How to Research Locations Before A Landscape Photography Shoot

man taking photos at the beach
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Landscape photography is one of my favorite types of photography.

I love the peace and beauty it brings to my life.

I love that it helps me appreciate the uniqueness of the world around me.

I live in Colorado, which has an amazing beauty all its own: majestic mountains, magnificent wildlife and beautiful colors.

Sometimes we just drive on Sunday afternoon and take photos of what we see. No plans, just wherever the road takes us.

But more often, I am taking photos on a vacation or planned trip where I have certain outcomes in mind.

This is where researching a location can make a big difference in the caliber of shots you get.

Why should I research locations before I go?

If you are serious about shooting a certain location, doing research ahead of time will give you the best results.

While it is fun to roam and go out with just your camera and no plan, it may not get you the results you want.

If you are on a vacation or at a location you may not be able to visit again, you want to maximize your productivity. That is where research and scouting comes it to play.

4 tips for researching locations before a landscape photography shoot:

man with hand on computer mouse

1. Do online research of the location you want to shoot

Once you know where you are going (generally), here are some things you might look for online to get the best results.

  • What are the most popular attractions, monuments or sites to see at this location? You can’t go to Paris without getting the Eiffel Tower.
  • How do I get to these places? Get directions to the monument, building or trailhead you want to go to get the picture.
  • What angles have these photos been taken at by others? Not to copy, but just to get a good idea of your surrounding and what might look better.
  • Are there any “off trail” places that aren’t as popular, but just as scenic? Don’t just stop on the side of the road and take a picture. Take a walk (or hike) to see more and get a new perspective.
  • Are there any “barriers to entry” at these locations? This could include cost, limited availability, etc. For instance, there is a location in Arizona called “the wave” that photographers love. But if you do the research, you know that they only allow 20 permits a day to the site, so you need to plan in advance.

Some great places to start your online research are Google, Pinterest, 500px, and Flickr. When you find a photo of a location you want to visit, see if there is more information available to get answers to the questions above.

I also found a great website for photography in the United States, by state —> Find Great Places to Photograph in Each State by Loaded Landscapes.

old house in evening light

2. Consider the time of day

A location can change drastically, depending on what time of day you visit.

So part of your research should include what time is best to visit the location to get your desired outcome. Here are a few examples:

  • Sunrise.
  • Sunset.
  • Before opening.
  • After closing.

Most likely, you want to take photos when the least amount of people will be at the location and when the sun is at its best. You will also want to find out when sunrise and sunset are for that area so you can be at your location before the desired time.

This may mean that you have to get up in the dark to be at your desired location before sunrise. It is this kind of devotion to the shoot that will set you apart from other photographers, so own it and get the shot.

In the photo above, I used the glow of golden hour to increase interest in an old barn.

aspen trees in fall

3. Consider the season of year

Seasons play a big part in landscape photography. You can shoot one outdoor location each season and usually get vastly different results.

Fall colors are the most obvious change of season, but it isn’t the only one.

Winter snows, spring flowers and summer storms can change a boring landscape into something amazing!

So do some research into what is most spectacular for your location in the season you are visiting. There may be certain flowers that only bloom a few weeks out of the year.

One year we went to Channel Islands National Park during the hatching of thousands of rare birds, which only happens a few weeks out of the year. It was the talk of the town, so we were sure to get some pictures of the wildlife.

If the location is close by, try to visit it in each season to get a new perspective and different kind of beauty.

I live near many aspen groves in Colorado. I love to photograph the green of spring and summer, the fall colors and the barren trees of winter. One location can give me all of these different looks throughout the season.

man looking at a phone holding a map at the beach

4. Arrive ahead of time to scout best photo sites

When you go to the location you have researched, don’t just immediately start shooting everything in site. If possible, try to arrive early (a day if you can) and scout the area.

Use your phone (it’s lighter and less obvious) to take pictures of possible locations. Decide the best place to stand and how to get there.

Talk to people: Find out about tour times, slow vs. busy times and if you might be able shoot before or after hours.

If you are in a National Park, find out about when wildlife are out and what the best trails are to find them. Local people and rangers will know this information much better than just reading it out of a book or online.

Landscape photography can be very rewarding. When you go out on a landscape shoot, you really never know what you are gonna get.

There are so many variables outside of your control: weather, wildlife, other people, road or site closures, etc.

It is best to be prepared as much as possible by doing your research ahead of time. Then you just kinda have to go with the flow and see what you can make of the beautiful and unique world around you.

If you are new to landscape photography, check out my other blog post for more tips —> 10 Tips for Beautiful Landscape Photography.

Do your research and then get out and shoot! You’ll be amazed what you might find outside in the great outdoors!

What is your favorite place to do research for landscape photography? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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