How To Find The Best Photo Shoot Locations Anywhere
If you’re new to a place, or you’re just looking for one of the best photo shoot locations, then there is some work that needs to be done, but fortunately for you, we have compiled the 10 best ways to do it. The even better news is, no matter where you are, you can discover an amazing place to shoot, even when you think there’s nothing around.
Whether your intention is to find a perfect portrait location, a beautiful landscape, a mind-bending abstract, an architectural wonder or a place for candid street photography, the same principles will still apply: you need a place, the right time of day, and access to the location — and its best to have info before you arrive.
Being ready, especially for portrait sessions with a bridal party, a commercial shoot for a major brand, or even landscape photographers, we need to know as much about our locations in order to be ready, and to plan for the worst if something doesn’t go according to plan.
So how does a photographer find the best photo locations? Let me help…
1. Google Search
The information age has finally paid off for photographers, and finding a location can be as simple as a Google search. So how exactly would you go about selecting the right search terms? Well, type in your location plus “photo locations” or location plus “best spots to shoot”, trying different variations.
This is a good way to start, but what you really want to pay attention to is the bottom of the first page results. There is an area called “searches related to” your search terms that provide you with better keywords, and even places to shoot. For example, when I type in “Ocala Photo spots” it gives me better search terms like: “silver river state park”, “juniper springs”, and “Ocala national forest”, which are some of the best photo locations around here.
2. Google Maps/Google Earth
I know many photographers that use Google Earth and Google Maps to find locations. In fact, one photographer, Piet Visser, whose profile you can read here, scouts his locations in this very way. You can take a look at satellite images taken from space and zoom closely into locations to see details of any spot on earth. Google Maps and Earth gives you an unhindered view of the world unless you are trying to look at a private government location…
The bigger question that you might have is when using this technique is “how do you know if you’ve found something good?”. Sometimes a canopy of trees can block out your view of a specific location, and other problems can arise when scouting this way, so the key is to use it sparingly. The best way is to mark a location’s GPS coordinates and visit the place before you intend to go out and shoot, and sometimes you find an even better spot.
3. Not All Who Wander Are Lost
You have probably read this famous quote by J.R.R. Tolkien, and it’s a good lead into just going out and finding locations. Wandering around a city (don’t forget to bring your camera, just in case) or a countryside blindly can help you discover awesome locations for future shoots. If you wander off the beaten path or just walk around somewhere that catches your eyes, chances are you will find something somewhere that is perfect for you.
This is the method for a lot of travel and street photographers, and it certainly is a fun way to discover places you’ve never seen.
4. Ask a Local
No one knows a place like a local resident, and when you strike up a conversation with one and show interest they will more than likely provide you with all the best locations they know of. Some photographers are introverted and the very idea of having to approach a stranger is scary in itself. For those who can, asking a local is a great way to get clued-in to a new location.
But for timid photographers who are less than keen on the idea, you could visit a town’s chamber of commerce/visitors bureau or a park office to ask for location advice and information. Most people find it a little bit easier to speak to people whose job it is to help visitors. Oftentimes they will have maps, brochures, and knowledgeable employees about the region.
** As an aside, if you’re driving into a new state you can usually find tons of tourist information and brochures at state visitor centers/rest areas when you cross over the state line. There are also people who work there that can help you.
5. Know Your Sunrise/Sunset
Finding the location is just as important as knowing exactly when the sun will rise and set. Three meteorologist’s from Pennsylvania created a free sunset and sunrise model called SunsetWX, a website that collects meteorological data to find the most vivid sunset and sunrise locations across the U.S.
The app gathers information like moisture, pressure, and cloud cover to calculate the best places in the country that will have the best sunsets and sunrises. You can visit the site daily to see the forecast for your location. This is certainly a benefit for landscape photographers, but also for portrait photographers who want to know what kind of lighting they will have during golden hour portraits. Also, if you’re scouting for a location, taking a look at the place around you with the best sunset or sunrise will give you a great starting place to find a great location.
6. How The Light Falls: The Photographer’s Ephemeris
I am a bit hesitant to suggest an app available on iOS and Android called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) mostly because it’s not a cheap ($8.99), but I can’t argue with the merits of this app and how photographers are swearing by it.
TPE is a location-based app for photographers that is essentially a sun and moon calculator that shows the user when and how the light will fall on their location any time of the day. The TPE team also has Skyfire and The Photographer’s Transit apps. The Skyfire app predicts sunrise and sunset colors of any location up to 4 days ahead of time, and The Photographer’s Transit (both only available on Apple iOS devices) is a shot planning tool that gives photographers detailed elevation profiles and information on how to find the best location for your specific camera and lens.
All three of these apps cost $8.99, but if you’re more of a desktop computer person there is a version called “TPE for Desktop” that is free to download.
Panoramio, owned by Google, is a site where photographers can share location-tagged photos to Google Earth and Maps. The site integrates these community-shared images into the two sites so that photographers looking for a good location can see photos shot there. It doesn’t have photos from every location, but it’s a good way to see if there is a good place around you.
By typing in your location, or exact GPS coordinates, you can see if any photographers have uploaded a picture from nearby to help you scout a location.
8. ShootLocal App
The ShootLocal app is a user-based app that shares locations for photographers provided by other photographers. It is essentially an app where photographers provide locations they use or shoot for other photographers to discover. The best news is that it is free, and the bad news is that it’s only available for download on iOS devices.
The point of the app is to create a community of photographers helping each other find locations, and I must say that using the app is pretty helpful in a pinch and a great way to help out your fellow photographer. Remember, sharing is caring…
Much like Panoramio, ShotHotSpot is a site that helps photographers scout for the perfect location with user uploaded images, but the difference is, it gathers information from Flickr and Panoramio “to build up an idea of which areas of the world are the best for photography.”
The website seems more extensive in terms of search results than Panoramio, mostly because it integrates the two API’s (Application Program Interface) to provide us with more images. They currently just have a website right now, but they are in the process of developing both an iOS and Android app soon.
10. Hunt Photo-sharing Sites
Flickr is probably the best online photo-sharing community, and my favorite because of the user experience, the ability to explore other photographers’ work, and to showcase my own. Besides finding places to shoot, websites like Flickr and 500px also give you an idea of what can be available at a certain location.
Location, Location, Location
Finding the best photo shoot location in the information age has never been easier because of the amount of technology and utilities available now. We don’t even have to leave our houses to scout locations if we don’t want to, and even better, we can find out days in advance what our location’s best time of day to shoot is, what the sunset and sunrise will be like, and discover locations via other photographer’s photographs being shared with everybody.
Photography is all about the subject matter, light, composition, background, foreground, and a million other considerations, but being able to find the perfect place to shoot anywhere takes a little know-how, and these tools and techniques will help you find the right spot.