The Most Underrated Skill In Landscape Photography: SCOUTING
If I could recommend one thing to you that would make the biggest difference in your landscape photography. It wouldn’t be to buy a new camera or get a spiffy lens or learn the latest Photoshop techniques. It would simply be this, get outside more.
Excellent friends, Josh Cripps here, you know, I have been seeing more and more ads online from photographers promising to help you make prettier pictures. And while I have no doubt that the tutorials they sell can help you develop your post-processing skills, which is great for aesthetics. I don’t think I’ve seen a single one yet that shows you how to do one of the fundamentally most important things that is required to be a good photographer. And that is scouting. Scouting is one of these unsexy things that is really boring to talk about. But over time it yields insanely sexy results. It’s like eating a nutritious diet and doing sit-ups every day. Nobody cares that you’re doing all of this grunt work behind the scenes. That is until you rip your shirt off at the beach and even your abs have abs. So in this video, I’d like to talk about two big ways that scouting helps you become a successful photographer, as well as a few of my personal favorite ways that I try to find awesome places to shoot.
Think of scouting like romance. You’re getting to know something and building a relationship with it. In this case, it happens to be a place instead of a person, but no matter what, the deeper that relationship gets, the better that you will be able to anticipate that places, moods, and know how it’s going to react and look under certain conditions. When I lived in Santa Cruz, I spent countless hours walking up and down the cliffs and beaches North of town. And I would do this in the middle of the day when the light was harsh and the photography was no good. And I would do this in the early mornings and the late evenings, I would do it when the tide was high and when the tide was low and most often I’d even do it without a tripod or without filters. Just a camera just to take snapshots.
So why would I do this? It was so that I knew every corner and every nook. I knew every Rocky shelf, every wave induced waterfall, every rock and every sea stack. I knew the directions that they faced and the compositional possibilities they created so that no matter what the conditions were when I went out to shoot for real, I knew exactly where to go, Oh, the clouds are looking nice to the Southeast and there’s a moderately high swell. Well, I think that that little hidden shelf with the waterfall is probably going to work pretty well. Oh, there’s a break in the clouds near half moon Bay and it hasn’t rained in a few weeks. I bet it’ll be possible to get across the Creek to the beach at San Gregorio. Oh, there’s a nice sky to the Northwest with a medium tide. It’s going to be a great day to shoot that cool secret bridge I found.
And this is the main superpower that scouting gives you, you know, exactly where to go given any conditions. And there’s no way around it. This just takes a lot of time. So I highly recommend that you get out there and do that legwork and explore which honestly you should like doing anyway. Cause that’s kind of the fun part of photography and it’s well worth doing because I’m not sure that there’s anything worse than the opposite situation showing up to a location that you’ve never been to before, while the light is blowing up. And you have no idea where you might find a good composition. So you freak out, you start running around like a kid who’s eaten too many fruit loops and you end up settling with some lackluster composition because you just have to shoot something. Not that that has ever happened to me.
Of course. Now, the other way that scouting helps you is that simply by being outside bar, you end up seeing more cool stuff and you get more opportunities for photography. I have been on so many excursions where I left home in the middle of the day, thinking I’m just going to go take a quick look and then I’ll come right back. And I end up having so much fun, an absolute blast, exploring a new area and coming home with some great shots to boot. A couple of years ago, I was hanging out at a Lake Tiana in New Zealand and it had been raining all morning. And then I looked outside, the rain had stopped and I thought I’m going to go for a drive and see what I can find. Well, the first thing that happened was a gigantic rainbow parked out over the Lake.
