Travel photography - How do you scout a location from home?

Last time

In the previous two articles I have been discussing which gear I bring for a landscape shoot and how I pack it for portability. However there is a far more important subject than gear and thats location. You can find the previous articles here: "Travel photography - What do we bring for landscape photography" and "Travel photography - How do we pack our gear".

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This time

You can bring all the gear in the world and you wont get a decent landscape shot if you don't have a good location. I like to prepare for a landscape shoot from home which mean I will do a lot of research before I even decide to go out. If you really want to elevate your landscape photography you need to plan your shoots so you have the best possibilities of making a brilliant shot

There are 3 important subjects that I will try and take you through in this article:

  • Location scouting.
  • Sunrise/sunset.
  • Weather forecast.

Location scouting

So for me there is only two ways of scouting a location from home and thats Facebook groups and 500px "hidden" map service. I follow a lot of photography groups on Facebook and it's a great way of getting inspiration from fellow photographers.

Just a heads up here - keep your fellow photographers as your friends! I see way to many photographers battling each other on Facebook about if their pictures are good or not. Photography is a personal trade and there are no rights or wrongs, but there are a lot of "don't do that!". I have been in many situations where I have been depended on other photographers and if I "trash" everyone on Facebook, no one will want to help me when needed.

The next tool I use for scouting a location is 500px.com's map service which is actually a bit of secret/hidden function. Now listen up - if you are gonna use this service you are gonna have to have a lot of patience. It's a resource heavy sites that searched millions of photos and try to geotag them instantly - the feature is nice but extremely slow.

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Credit: 500px.com

So the map service on 500px.com is actually very easy to use. You just search for a specific location or scroll in and out with the mouse to select an area. Each time you zoom in or out you will get a different result of images - if you zoom close to an area the system will search only for the images in that area. 

It does take a few seconds each time you change your view either by moving the map or zooming in/out - have some patience with the system. You can click on any given image to see it enlarged or specific details about image.

It is a brilliant system to scout an location and it just gets bigger and bigger each day as it is community based. It is 100% free to use the service and you can sign up on 500px.com with your Facebook account.

We have used this service a lot in our preparations for our upcoming 5-day landscape photography workshop to the Faroe Islands in April 2017.

Sunrise / sunset

One of the easiest aspect in preparation for a landscape shoot is determining when the right time is regarding sunrise / sunset in any given location. The tool you need to know is "The Photographer's Ephemeris" or in short TPE. For a landscape photographer this is one, if not the, most important tool!

TPE gives you the ability to precisely calculate when the sun / moon will raise and set at any given location and date/time. It is so simple to use and powerful and any user will be able to use TPE right away. There are apps for iOS and Android which works brilliant out in the field (we recommend using a tablet for better usability) but there is also a desktop version which is the real gem. On their main website you can also find a quick start guide to using their system which is a good place to start.

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To use TPE it is simple:

  1. Put in the date you want to shoot in the upper left corner.
  2. Put in the location you want to shoot at in the upper right corner - it uses Google Maps API which means you can search in all languages.
  3. Adjust the pin on the map by dragging it to the exact spot you want to shot in. Sometimes it helps by switching back and forth between Map and Satellite overlay.

From the image above you can see I have selected Saksun, Faroe Islands and that the sun will rise at 7:23 local time and set again at 19:14 local time. I have chosen Saksun, Faroe Islands as it is a preferred spot for me on the Faroe Islands and one we will visit multiple times during our 5-day landscape photography workshop next year.

Remember that TPE comes after you actually scout the location as I have gone through in the first chapter of this article.

Weather forecast

This chapter can seem as kind of a "no brainer" but getting a reliable weather forecast is actually quite hard. This part will be a bit local as weather forecasting varies from region to region.

Here in Denmark we have an official weather forecasting service called DMI (Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut) which is one of the absolute most precise weather forecasting here in Denmark. I personally use two weather services which in combination gives me a quite precise forecast of any given area here in Denmark.

But DMI isn't only for Danish locations as it actually is a world wide service and from what I have heard it is actually very precise in most areas of the world. There is an English version of the site which we are linking to. The general rule is that weather forecasting isn't reliable until 24-36 hours before the time you need to be at a location.

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Credit: DMI

Next article:

The next article in this series of tutorials / behind-the-scene articles we will take you on a journey with out to a landscape location here in Denmark where we are based.

We will use the first 3 articles as preparation for our little journey and give you an exclusive behind-the-scene look to a well prepared landscape shoot.

Remember that we only have 3 seats left for our 5-day landscape photography workshop to the Faroe Islands in April 2017 - secure your seat now!