Scouting Shots

Before setting out to shoot some photos, it is always a good idea to scout¹ out some locations that may produce great shots. The idea here is to go and find those spots where a great photo could be taken, so that you can set up and be ready to go when conditions are right and the photo is there for the taking! It is very similar to what good hunters do when they are preparing to hunt their prey.

“But where?”  I’m glad you asked. Here’s some ideas “where” and more importantly here’s “how,” “why”, and “when!”

Well, o.k., you already know or have guessed at the “why” part, right?

  • Scout out locations ahead of time so that you can take your time and set up for the shot.
  • You will be more familiar with the location if you’ve visited it ahead of time.
  • You can set up and wait for the lighting to be just right, or for the wildlife to appear, etc.
  • Rushing around when you’ve got a great shot in front of you makes you prone to mistakes, and mistakes ruin great shots! Eliminate that with some pre-preparation through scouting out a shot.

How? That’s the easy part.

  • Drive and/or walk around and find locations that would make a great shot if only the lighting were different, the weather was different, the wildlife was there, or if any number of other conditions were just so.
  • Figure out about when the conditions would be right for the location you’ve scouted out, and return before those conditions are happening so you can se-up your stuff to get the shot you’re looking for.
  • When I’m out scouting shots, I like to hold up my hands out in front of me with my thumb horizontal, tips touching, and my index fingers pointing up, to make a frame. That kind of frames the shot I may hope to get. If I’m really smart on any given day, I’ll have my camera with me and take a test shot instead of my “finger trick” that I just described. Even if the time or conditions are not right, taking a test shot (either in my head or with my camera) works to help identify the right location for a shot later.
  • If you really want to try and scout out locations without being there, try planning a vacation around great places to shoot photos. A lot of times other photographers will talk about their trips and you can find some great places to shoot by looking at other photographers photos and reading their discussions.

Where and when are probably the toughest.

  • Look for spots with great visual interest — wooded areas, shorelines, lakes, landmarks, fields, rock formations. You usually don’t have to go a long ways away to find some great places to shoot.
  • Think of where the sun is when it rises or sets, and look at places with that in mind, then return there later when the sun is in the right position and the light is just right.
  • If you’re looking for wildlife to appear in your photo, then go where they frequent and learn about when they come out. Animals have a cycle of behavior that depends on the time of day. Learn their cycles and you will have a better chance of capturing them on film.
  • It’s best to go earlier than later once you’ve figured out where and when you want to shoot. Arrive early and get fully set up with your equipment (tripod, etc.) so that you can be ready when the time comes to take the shot.
  • Most landscape and wildlife shots benefit from being taken during the “golden hours” near sunrise and sunset. Keep this in mind when looking at locations.

It seems like common sense, but most people (me included) don’t take the time to scout out locations prior to shooting. It is truly a photography skill that will pay off big in the end, and I highly recommend everyone master it!

¹scout—an act or instance of reconnoitering, inspecting, observing, etc.; to make a search; hunt.