There’s generally two approaches to landscape photography. The first is to just turn up and just photograph what you see as you notice it. It’s a somewhat haphazard, but very therapeutic way of shooting landscapes. And while you’re happy if you come home with great shots, it’s the journey that’s most important. The other type are the landscape photographers that plan ahead. Neither method is better than the other, and both are equally valid. If you want to plan ahead, though, location scouting is vital.
This video from German photographer Michael Breitung talks us through his location scouting process and why it’s so important to him. It really can make a big difference and offer you a lot more consistency and reliability when you head out to create images.
I’m really not a landscape photographer, but I do photograph people in the landscape a lot. At least, I do when the weather’s not behaving the way it is right now. So, I go location scouting a lot. Now is the time of year when I’m exploring and trying to find new landscapes in which to place people. I imagine how the trees and flowers will grow back in 3 or 4 months. I use apps like Sun Scout to show me exactly where and when the sun will rise as Spring and Summer hit.
It lets me see the shot way in advance of actually standing there with an actual subject. It also means that when I do show up with a client we’re not wasting half of the day looking for cool places to shoot. I already know exactly where we’re going to go.
When the subject is the landscape itself, it’s really no different. Finding the spots in advance, taking test shots, checking where the sun will rise, fall and its path throughout the day, allows you to pre-visualise the shot. It means that when the weather conditions are favourable, you’re able to head out and go right where you need to be instead of having to hunt for a spot for two hours on the day. Hunt and potentially miss the best vantage point.
Here’s an example Michael shows where he scouted the location. He only had a few days left at this place, and spent some time exploring. He made test shots to figure out the shots he liked. He then went back during sunrise on his final day to get the shot. He wouldn’t have been able to find this composition in pitch black before the sun came up.
At another location, Michael found his composition the day before the shoot. Looking at a scene in the bright daylight tells you exactly where all the high and low parts are in the terrain, the exact shape of the skyline, where things stand out against each other in the environment. Again, another shot that would be virtually impossible to see in pitch black before the sunrise.
As well as the photography, there’s the logistics. Scouting in advance let him know exactly how long it would take him to reach the location. He could plan out the route and know how to find it again in the dark.
So, if you’re in a new location for a few days, and you want to help ensure some good shots while you’re there, spend some time scouting the place travelling light. Then come back with the gear you need to get the shot when the light and weather is just right.