While browsing through various photo-sharing platforms, you might get the impression that everything has already been photographed. After all, millions of photos get uploaded each day to Instagram alone. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see a lot of repetition. Many photos show the same places, the same compositions, and often similar light and editing. Even today, it’s possible to discover new photo spots. In this article, I show you my favorite way to do so.
There’s nothing wrong with visiting popular photo locations. When I travel to a new place, I also start with those. I can do my research in advance to know the best angles and time to visit, the direction of the sun, and other relevant factors for capturing a decent photo. Because less scouting is required once I arrive, I can already be productive from day one.
But photographing those places can get boring, and it’s not easy to take photos that stand out. For it, I need special light and weather. At the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, this worked for me. But to be honest, I don’t get such conditions during my photography travels very often. To still create portfolio-worthy images, I set aside time to explore and discover new photo spots.
Finding New Photo Spots
Let me first define what I refer to as a new photo spot: it’s a place of which I didn’t find any photos or only a few snapshots online. If a location has its own hashtag on Instagram, it certainly doesn’t fall into this category.
So, how can you find such places? If you like topographic maps, you can start there and search for viewpoints that might offer scenic vistas. Or, you can take a virtual flight through Google Earth. You can cover a lot of ground that way. Together with apps like PeakFinder, it works well for mountainous areas. For coasts, it’s better to zoom in on the satellite imagery in Google Maps to spot hidden coves, sea stacks, and little islands that might hold photographic potential.
But the research is just the first step. Heading into the unknown with a heavy camera pack to photograph sunrise or sunset, not knowing if there’s even a photo to be taken, is not a good idea. The time during travels is limited and great light rare. To make your photo shoots count, scouting the places you want to photograph is essential. And for remote photo spots, it often requires covering longer distances by foot.
Two years ago, I learned of Zone 2 heart rate training. As someone who likes running, I decided to give it a try. At first, I didn’t even think about how it could support my landscape photography other than keeping me fit. The intensity of this type of endurance training is pretty low, which allows me to cover distances of 10 kilometers or more without getting fatigued. I can complete such a run in the morning and then still do a hike to a photo spot in the evening.
Now, how can this help our photography? I find this training ideal for location scouting and finding new photo spots. My pace during such a run is slow and allows me to observe my surroundings, and the distances I cover are long enough to reach places of interest, which I identified during research. The only things I need are my cell phone and for longer runs, a bottle of water.
Modern cell phones come with wide-angle lenses. It makes them ideal for finding compositions. I also use PhotoPills with its Field of View mode. There, I can check how different focal lengths would capture a scene. With this knowledge, I can decide which lenses to bring to a photo shoot. This can be quite handy if the photo location is up on a mountain, for example.
For it to work during travels, I stay in each place I visit for a few days before moving on. Then, I have time for a few scouting runs, and if I find something worth photographing, I can return when the light is right.
It is how I found this olive tree grove on Corfu a few days ago. I was running to a cove I had spotted on Google Maps. Halfway into the run, I passed this grove. While Corfu is full of beautiful olive trees, finding a photogenic woodland is difficult. Often, there’s too much clutter, or the trees don’t have such interesting shapes.
When I find such areas, I usually pause my run, get out my cell phone, and start looking for compositions. I assess the scene’s photographic potential to determine if a return with my camera gear is justified. For this woodland, it was the case, so I quickly marked it on Google Maps with a star.
While not every run is a success when it comes to scouting, I find such places quite frequently. And you can do it too. If you are already a runner, start combining your training with location scouting if you don’t do it already. And if you aren’t a runner yet, this combination might motivate you to get into running. If you don’t want to run, try a fast walk.
Those scouting runs are not only ideal for finding new locations. They can also help to save precious time. As I already wrote, I don’t only visit popular photo spots during my travels. I also visit lesser-known places I found during my research. The cove I was heading to when I came across the olive grove was such a place. I had seen a few snapshots of it online, and the satellite imagery looked interesting. But without seeing it for myself, I wasn’t sure if it offered any interesting compositions — it didn’t.
If you directly head to such places for sunrise or sunset without prior scouting and then don’t find photographic potential, you wasted time that you could have used to photograph another place. Yes, being out in nature is never wasted time. But if you are a photographer who has to make a living from the photos you take during your travels, it is.
It doesn’t mean you should never head out into the unknown with your equipment. Sometimes, there’s not enough time for scouting. If you have to decide between not venturing out and taking a chance with an unknown location, go for it.
An example is a hike I did in the mountains of Crete a few weeks ago. I hadn’t planned any photography for that day due to strong winds and forecast thunderstorms. In the end, there were no thunderstorms, just the wind and fast-moving clouds. So, I took off into the mountains, which I hadn’t yet scouted. It was a gamble, but I was rewarded with plenty of subjects and awesome light at sunset. If I’d had a scouted location up my sleeve that day, I would have gone there instead. But without it, it was definitely the right choice to take a chance.
Don’t Lose the Joy
I enjoy running, and combining it with scouting comes naturally to me, but it might not to you. To be successful with photography, I think it’s important to enjoy it. And the same goes for scouting. If it becomes a chore, because you hate running, chances are, you’ll not get into discovery mode and not find photogenic subjects along the way.
If you have never tried running, I’d still test it out. Maybe you’ll like it. And if not, as I wrote above, try a fast walk. If you are a landscape photographer, I’d assume hiking and being out in nature is something you enjoy. And even if you don’t run, leaving your heavy camera gear behind from time to time during a scouting hike can make you more effective, and you can cover more ground. You might miss a shot if the light suddenly gets nice during such a hike, so you have to decide if the added speed is worth it. With a scouting run, it definitely is for me.