In our digital age, there are many ways to scout a location. A search on the area, provides you with maps, satellite photos and user’s experiences all from the comfort of your digital device. There are apps for your smart phone for you to log your trail experiences including photos and videos. So with this wealth of information how could you possibly go wrong?
The first problem can come from the one area we have no control over and is quite unpredictable – the weather. Although weather forecasts are now more reliable than ever before, it’s still just a prediction. Weather is complicated and dynamic so I like to take matters into my own hands. I use multiple sources of weather data to help me when planning a shot. I use AccuWeather, not because they are accurate (they’re not) but they include a 15 day forecast that can help me with the trend in the weather pattern. I use WeatherChannel and WeatherUnderground for current forecasts. All of these are on my phone so I get up-to-date information. I typically want some kind of weather activity to make the sky more interesting. So forecasts can actually help with composition. Last but not least is the safety factor with weather. Are thunderstorms predicted and you are planning on going to the top of the mountain or hiking in a stream bed. Preparation in this area can save you from being killed or injured or at least prepare you to take a rain cover for your camera bag.
Another area I investigate is the difficulty factor of the trails I will be on. It’s important to know your limitations especially when carrying a bag packed with camera gear on difficult hiking terrain. Hiking at altitude and carrying a loaded pack can take it out of you, even if you’re in great shape. Then comes the moment of truth when you find that perfect scene and you raise your camera only to realize that’s you’re shaking from exertion. You must take your time in these situations. Standing on the side of a cliff with a thousand foot drop is not the time to be in a hurry.
So what makes one location better than another? Is it colors, texture or subject matter? Is it the quality of light? I think those factors come into play but ultimately it must be the photographer’s interpretation of those elements and how to turn them into a compelling image. Is there an emotional component that resonates with you when you visualize the shoot? To me that’s what makes a location a prime candidate to be photographed. So how do you know you’ve found that place? Possibly you need to put the camera away, sit quietly, observe and breathe. Those moments in the silence may bring you the answer you seek.