How to Find New Photo Spots

Browsing through the various photo sharing platforms, you might feel like everything has already been photographed. After all, millions of photos are uploaded every day on Instagram alone. But if you look closely, you’ll see a lot of repetition. Many photos show the same locations, the same compositions, and often similar lighting and editing. Even today, it is possible to discover new photo spots. In this article, I show you my favorite way to do it.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting popular photo locations. When I travel to a new place, I also start with these. I can do my research ahead of time for the best viewing angles and times, the direction of the sun, and other relevant factors to capture a decent photo. Because less scouting is needed once I arrive, I can already be productive from day one.

But photographing these places can get boring and it’s not easy to take photos that stand out. For this I need a special light and time. At the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, it worked for me. But to be honest, I don’t often encounter such conditions on my photography trips. To create portfolio-worthy images, I set aside time to explore and discover new photo spots.

Find new photo spots

Let me first define what I call a new photo spot: it is a place of which I have not found any photos or only a few snapshots online. If a place has its own hashtag on Instagram, it certainly does not fall into this category.

So how can you find such places? If you like topographic maps, you can start there and look for viewpoints that might offer scenic views. Or, you can take a virtual flight via Google Earth. You can cover a lot of ground this way. With apps like PeakFinder, it works well for mountainous areas. For coastlines, it’s best to zoom in on satellite imagery in Google Maps to spot hidden coves, sea stacks, and small islands that might have photographic potential.

But research is only the first step. Heading out into the unknown with a heavy camera to photograph the sunrise or sunset, not knowing if there’s even a picture to take, isn’t a good idea. Travel time is limited and great light is rare. To make your photoshoots count, scouting out the places you want to shoot is essential. And for remote photo spots, you often have to cover longer distances on foot.

reconnaissance race

Two years ago I discovered heart rate training in zone 2. As someone who loves to run, I decided to give it a try. At first, I didn’t even think about how it could support my landscape photography other than keeping me in shape. The intensity of this type of endurance training is quite low, which allows me to cover distances of 10 kilometers or more without getting tired. I can complete such a run in the morning and then hike to a photo spot in the evening.

Now, how can this help our photography? I find this training ideal for scouting and finding new photo spots. My pace during such a run is slow and allows me to observe my surroundings, and the distances I cover are long enough to reach the places of interest, which I identified during research. The only things I need are my cell phone and for longer runs a bottle of water.

Modern cell phones are equipped with wide-angle lenses. This makes them ideal for finding comps. I also use PhotoPills with its Field of view fashion. There I can check how different focal lengths would capture a scene. With this knowledge, I can decide which lenses to bring to a photoshoot. This can be very handy if the photo location is on a mountain, for example.

To make it work during travel, I stay a few days in each place I visit before leaving. Then I have time to do some scouting, and if I find something worth shooting, I can come back when the light is good.

This is how I found this olive grove in Corfu a few days ago. I was running towards a cove that I had spotted on Google Maps. Halfway through the race, I passed this grove. While Corfu is full of beautiful olive trees, finding a photogenic forest is difficult. Often there is too much clutter or the trees don’t have such interesting shapes.

When I find such areas, I usually pause my run, pull out my cell phone, and start looking for comps. I assess the photographic potential of the scene to determine if a return with my camera gear is warranted. For this glade it was, so I quickly starred it on Google Maps.

While not all races are a scouting success, I find such places quite frequently. And you can do it too. If you’re already a runner, start combining your training with scouting if you’re not already doing so. And if you’re not a runner yet, this combination might inspire you to take up running. If you don’t want to run, try a brisk walk.

Win time

These recon runs aren’t just great for finding new locations. They can also save you valuable time. As I wrote before, I don’t just visit popular photo spots on my travels. I also visit lesser known places that I discovered during my research. The creek I was heading to when I came across the olive grove was such a place. I had seen some snapshots of it online and the satellite images looked interesting. But without seeing it for myself, I wasn’t sure it offered interesting compositions — it didn’t.

If you head straight for these spots for sunrise or sunset without scouting first and can’t find photographic potential, you’re wasting time that you could have used to photograph somewhere else. Yes, being in nature is never a waste of time. But if you’re a photographer who has to live off the photos you take on your travels, this is it.

That doesn’t mean you should never venture into the unknown with your gear. Sometimes there is not enough time for scouting. If you have to choose between not venturing out and trying your luck somewhere unfamiliar, go for it.

An example is a hike I did in the mountains of Crete a few weeks ago. I hadn’t planned any photography for that day because of the strong winds and forecasted thunderstorms. In the end, there were no thunderstorms, just wind and fast-moving clouds. So, I went to the mountains, which I hadn’t spotted yet. It was a gamble, but I was rewarded with lots of subjects and awesome light at sunset. If I had a spot spotted up my sleeve that day, I would have gone there instead. But without that, it was definitely the right choice to take a chance.

Don’t lose the joy

I love running and combining that with scouting comes naturally to me, but it might not be for you. To succeed in photography, I think it is important to take advantage of it. And the same goes for scouting. If it becomes a chore, because you hate running, chances are you won’t go into discovery mode and find photogenic subjects along the way.

If you’ve never tried running, I’d give it a try anyway. Maybe you will like it. And if not, as I wrote above, try a brisk walk. If you are a landscape photographer, I guess hiking and nature is something you enjoy. And even if you’re not running, occasionally leaving your heavy camera gear behind during a reconnaissance hike can make you more efficient and allow you to cover more ground. You might miss a shot if the light suddenly turns nice on such a hike, so you have to decide if the extra speed is worth it. With a reconnaissance run, it’s definitely for me.

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