how to scout locations for landscape photography
Locations scouting and planning is one of the most important things you can do to maximize the chance of photographing the photos you dream of. It is also one of the most important aspects in your development as a photographer - the ability to explore, get inspired, go out into the field, find interesting locations for photography, understand and plan in advance and as much as possible. In this article I will explain how you can enrich your knowledge, expand your abilities and use extremely efficient tools and apps to maximize you next landscape photography sessions.
As photographers with passion for landscape photography, the search for new, unique, breathtaking and interesting locations is endless. These days, with the enormous amount of information every where on the web, there are many sources of which you can get inspired: websites of your favorite photographers are a great example. Social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more constantly stream information and new opportunities (also via following hashtags of related words of your interest). One of the most effective things to do to get inspired is to follow other photographers you like on social media. Another great things to do is explore new places that might seem interesting and have potential while you're on the road, or save locations you saw and couldn't explore for later.
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Explore, research and planning
After you've found a specific location, or a potential location that looks promising (weather you had the chance to be there or not), it is now the time to make a profound and extensive research in order to plan and execute the best photography session possible. This part includes general research of the place, understanding climate and weather conditions, access and how to get there, considering times of sun, moon and milky way, positioning and more.
Location, location, location
After finding a location, or an area with good potential to be a location we have to understand where it is, how to get there and do the best geographic research we can. In this part of the research I usually use Google maps, Google earth and Google street view. Google Maps usually provide the overall location, possible access and driving routes. Google Earth allows us to look at the location with real satellite images of the area and also in 3D. This allows to better understand the environment at the macro level in terms of shooting angles, specific location, heights, etc. If available, it is highly recommended to explore pictures of the place in Street View and 360 degrees photos to better understand the specific environment in the location.
Climate and seasons
For any nature/outdoor/landscape/wildlife photographer - it is essential to familiarize and understand the climate and weather of the place you want to photograph. This part consists of research and planning (as much as possible) the location conditions in terms of seasons, weather, temperatures, precipitation, clouds and more. When it comes to annual climate it is important to understand the seasons and how the area is characterized. Weather conditions and its characteristics can be vary greatly in different parts of the world. For example in some countries summer can be considered hot, dry and without precipitation or clouds. In other countries it will be hot but with clouds, storms and precipitation. Seasons are generally opposite in the northern hemisphere comparing to the southern hemisphere. Equatorial, tropic and sub tropic areas usually don't have classic seasons like winter/spring/summer/fall and are usually characterized with relatively stable temperature and wet/dry seasons. It is always highly recommended to check online about the annual climate of the area that you plan to photograph and understand temperatures, precipitation and cloud statistics. This can help us understand if there is a preferred season to be there.
When it comes to checking weather forecast at a location for the next few days, I usually prefer to find and use local weather forecast sites and cross-reference some sources. One of my favorite weather websites (there is also a mobile app) is WINDY. I also try to check for cloud coverage (which is generally not guaranteed) with CLEAR OUTSIDE website and mobile app.
Celestial bodies - sun, moon and milky way
Understanding Celestial bodies and lighting conditions are critical to plan a good photography session. Important aspects we'll want to know and plan include day time, night time, rise/set and angles of the sun and moon, milky way position and more. Much like weather conditions, celestial bodies and their characteristics can greatly differ in different areas on earth. Sunrise might be later than what your are used, day time can be a lot shorter or longer depending on the season, the night sky can be completly different from what you know at home.
There are countless websites and apps where you can check the conditions of celestial bodies. One of the best I use that also combines augmented reality imaging and useful photography information like hyper-focal distance, time lapse calculations, star trails, depth of field and more is the Photo Pills app. This is one of the most comprehensive apps that incorporates most of the factors that can help you plan a specific image in a location. Although it is relatively complex, there are many tutorial videos and a whole section of "Academy" where you can learn how to use it.
Equipment and logistics
Whether you're going to photograph for just a few hours or maybe for two weeks outdoors, getting your gear and logistics ready will make your sessions a lot easier and more comfortable. It is highly recommended to plan your photography sessions as much as you cant. Things to think about in this context are gear preparations and lists, travel times, driving/moving from location to location, arrive at the location long enough before the designated shooting time to get around, get to know the location and angles we want to photograph and more .In order for the photo session to be as efficient and comfortable as possible, it is also important to prepare your personal equipment: suitable clothing for cold/hot weather, sleeping conditions, rest and sleep times, food and more. This might seem quite trivial, but until the first time freeze your ass off while shooting the northern lights at minus 20 degrees, it is not always something you pay enough attention to. The more comfortable you are (again, as much as possible) during the shooting, you can be more focused and get the most out of your photo session. Last and no less important part - enjoy! Sometimes while we are so focused on photography we forget to enjoy the environment and nature we have reached. From time to time remember to take your eyes off the camera, drink coffee or beer, eat something delicious and enjoy the environment and company with you.
Case study - dolomites
During 2013 I came across some beautiful photos of the Dolomites mountains. I started exploring and searching for more photos to understand what I can see there and in the past few years I've traveled and led landscape workshops in the area. After finding several interesting places I began looking and marking these places in Google my maps. This way I could save and pinpoint everything I wanted and start planning a route and schedule. One of those places was "Alpe Di Siussi" - the largest alpine meadow in Europe surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks. I also saw a very beautiful and interesting peak there called "Sassolungo-Langkofel".
Alpe Di Siussi meadow and Sassolungo-Langkofel Mountain
First, I wanted to understand where Alpe Di Siussi is located and how to get there. After a short search on the web and in Google maps I found it is located in north east part of Italy, near the Ski center of Compatsch.
Finding the general location in Italy
Finding the specific location in the Dolomites
The next step was to try and an explore how the area looks and the surrounding mountain peaks. For this I used Google earth to see the area and also look where the Sassolungo mountain is relative to the alpine meadows.
Google Earth Satellite view of Alpe Di Siussi meadows and the Sassolungo mountain (top right)
Closer to ground level view of Alpe Di Siussi meadows and the Sassolungo mountain
At this point I already knew where the place was, how to get there, the general area I want to be and also my direction of view towards the Sassolungo mountain. From this point I looked at the area with street view and 360 photos to get as much visualization as possible. Further research I did included seasons and weather conditions, sun rise and sun set times to understand the lighting times and angles.
Case study - ramon crater milky way time lapse
In 2020 I went out to shoot a time lapse of the milky over Ramon crater, an international dark sky reserve in the Israeli Negev desert.
As a landscape photographer based in Israel, I've had many years exploring landscapes in Israel, so I already knew the location for a long time. What I mostly had to plan for this session was the time. I had to plan for a time in the year when the milky way core is visible and up during most of the night, know when it gets dark, plan a night without moon light so I can get dark sky and plan my composition. I went out for the session during the end of May - The milky way rise time was about 3 hours after sunset and after the moon had already set. When I got to the location during sunset I used the time to explore for a good foreground and choose a spot to position my tent. I also used the augmented reality imaging in the Photopills App to plan the composition and the movement of the Milky way in my frame during the night.
Hope I didn't scare you 😉
While it is certainly useful and very recommended to do an extensive research and planning to maximize your chance to get a great shot, it doesn't mean you always have to do it! The most important thing is to enjoy nature and where you are traveling. Sometimes and according to your personal preferences you might want and be able to plan, sometimes less. Once you have the tools, it is all up to you.
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