd bird doing a mating dance :-

Once I have a general idea then I may get a camera out. Sometimes I just use a compact camera (the one that I now use for Vloging) to get a better idea of how the composition may look at different focal lengths (the camera has a zoom lens built in). Other times I might break out the ‘proper’ camera to see what it looks like, normally only after I’ve almost decided it’s going to be a good option.

Once I think I’ve found something that might work, my next steps will depend on when I plan to photograph it.

If I am planning a shoot that day then I will generally just remember the composition and then return to it later to get the image (assuming I don’t find something better).

If this is a scouting trip only and the intention is to come back another time (when conditions may be better) then I will take a reference shot of the composition that is then filed, along with some notes on the scene, like how to get there and what conditions would be best to shoot it.

When the time comes to take the shot I then have a good idea of what the scene should look like and how to set up the composition. 

Of course, that’s just a starting point and I always try to be flexible when the time comes to get the shot. Keeping an eye on what’s going on around me means that I sometimes see something developing that will make a better shot than I had planned, and, of course, sometimes the conditions don’t work out quite the way I expect and I need to change my viewpoint to deal with that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this view of my approach 

I’ll be back again at the end of the month with a retrospective for December, and 2017 as a whole.










Ralph Goldsmith
Thank you Linda, glad you enjoyed it
Linda McCarthy(non-registered)
Thank you, Ralph, for sharing your experience and expertise wth us. I enjoy learning from you and will hopefully be able to benefit personally from what you have shared, as my health allows. Linda
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