Five top tips for finding the ideal locations for your photography and how to work out the best conditions for visiting
Many of your best photographs will come from being in the right place at the right time. But often, that right place and right time comes with much careful planning beforehand.
Here are our top tips for finding the perfect location to get those fantastic shots:
1 Decide what type of image you’re trying to create, base your research on that
To find the best location for a great image, you need to think of what you want that image to be first of all. You should base the bulk of your research on the idea of one single image or single type of image; this is because deciding on a single shot or area will be the most effective way to work out the best location and conditions for your photo.
Searching for general places for ‘landscape photography’ might leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. However, refining it by, for example, thinking of 'Lighthouse locations on the Northumberland Coast' is subject and location-specific, and you’ll get far more detailed information from your research.
If you’re still a bit unsure, think of your ideal subject and in what type of scenario (another example, a misty autumn forest scene) and use that as a base. Think of places local to you to start with, to see what's around, or if you’re going away on holiday, for example, start your research here to see what you can potentially take pictures of.
"To find the best location for a great image, you need to think of what you want that image to be first of all."
2 Use Google Images & photography sites to see a location's potential
Once you’ve got an idea, it’s time to start doing your research. One of the best ways to find a suitable location for photography is to see images (or lack of them) from other photographers. For example, searching for pictures in the exact location or spot you're looking at can quickly be done by typing in the area and subject in Google Images. More often than not, you’ll find very accurate depictions of what the locations look like, as well as beautiful images and links to further information. If you don’t see much details or few photos it may well be that the location is less frequented by photographers or not much visited in general. This could be great if you’re looking for somewhere completely different, but with less information available, it can also be hard to know whether it’s got potential or not.
"Fellow photographers are always happy to talk; if the site is a well-known place, you shouldn’t encounter any issues with them sharing their experiences with you."
Once you’ve got a vague idea of what and where from looking at images, it’s time to start doing a bit of a deeper search; look through suggested web pages and check out community photographer groups like Flickr to see what photographers have captured in the area; I find this helpful in particular to see how others have composed their shots and filled their frame with foreground interest etc. Just remember to treat this as a source of inspiration, not as an exercise to copy other photographers.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to photographers, too, if you want to know more about how they captured their image and what the location was like from a first-hand account. Fellow photographers are always happy to talk; if the site is a well-known place, you shouldn’t encounter any issues with them sharing their experiences with you. You may discover a photographer less forthcoming with information from time to time, but this is usually the case when a location is exceptionally secret or complex to visit.
3 Use Google maps and Google Street View to scout out the location and where you want to set up
Once you’ve got a good idea of the location for your ideal shot, you can start to put a more detailed plan together. This is where Google Maps and Google Street View will be your best friends.
Use Google Maps to thoroughly overview the location and turn on 3D view for a more topographical look. Some areas on Google Maps are incredibly detailed, and you can quickly get an incredibly detailed look at your location before even going there.
"If your location also includes a Google Street View option... do a screen walk around the area. It will help you imagine the shots you can take, right down to where you can place your tripod."
You’ll also be able to map out how you’ll get there, where the closest station is, where you’re going to park, and any potential logistical challenges. For example, if you’re heading to a mountain, is there an easy way up and down, or if you're going to the coast, are there any rocks or other obstacles in the way? It’s also worth checking if there are any restrictions in the area, such as private land. Some more popular locations might even show in Google Maps how busy it is at different times during the day.
If your location also includes a Google Street View option (which seems remarkably like a lot of the world today), do a screen walk around the area. It will help you imagine the shots you can take, right down to where you can place your tripod.
4 Keep an eye on dates and conditions for the best time to visit
By following the three above steps, you should know what you want to take a picture of and understand how you will get there and what to expect when you get there. The final part of your research should be picking the perfect date and time to visit for your shot. This is essential as it could be the difference between getting a good shot or an outstanding shot.
For example, if you want to take your image during the Golden Hour, look at sunrise and sunset times to work out when that will be, and with that information, you can calculate what time you need to set off and what transport you need to take to get there. The photography app PhotoPills is an incredible resource for working out exactly where the sun’s position will be during the day at your location - which makes it incredibly easy to work out where the light will likely fall across your scene.
If you’re shooting by the coast, it’s also vital to check tide times beforehand. Generally, it would be best if you always took pictures when the tide is going out - it’s much safer. With an incoming tide, you run the risk of being cut off. And this can happen to even the most experienced seascape photographers. And when it comes to sunrise and sunset times too, you don’t want to be left at the top of the mountain or in a remote place when it’s dark; so make sure you have enough time to get to your location, take your shot, and leave while it’s safe and easy to do so.
5 Check the weather
The final part of it all; checking the weather conditions for your shot is an absolute must. There are a few reasons for this; first, if you’re looking for spectacular light, you don't want to visit on a flat overcast day or a bright day with harsh sunlight. Also, while you can get some fantastic photos in bad weather, you might want to consider what you may need to stay comfortable (such as waterproofs) and what you can tolerate, for example, how much cold you can endure. There’s nothing worse than heading out to a location and finding yourself cold, wet and uncomfortable.
Safety comes into it again here; never put yourself in a dangerous or life-threatening situation for the sake of a photo. This is apparent when extreme weather has been forecast, but also remember that visibility can decrease significantly and suddenly at high altitudes. So you must be vigilant and check beforehand if any weather changer is expected while you’re out in the field.
"Safety comes into it again here; never put yourself in a dangerous or life-threatening situation for the sake of a photo."
Of course, you plan down to the finest detail, but the weather is getting less and less predictable, so you could find yourself in a location expecting optimum conditions but find the opposite. The same goes for the other way; I’ve often experienced the light coming together just for one moment to make the perfect shot. Sometimes you may need to spend some time at your location and be patient for all the elements to come together.
Here is a quick overview of key points for finding the perfect location for your photography:
- Be as specific as possible when it comes to what you want to take a picture of and where
- Use the internet to do your research with portals such as Google Images, articles and guides, and photographer forums to get an idea of photographic potential
- Use Google Maps and Streetview to see the actual conditions
- Make a plan for when the light will work best for you, and use apps and external resources to help you do this so you’re visiting at the optimum time
- Always be vigilant of the weather
Below is the final image of mine from taking this approach to finding the perfect location (and time/ conditions) for the shot I was looking for. Hopefully, now you'll have a a good idea of what you can do in order to find the perfect photo spot, as always with anything in photography you'll find your own way and what works for you - but I hope these tips serve as a good start!