As a photographer, the search for new locations is endless. Unless you shoot exclusively in a studio, you’re going to need to spend some time finding photography locations, and you want to use this time wisely.
If you’re a location-based photographer, scouting is vital if you want to find new and fresh photography locations in your hometown. Even if you’re a travel or landscape photographer, researching photography locations is important if you want to be prepared and make the most of the places that you’ll be travelling to.
This is the first of a two-part series on researching and planning your photoshoots. This guide will show you some tools and techniques for finding photography locations. Part Two will show you how to plan your next photoshoot in detail.
How To Find Photography Locations
The first thing you’ll need is a rough idea of where you want your photography location to be. It might be as big as a country or as small as a beach or suburb. The larger the area, the more potential locations you can find.
Once you have an idea of where you’re looking, the search is on. If you use a combination of resources and tools, you’ll have more success in finding good locations. Each of the following photography location apps and websites have their pros and cons. You’ll need to experiment and find what works for you.
The first is probably the place you’re already getting your inspiration. You’re likely using social media to find photography locations, but using it effectively takes some thought.
Love it or hate it, Instagram is one of the best places to find great photography locations. The photo-sharing app has a few features that make researching locations easy.
The ability to geo-tag photos makes finding great locations super simple. Punch the name of the place you’re researching into the search bar and you’ll see a bunch of photos that have been geo-tagged with that location.
Hashtags can also be useful, if you can find the right ones. You could search for #NewZealand, but you’ll have more success if you use location-specific hashtags like #NZMustDo.
Another way to use Instagram to find photography locations is to look at location-based accounts. These will often be tourism or crowdsourced accounts that re-share some of the best photos from the area.
These techniques do have their flaws, but if you take some time to sift through the crap, you’ll usually find something that has potential. When you find a photo that you think has potential as a photography location, save it for later. We’ll take a look at what to do with them in Part Two.
Pinterest is an invaluable resource for finding photography locations. As a social bookmarking website, Pinterest allows you to research locations and bookmark them for later.
Where Pinterest is useful for photographers is in finding location guides that have been shared there. Users don’t pin photos in the same way they do on Instagram. They pin links to websites and blogs, meaning that instead of each pin showing you one location, they can show you a bunch of them.
Pinterest is a search engine, so search for boards or pins with the place you’re searching for and you’ll be shown a ton of relevant pins. Make sure you’re search is specific. Searching for ‘New Zealand’ isn’t going to help you much. Try something like ‘New Zealand photography location’ or ‘Pacific Coast Highway’.
As with Instagram, most of the results won’t be any use, but if you spend some time sifting through it, you’ll find some gold. When you do, Pinterest makes it easy to save them. Just create a new board for that location and re-pin them there. You can make the board public or private. Remember to add detailed descriptions so you can find them later.
Photo Sharing Websites
If sifting through the wealth of half-naked selfies on Instagram or the vegan brownie recipes of Pinterest are too much for you to bear, try going where the photographers are. Photo-sharing websites like Flickr and 500px have been some of the best resources for finding photography locations for years.
They’ve both had their ups and downs, but Flickr and 500px have always been havens for people who love photography. They’re mostly selfie and vegan brownie free. These websites have large communities of photographers who love to share not just their photos, but their knowledge.
There are a couple of ways to use these sites. Searching for images with the place name you’re looking for will show you images that have the name in their description or tags.
You can also search for location-based communities. This can be a great way to network with other photographers who live there or have spent time there. You can often find photography locations by asking a question in these communities. You’ll be surprised how helpful people can be. You might even find a buddy to show you around.
You can save images you find using the save feature, but I prefer to pin them to the board in Pinterest that I’ve created for the location. It keeps all the photography locations I’ve found in the same place, which makes finding them easier.
If you’re not familiar with the location you’re researching, there is always a photographer who is. You don’t need to know them or even contact them. You can find photography locations purely by searching for local photographers in the area and checking out their work.
