For landscape photographers, location scouting is a critical skill for capturing the best shots possible. The fact is that those who snag iconic landscape shots don’t just get lucky. Instead, they likely spent countless hours roaming specific locations, studying the land and finding the ideal spot.
If you want to know how to successfully scout a location, grab your headlamp and hard case for these four location scouting tips.
Before you actually find yourself in the field, you should start scouting the location online. A great tool for this research is Google Maps.
Utilizing this tool, access the Explore bar in the bottom right of the screen to reveal a series of images taken in the area you are analyzing. By moving your mouse over a specific picture, it will point to the exact spot in which the photo was taken.
Moving along the map by scrolling or zooming will cause the pictures to refresh, thereby allowing you to get a decent gauge on an area, right from home.
Additionally, you can create a list of places in Google Maps, which will allow you to navigate to specific locations once you are out in the field. This is because clicking on a precise spot will cause a pin to appear on the map with exact coordinates, which you can then save on the left sidebar.
Another great tool you might opt to use in your online research for a location is Google Earth, which will allow you to see areas in far greater detail, down to how lighting conditions can change.
While scouting out your location digitally can be helpful, nothing beats getting out in the field and seeing things in person. This form of location scouting is irreplaceable as it allows you to experience the conditions firsthand.
If you have enough time and the means to do it, try to visit a location multiple times so that you can spend chunks of time exploring the area, finding ideal spots and trying out different angles to see which ones will work best for the desired shot. Additionally, you will also want to look for ways to get interesting textures in the foreground of your shots or the perfect backdrop for a specific subject.
However, visiting a spot multiple times is not always possible. In which case, be sure to arrive at the destination the day before, if you can. If not, then at least arrive several hours early so that you can do some scouting before you settle on a spot.
During this time, you will want to shoot pictures using different kinds of lenses to see what will be most apropos. Of course, this also means that you will need to bring along a dustproof camera hard case to protect your gear while it is not in use. Since you will be moving around a lot, it is best to get one that is relatively lightweight.
Certain landscapes will look gorgeous under a variety of different conditions and times of day. However, this is not true across the board. Therefore, when you visit a specific location, try to think about what conditions will work best for the image that you are trying to capture. Think about the time of day that front-light or back-light areas of the landscape or the time of year that would be ideal to visit to capture stormy skies.
In addition to these kinds of thoughts and considerations, utilizing applications like Photographer’s Ephemeris can be incredibly useful for understanding how light will fall across the land at specific times of day, thereby helping you to plan the perfect shot.
By thinking through all of these factors beforehand (and using some helpful tools), you stand a far greater chance of getting that picture that you have in your head.
When you are out scouting a location, it can be incredibly helpful to jot down notes about locations, compositions, subjects and other things that will be useful on the day of the shoot.
At the same time, it is wise to take lots of reference photos, as this can operate as a bit of a dry run and help you develop the actual compositional options for a variety of directions, thereby minimizing the need to scramble in the moment should conditions change.
Incredible landscape photographs don’t just happen by accident. Many are meticulously planned. A big part of the planning process is taking the time to scout a location online and in-person so that you can figure out how to successfully arrange a shot.
Utilize the scouting tips outlined above and you will be more likely to capture a stunning landscape image.
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