When I first got started with landscape photography, I didn’t understand the benefits of scouting locations in advance. Instead, I just showed up to places and hoped for the best, often without much time for exploration. While I still generally prefer serendipity to doing a lot of pre-planning, I have found that better location scouting practices, like those I discuss below, have helped me improve my photographs.
Depending on the situation, I sometimes scout a location well in advance of the time I plan to photograph it, like during a midday or off-season hike (for example, thinking about what a location will look like in autumn when I am visiting in the summer). On days where I am actively photographing, I always try to arrive in a spot with quite a bit of time before sunrise or sunset so I can explore potential subjects, practice compositions, and think about the developing conditions with the goal of being better prepared. With these basics in mind, here are six tips for improving your location scouting practices.
Use Your Feet
When teaching workshops, one of my first pieces of advice is to look around and observe well before setting up to take photos. That same advice applies to location scouting. Walking around and spending some time to take in a location’s features can help in identifying subjects and compositions that might be more compelling than what first caught your eye. This kind of exploration can also help you get a sense of how your perspective changes as you move around. With more information about a place, you can make better decisions once you start photographing.