A quick Google search for “New Zealand landscape photographer”, or something similar, will likely give you a bunch of results. Spend some time looking through their portfolios and social media accounts and you’re bound to get a few ideas.
Keep in mind that many photographers won’t share their photography locations. This is usually because they don’t want to see another beautiful location trashed by Insta-hordes. This should always be respected.
If there’s one tool I use more than any other to find photography locations it’s Google Earth. You’ll be amazed what you can find by just looking at satellite images. Even in popular locations, there will always be spots that are relatively unknown because they’re not visible from roads or trails. Google Earth helps you find these.
When you’re trying to find photography locations using Google Maps, it’s worth zooming in and spending some time looking for spots that would be easily missed when looking at the larger area. When you find something that has potential, save it and move on. You can come back to it later.
If you’re looking for landscape photography locations, there are a couple of tricks to help you see the contours of the area. Firstly, viewing the landscape from a birds-eye view will never show you the shape of the earth. You need to enter 3D mode in Google Earth, which will allow you to move around and zoom in and out to see the landscape as it appears in real life.
The other thing I often do is enter Terrain Mode in Google Maps. This changes the map from a satellite view to a topographical view, making it far easier to see the shape of the landscape. It makes it easier to find mountains, valleys, gorges, cliffs, etc. I’ve found countless photography locations this way that I would have completely missed using Google Earth.
You can’t search for anything online without going to the search giant, Google. There are a couple of ways that Google is useful for finding photography locations.
The first, and most obvious, is Google Image Search. Plug in the name of the area you’re searching in and see what it comes back with. Depending on the location, you’ll often find you need to get more specific with your search phrases. Something as simple as “New York photography” will give you more useful results than just “New York”.
You’ll also get some useful results by doing a regular web search for phrases like “Noosa photography locations“ or “Queensland road trip”, just like I mentioned with Pinterest search. These results will often tell you about popular locations that you’re already aware of, but they’ll often have some surprises.
Don’t Be That Guy
It’s worth mentioning at this point that you always need to be careful about copying other photographers’ work. There are very few places left on earth that haven’t been photographed, and there’s nothing wrong with getting that cliche shot at a popular location.
What I’m referring to is taking someone else’s image and trying to replicate it. This article is written to show you how to use the resources available to research and get inspired, not steal other people’s photos.
Collecting Your Locations
When you’ve found some potential photography locations, you’ll need to save them somewhere. As I’ve mentioned, one of the ways I do this is to create a board in Pinterest with photos and links for ideas and inspiration. This is a great starting point, but I usually want something more detailed also.
Yes another Google product. My Maps allows you to create maps with layers in which you can save locations or trips. I’ll create a map for a trip I’m planning, or photography locations in an area that I live or plan to visit at some stage in the future.
I create a layer called ‘photography locations’, and then add any location I can find into that layer. The advantage of My Maps is that it gives you a visual layout of the locations you’ve saved that you may want to visit. This helps a lot when you’re on a road trip and want to plan your route, and even where you stay.
One of my favourite features is that you can share your maps with others you’re traveling with, who can also contribute to them. You can even embed them if you have your own photography blog.
Researching and finding photography locations is vital, whether you’re traveling somewhere new or in your hometown. It’s good to get into the habit of always staying on the lookout for new spots and having an idea of the locations you want to photograph. What do you do once you have a list of potential locations, though?
Part Two of this series will discuss how to take the photography locations that you’ve found and plan your photos. Whether you’re planning a landscape, cityscape, astro, or portrait shoot, planning your photography can make the difference between success and failure. Subscribe below if you don’t want to miss Part 2.
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Hey Rowan! I’d just add 2 more sources – books and photography location websites/apps like Trover or Locationscout. 🙂 Frankly, Instagram is dead to me…:D
Thanks dude. I’m not sure how useful books are these days, but always worth a try. Location apps and websites are definitely useful too, so thank you. You’re certainly not the only person who feels that way about Instagram. Either way, it can be a useful resource.