Essential scouting tips – find that shot!
Scouting and imagination: Scouting a location and pre-visualizing the “perfect” scene can lead to spectacular results.
Capturing great landscape images is often the result of thorough research and making the effort to find fantastic locations and viewpoints. Stumbling upon a beautiful location when the light and elements are at their peak is uncommon, but it does happen (more on this in Part 3). In Part 1 of this series we discussed the first essential step to creating great landscape images – research and pre-visualization. In Part 2 we’re now on location; time to find some awesome scenes! The art of finding these scenes is called “scouting”, and with a few tips you’ll be well on your way to finding your own gem of a location.
When arriving in a new area your first points of call should be the local Tourist Information Centre and Parks Information Centre. Having a flick through the postcards and any books on the area may give you inspiration or ideas on what to shoot and from where. Be sure to pick up any maps and hiking trail guides to help you plan your approach. It’s the attendant’s job to give information so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Their knowledge of the area is often extensive and they’re a great help in pointing you in the right direction. You can also purchase any required permits or day passes while you’re there.
The best and most unique locations often take some finding, so be sure to allow plenty of time for scouting. Instead of ‘putting your feet up’ during the harsh midday light, take the opportunity to spend a few hours ‘out and about’ exploring an area. It’s always best to have scouted out a few potential locations to give yourself plenty of options to shoot in varying weather and light conditions. Mother Nature is hard to predict at times so it’s best to have a few options up your sleeve. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you may walk away disappointed, but if you stay flexible and have a range of options, you may be able to salvage a fantastic shot in average conditions.
If you know what your main subject is, scouting becomes easier. The goal then is to scout “around” the subject, exploring different angles and potential foregrounds. Always be mindful of light direction and the bearing of important features you want to include such as a sunrise or moon. Be sure to be thorough, and resist the urge to settle on a location without fully exploring the area. Often the best location is just around the corner.
If you don’t have a main subject and you’re just “exploring” an area, there are 3 main tricks to keep in mind. The first is to cover plenty of ground. Whether it be driving, hiking or walking, just do lots of it! The second trick is to keep your eyes wide open. Subjects can appear from nowhere and sometimes take some imagination to visualize, so keep your eyes peeled. The third is to stay flexible. It’s easy to see something with potential and get a “one-track-mind”, only seeing other similar subjects to the exclusion of all else. See the “whole” landscape at all times, and be willing to change your train of thought.
Once you’ve found a location with potential, it’s time to pre-visualize again. It’s easy to dismiss a scene during the flat midday light, but with a little imagination that same scene could be the shot of a lifetime! Imagine what factors could turn the scene into an incredible image. Maybe a sunrise, moon, storm clouds, blue sky, snow, flowers, silhouette or water reflections? The possibilities here are endless! Once you’ve got a vision of the ideal conditions, write everything down. Include notes on location, time of day, season, weather conditions, lenses and anything else of importance. These notes prove indispensable when returning to a location months or even years later. Often you can plan the timing of future trips to that location around your notes to give your visions the best chance of becoming a reality. It’s also very easy to forget the scenes you’ve found, especially if you’ve scouted many potential locations in an area. So best to write everything down so you don’t forget. Scouting is very time consuming and you don’t want to have to do it all over again next time you visit!
Taking the time to scout well before you intend to shoot is essential to consistently capture stunning landscapes. And when you’re out scouting, keep a keen imagination and pre-visualize the perfect scene. Write everything down and most of all make sure you’re there when the magic happens!
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