Last week I posted a photo I took in Breckenridge, Colorado. In the post I had mentioned that I didn’t know the area and that I got somewhat lucky in picking an area to shoot from. Well, I got a message on one of my social accounts that asked about how I even go about scouting for a location to shoot from. So I thought I’d write a little about it here. These are as much tips for scouting someplace you’re not familiar with, as they are tips on what you can look for when you arrive at a place you’re not familiar with.

My Breckenridge Trip Is A Good Example of Not Knowing the Area
See, my trip to Breckenridge is a great example of not knowing an area and trying to find someplace to shoot from. If for example, I showed up at Moab, Utah that’s a different story. There’s a ton of info around on where/when to shoot. But not so much for where I went. So here’s a few things that I run through in my mind whenever I go someplace unfamiliar.

1. Research online – The absolute first thing I do whenever I know I’m going somewhere is visit 500px.com and do a search for wherever I’m going to visit. Not only will you see some of the best-of-the-best photos, but there’s often stories, locations and sometimes even maps of where the photo was. It’s a great community and it’s definitely the first place I start. From there, I’ll do a Google search and also stop by Flckr.com. It didn’t help much for my trip, but it’s absolutely where to start.

2. Ask the locals – Ask around. As you check in to your hotel, ask the person at the counter if they know of any places to take pictures (I did which is how I even got pointed in the direction I went). Cab drivers can be great (and not so much, so be careful). Valets, your servers at meals, bartenders, people behind the counter in local stores, you name it. Ask around. The only thing I’ll warn you of is sometimes people want to point you to something that’s special to them or their town. They may not know what a “great” landscape photo spot is. So, let’s say you’re in a town with the oldest post office in the country. You may get pointed there by some one who is proud of that, or even has a great-great-great uncle’s roommate who helped build that post office. So try to be as specific as possible as to what you’re looking for. Point them to the mountain, lake, forest or whatever it is you’d like to have in your photo and ask if they know a good place to photograph it from.

TIP: Blog reader, Roger Trentham, left a great comment below. He said another reliable place to look for shooting locations is a camera club. A quick Google search should find any local camera clubs and an email to them may turn up a cool shooting location and even a buddy to shoot with.

(Thanks Roger!)

3. Find a foreground element – This is one of the most important. As you’re out driving around, or even when you arrive somewhere for the first time, look for a good foreground. Once you know where the good light is going to happen, you’ve got to try to find a foreground element to include in the photo. I’m not going to say that every photo needs a strong foreground, but man does it help. As you look around, look for something to include in the foreground of whatever you’re shooting toward. Earlier in the week we had gone snow-mobiling, tubing, and drove around to a few different areas. As I drove, I was on a constant lookout for a cool looking fence, rock, lake (most were frozen), stream, tree, bridge, etc… Anything that I could put in front of the mountain range in the distance. Here’s a couple of examples. I really like the fence shot and I think it could have been strong, but there were a bunch of footprints along it that ruined the pristine view of the snow.

(click to see larger)

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3b. If tip #6 doesn’t work, then put your zoom lens on and look for something cool. I did this when I saw some really great light hitting the mountains. I wasn’t in a place with a great foreground, so I figured I should at least capture what I could.

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4. Drive around! – One of the things that helped me the most when I was in Breckenridge was driving around. If you’re on vacation, chances are you travels will take you to dinner, breakfast, or some place outside your hotel. Use that as a chance to look for places to shoot. If you can have some one else drive, then do it so you can look around without worrying about driving. If you’re like me, you may get carsick ;) but at least you’ll be in one piece :)

5. If You Have to Pee, Use That Time Wisely - Okay, you’re gonna laugh at this one. And it really had nothing to do with peeing. But all week long, I woke up early. At first it was because my sleep clock was 2 hours ahead of Colorado. By the end of the week, it was because I had to pee :) Sorry, I know… TMI! I can’t help it. I can’t sleep past a certain time before I just have to go.
Anyway, every morning when I got up I’d look out the window to see where the sun was and what it was hitting. I could also check the clouds and see when any color started to happen so I knew better when I had to be out shooting. I did this a couple of mornings and I already had a little bit of an idea of the area I wanted to be shooting toward. If you’re not up early, or out late, ask some one who is.

Breckenridge Sunrise

6. Look at postcards – If you’re visiting a touristy area, look at postcards. See if there’s anything that catches your eye. You don’t have to shoot the exact same photo, but it may give you a starting place, or at least a conversational piece with some one around you to get started on finding a cool place to shoot.

7. Move Around – I can’t stress this one enough. I was able to come away with 4-5 different photos because I moved around and changed lenses. Don’t grow roots and sit in the same place. You’ll come back with the same photo and, as many of you have already found out, your first ones are usually the best. Have a plan when you get there. Pick a spot you want to be at for the best light. Then, as soon as the light changes or the sun comes up move quickly to somewhere else. As soon as you grab a photo or two from there, move again. And again, and again. If you can shoot from 3-5 different locations as soon as the sun comes up, you’ll walk away with a much better chance of a having a good keeper and maybe even several from your shoots.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one!