Flooded-Badwater-Basin-Death-Valley

How to Find Great Locations to Photograph

I’m fond of saying a killer photo needs 4 elements to be successful: a fascinating subject, a compelling composition, impeccable camera technique, and beautiful light. Now, composition skills can be developed, settings can be learned, and light can be chased. But what about the subject, the true meat and potatoes of your photo? How do you find those amazing places to shoot?

Here are a few tried and true techniques I’ve employed to discover great spots for photography.

1) Plug into the Photography Community

First one, the easiest and most obvious: connect with other photographers. Whether that’s an online community like 500px, a FB group for wildflower hunters, or your local camera club, getting active in a photo community will let you reap many rewards. You’ll see photos from amazing places and learn where the locations are. You’ll find friends to plan trips with. And you’ll even get tips on when the best times to shoot certain spots are.

Flooded-Badwater-Basin-Death-Valley

I heard from friends that Badwater was flooded so I jumped in the car and drove to Death Valley to see it for myself!

This is great if you want to shoot known locations, but what if you’re keen to find your own places to shoot? Well then…

2) Explore the Unknown from a Known Area
What happens when you hike 3 miles up the Yosemite Falls trail then climb 60 feet up the rock walls? You get a view like this.

What happens when you hike 3 miles up the Yosemite Falls trail then climb 60 feet up the rock walls? You get a view like this.

The easiest way to start finding your own locations is to simply explore further afield in a known photo hot spot. For example, Yosemite is a world-class scenic destination, and you can probably name the top 5 photo locations off the top of your head. But because 95% of photographers will only ever visit those iconic spots, if you’re willing to walk a mile further down the trail, follow a cascade deeper into the forest, or find out what the view is like from the top of a dome, I can all but guarantee that you’ll find jaw-dropping -yet totally unique- shots.

In Tuolumne Meadows there are endless granite domes in every direction. But when you climb on top of one you get a whole new perspective.

In Tuolumne Meadows there are endless granite domes in every direction. But when you climb on top of one you get a whole new perspective.

So the next time you find yourself in a well-known location, be willing to wander off over the next hill to see what you find.

3) Follow Your Curiosity

As an extension of the previous point, you can also discover photo locations by simply letting curiosity and random chance guide you. Turn down a random dirt road and see where it goes, follow a new trail, or even drive a new route to the grocery store. You truly never know when that sweet shot is going to jump out at you.

  • This photo only exists because I followed forest service roads to the top of a small mountain on a whim. Then on the way back down I spied this patch of engaging manzanita.

    This photo only exists because I followed forest service roads to the top of a small mountain on a whim. Then on the way back down I spied this patch of engaging manzanita.

  • And this area I stumbled upon purely by dumb luck: while driving the highway I saw a dirt road that wandered toward some interesting rocks.

    And this area I stumbled upon purely by dumb luck: while driving the highway I saw a dirt road that wandered toward some interesting rocks.

4) Use Topo Maps, Google Maps, and Google Image Search

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For more remote areas I often spend hours poring over detailed topo maps looking for interesting features. For the more tech-minded, Google Earth is another great option for exploring an area in advance. Then when I see something that looks promising (such as a mountain, a lake, a river, a canyon, or even an interesting pattern in the ground) I turn to Google image search and type in the name of whatever I found. Even if only a few hardy hikers or fisherman have been to the place their snapshots give me a huge amount of pre-scouting information such as the terrain, the main features of the area, possible compositions, and even the direction of light at a certain time of day. And knowing all this gives me a great advantage over exploring an area completely blind (though I’ll admit it does take some of the fun out of pure discovery).

After some intense bushwalking and a sketchy trail, lo and behold, and found the boulders from the map, and they were sweet!

After some intense bushwalking and a sketchy trail, lo and behold, I found the boulders from the map, and they were sweet!

When you go out searching for locations to shoot be prepared that you won’t always find something amazing. But if you’re doing it right the fun of discovery and seeing something new to you more than makes up for it. Got any other favorite ways to find awesome spots for photography? Let me know in the comments!

About Author Joshua Cripps

Joshua Cripps started making remarkable photos while he was still in the womb. His first significant image, titled Sonogram, was praised for its graininess, deliberate blurring of details, and gritty black and white mood. Earning two thumbs up from his parents, this photo only hinted at things to come. Since then Josh has won countless awards and accolades, including more than one “Certificate of Participation,” dozens of “Good Sportsmanship” plaques, and the coveted “Busy Bookworm” award. His mantel long ago collapsed under the weight of gold-painted, plastic trophies.

Currently Josh spends over 700 days every year in the field seeking out the finest landscapes on earth. He has a mighty beard and sings in a rich baritone. Hiking at least 45 miles to capture every photo, Josh ensures that every image he crafts represents the very heart of the wilderness. While you were reading this Joshua Cripps did 93 push-ups, won more awards, and became internationally re-renowned.

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