Finding that perfect place to shoot outdoors can be difficult and when we do find a place that works we tend to want to keep it to ourselves. Great outdoor locations are almost as valuable, and rare, as gold. Non-photographers think we’re crazy, but experienced photographers know that not all of nature is created equal.
Even with all the planning I’m sometimes surprised. More water. Less water. A visiting herd of cows. For all the challenges to shooting outdoors, finding the best location may be the most challenging. Certainly, it requires the most energy.
I couldn’t get to the location where today’s photo was taken if I wanted. With all the rain we’ve had this week I rather doubt there’s a natural tributary in the state that isn’t at or overflowing its capacity. That’s the one draw-back to an otherwise almost idyllic shooting location; one I’ve used several times over the years and almost always with impressive results. Even though the location is public property, it is secluded enough I tend to consider it mine and would probably be a bit jealous if I saw pictures from another photographer taken there.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to shooting outdoors is finding just the right location that works for the time at which you want to shoot. To the uninitiated, it seems that any bright, sunny location ought to work for taking pictures. After all, if we have plenty of light and maybe some flowers and trees in the background, what more do we need? Experienced photographers understand, though, that finding just the right location, one that can be used repeatedly while still generating unique looks, is almost as difficult as mining for gold in the Midwest. There aren’t as many locations running around as one might expect.
Finding a good location is not unlike going on a treasure hunt. One can drive, and hike, for hours, through all manner of conditions, before finding that perfect spot. We don’t want it to be recognizable, because then everyone else will want to use it. We want our pictures to be unique and that means having locations different from where everyone else shoots.
Understand, there are thousands of locations where one can take a good photograph. The challenge is that for most of those locations one good, usable image is all one is going to get. No one needs a portfolio where all the photos look the same. Things such as notable landmarks, unique trees, and recognizable gardens are fantastic for that one shot, but don’t provide the long-term use for which we ultimately look.
- Flexibility. Can I get more than one look out of a location? If I shoot from different directions and different times of day does it look like a different place? Does it work both morning and evening? How does it look during different seasons? The more I can get out of a location the more valuable it is.
- Lighting. Sure, most any outdoor location gets light, but is it the right kind at the right time? Are there barriers between me and the sun? If so, do they make good filters? Is direct light the only option or is reflective light available as well?
- Background pollution. Look toward the horizon and what do you see? If it is anything other than trees, clouds, and maybe a mountain, we have a problem. Power lines are the most frequent offenders, but randomly visible rooftops, or hints of urbanization in an otherwise forested setting reduce the visual impact.
- Access. Is the location public property that can be accessed legally at any time or is it private property for which one has to obtain permission? Used to I would fudge this one, but as private property laws have changed in many states I no longer consider it worth the risk. I prefer public property whenever possible and will ask before shooting on private property.
- Traffic. If I can get to a place, other people can as well. How well trafficked is the location? Do we need to watch for people in the background? Might people stand around gawking? I don’t exactly enjoy an audience.
- Remoteness. How difficult is it to get to the location? The image above required a little over a mile’s hike, which is fine for a location where I don’t need additional equipment. Being remote means better privacy, but also means more difficulty getting help if something goes wrong.
- Peacefulness. Very much a personal preference, is this a location I would enjoy even if not taking pictures? Would I just sit and read a book here? Is the place one I can enjoy just being? Such qualities inevitably transfer to the photos.
Every picture tells a story and we want every story to be different but having to find a new location for every outdoor concept is time-consuming and often frustrating. Finding one that offers multiple options all year long is like finding treasure.
And no, I’m not telling where mine are.