Tips for Scouting Locations... and Actually Using Them :: Digital Photo Secrets

Tips for Scouting Locations... and Actually Using Them

by David Peterson 1 comment

Are you getting bored with your 'go to' locations? Let me guess, you’ve explored every nook and cranny, found all the hidden spots and stellar backgrounds. If you aren't there yet there will come a day when you flip through your portfolio and realize you've over-utilized those favorite locations. If you're there already, you are due for some location scouting and if you haven't, well, a little forethought never hurt anyone. Here are some things I've found help me find and remember stunning locations.


This might seem obvious but, drive around your city and look for spots that might be worth exploring more. Some days, I don’t get out of my car. I just make note of all the locations that seemed promising and then come back to really explore their potential at a later date. Driving around gives you the ability to cover a lot of ground in a single day. I tend to plot out a basic route that allows me to hit several different neighborhoods.

Scout Online

The internet is a powerful tool with a wealth of information about where we live. I’ve lived in my current city for almost a decade; even so, the internet has allowed me to find a lot of hidden spots I never would have found by myself. In fact, some of the most spectacular locations I’ve ever shot have come to me via online scouting. Something as simple as an image search can point you in new and exciting directions. Another wealth of information is local bloggers, especially the ones that focus specifically on where you intend to shoot.

Actually Take Some Photos When You Are There

When I first started seriously scouting locations, I would just assume that I would a) remember where they were and b) remember what I loved about that particular spot. I was wrong. I ended up going back to my tried and true locations because I couldn’t remember the details that had drawn me to new ones in the first place. Taking a few pictures will keep a locations idiosyncrasies fresh in your mind.

Ask for Permission

The best location is one you won’t get sued for using. If you are shooting with a client, there is nothing more embarrassing than having a business or land owner approach you and ask what you’re doing or worse, make you leave. If you are just taking photos from a public road then you are probably okay but if you intend to go onto someone’s private property you should make sure they are okay with it. It’s usually pretty easy to look up who owns the property using public records (depending on where you live). Call or send a letter explaining the situation. My experience doing this has been overwhelmingly positive. I even had a homeowner come out and chat me up after a shoot. I’m the only photographer in the area with access to her entire ranch because I asked instead of trespassing.

Look for Something Different

We all have a tendency to lean towards certain types of locations over others. If you love wide open spaces, it’s likely you will be drawn towards rolling hills and open fields but have you tried seeing how you fare with an urban location? You might just fall in love with something new. Adding locations that differ from the ones you already love is an easy way to diversify your portfolio and challenge yourself to grow as a photographer.

There’s An App for That

If you have a smart phone there are quite a few different location scouting apps where photographers geographically tag pictures of potential locations. Apps like Map-a-Pic, Scout App, and Pocket Scout make it easy to search through locations other photographers have fallen in love with and find what’s nearby when you are traveling and out of your element. I love using these apps when I’m abroad. It helps to see new places through the eyes of the local community, just take care not to come home with a set of cliché shots.

Keep a Catalog

Some photographers have really intricate databases of all of their locations but it doesn’t have to be complicated. I use a word document with all my locations. On each entry I put the street address or cross streets if there isn’t an actual address, a few pictures to jog my memory, and some notes with descriptor words. When looking for a location for a particular shoot or session I have the option of scrolling through and looking for everything or using the search tool to find the locations with my desired descriptors. Helpful hint: have a list of categories you use to tag your entries and keep that complete list at the very top of the document. Then you don’t have to remember if you used to work sunny or bright to describe bright, sunny locales.

Talk to Other Photographers

There is a weird competitiveness amongst photographers. Even if you aren’t in business you might find some photographers don’t want to spill any of their secrets. Still, friendships between photographers can be truly mutually beneficial. If you are having a hard time finding other photographers in your area don’t be discouraged. Try looking up a local photography group on, Facebook, or similar websites. Often there are large groups of photographers that meet to share trade secrets and even go on group photo expeditions.

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  1. Phillip Kuhne says:

    So sorry i havent replied before this David,
    Pam & i have just moved house [ which we
    ve been in the throes of for some time ] but now settled, ---well partly settled--
    still some sorting to do and find where everything is and put in it`s necessary order,

    but i have a chance to have a quick look through your very helpful hints and intend to make more use of them.
    and very muchly appreciate them.
    and down the track perhaps pass on to help others?.

    regards Phill` Kuhne.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.