And that was cool enough, but I started driving up towards Fiordland national park just to look for some interesting scenes that I could come back and shoot later. But all of that fresh rainfall on the landscape was now evaporating creating these massive billowing clouds of moisture piling up into the atmosphere. And the sun was bursting down through the clouds above. So there was this insane combination of beams and steam coming up out of the landscape. It was utterly breathtaking and I wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t just been out scouting looking around. Okay. So hopefully I’ve impressed upon you, how beneficial scouting is, but how do you actually do it? How do you find awesome places to shoot? Well, here are two of my favorite ways of finding unique locations to photograph
The easiest way, start finding your own awesome locations is simply to explore further a field in a known photo hotspot. So for example, Yosemite, it’s a world-class scenic destination, and I’m guessing you guys can probably name at least five classic photo locations off the top of your head tunnel view Valley view Olmstead point, that thedral peak glacier point, but because 95% of photographers will only ever visit those iconic spots. If you are willing to walk maybe a mile further down the trail or follow a cascade deeper into the forest or find out what the view is like from the top of a dome, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to find jaw dropping, but totally unique vantage points that you can use for your own photography. For example, all of these photos that I’m showing you right now were taken within Yosemite national park, but to get to these unique views, it only took a little bit of effort to get off the beaten path. So in short, if you go somewhere that you know already is beautiful and you’re willing to explore just a little bit, you’re going to find some cool stuff.
I’m a map nerd, uh, mapa file or TOPA file or whatever it’s called. I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter because whenever I’m out hiking, doing that, exploring that I was just talking about. I love to sit there with a map in my hands to figure out, Hey, what’s that peak over there? Or what’s that Lake? Or what’s behind that Ridge over there. It really gets my blood pumping and it gets the excitement popping, but even knowing what all that stuff is, you can’t always actually then physically go to every single one of those interesting looking places yourself to see what they’re like. So this is where I turn to technology. I get out my computer, have you guys heard of these things? They’re, they’re pretty cool. And I turn on my 9,600 baud modem and I point Netscape navigator to Google image search. And I type in whatever feature I saw on the map.
And it does not matter how remote an area is some Hardy hiker or fishermen or herdsman has been there and has taken some snapshots that you can use from these photos. You can get a huge amount of pre scouting information such as what the terrain is like, what are the main features of the area? You can figure out possible compositions or even the direction of the light at a certain time of day. But most importantly, you can decide if you actually want to go there to shoot. And that’s the real fun, getting your butt out there in person to see what’s what, a few years ago, I was camping on an overnight trip in Kings Canyon park in a place called the Kearsarge lakes. And during the afternoon of my trip, I decided to scamper up to the top of this cute little guy to see what I could see and standing there from the top of this pinnacle, looking off into this massive roadless wilderness, into all of the canyons and valleys and basins and peaks.
I was just floored by how much stuff there was out there. So I busted out the map and I started looking at all up, Oh, that’s Caltech peak. Oh, that’s Forester pass. Oh, that’s the North guard. And one of these places, way, way, way off to the North that caught my attention was called Mount gardener. So as soon as I got home from that trip, I got on Google images and I typed in Mount Gardner and what I saw blew my mind, my eyes popped out of their sockets, like two little Prairie dogs. And I knew that I had to make a trip to that place. So the next summer strapped on my pack and I hooked it in to Gardner basin. It’s a remote basin. It’s not easy to get to you guys, but it is utterly spectacular. It’s one of the most sensational places that I’ve ever seen on the planet.
And it’s in my top, you absolutely must visit if you’re a backpacker locations in the Sierra and I’ve spent some of my happiest days on the planet and as a photographer in the Gardiner basin, enjoying this mesmerizing place and shooting some really satisfying photos, all banks to looking at a map and then doing a little bit of Googling to see if it seemed like a good place to go. Now, I would caution you though, because looking at snapshots to get a sense of what the terrain and the place is like, well, that’s one thing, but I would advise against looking at too many high quality landscape photographs of an area that you’ve never been to because it is way too easy for those photos to get inside your mind and take over your thought process. And then when you actually get to that place in person, all you can think about are those compositions that you’ve seen online, that somebody else has already shot.
And this happened to me, I’ve talked about this more in my doozy basin video, and you can click a link up there to check that out. So there you have it, two reasons that scouting is vitally important to your photography. And two ways that I like to scout personally, to find those cool places to shoot. So what about you? Are you an active scouter or do you wish it was something you were better at? Let me know down in the comments. All right. That’s going to do it for this one. You guys saw catch you soon in another video until then have fun and happy shooting.