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How I Find Places to Photograph

As a landscape photographer, it is my job and my pleasure to go seeking out places where nature is at its best and to document those views for all to enjoy.  However, one of the biggest hurdles can be deciding on where to go take pictures.  Today I peel back the curtains and let you know a bit about how I find places to go photograph for my portfolio.


One thing that I've come to learn over the years is that just because something looks pretty does not automatically mean it will translate into a great photograph.  Sometime it will and sometimes it won't.  The result also depends highly on the skill and creativity of the individual photographer behind the camera.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality nature photograph of a sun-bleached stump in weeds in Craters of the Moon National Monument
While most people with a camera can make a pretty place look pretty on film, it takes a truly gifted photographer to make an ugly place look amazing.
I have a great view outside my bedroom window.  It has mountains off in the background and, at the right time of year, colorful leaves in the mid ground.  At other times of the year, there's beautiful green grass and green trees to look at as well.  I've tried taking an artistic photo of this view several times.  Every time, I end up being disappointed with the result.  There's a reason for this as you might see in the photo below.

Photograph of the backyard view we have out our window during winter: picturesque but not photogenic
At the time this backyard scene was taken, the snow falling was hiding the mountains.
While the view outside my window could easily be described as 'nice,' it doesn't often have all the elements of a good photo at the same time.  The foreground, midground, and background don't all align to make a good artistic photo.

Graphic showing the important layers of emphasis in creating a good landscape photograph: foreground, midground, and background
This illustration shows why the top photo is always less than satisfactory to me.  There's little midground interest in the photo.  Many times, there's also no foreground interest to be found either.
So, why did I start talking about the view outside my bedroom when I'm supposed to be talking about how I find places to photograph as a landscape photographer?  Well, it illustrates one of the big points which I must look for in any location I try to take pictures of.  All parts of the photo must contain some form of interest and must all work together in order to create a successful landscape photograph.  I take a lot of care out in the field to make sure that I have something of interest in all parts of the photograph before I set up and take a shot.

Cramer Imaging's landscape photograph of windmills or wind turbines in a field at sunset in Ririe, Idaho

Much of the time, I have to determine what the foreground will be onsite.  I just can't use any internet tools to plan that part out.  For other parts of a photograph, such as the background, I have a few more tools at my disposal.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality landscape photograph of red rock formations and dramatic sky in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

When I want to take a photo or have an assignment to take a photo, one of the first places I check is Google Earth.  This tool is especially good for finding access points and roads into a location.  Their photos feature through the now depreciated Panoramio was quite valuable for getting a good idea of what an area specifically looked like.  I also use the published photos I find in places online for a good idea of what a potential photoshoot location will look like.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality natural scenic landscape photograph of wagon wheels, axle, and sagebrush on the Snake River at Massacre Rocks, Idaho
Photos like this one I submitted to Panoramio, and Google Earth, would help me find where to go get a shot.
Thanks to Google Earth, I can get a good idea of what the terrain looks like from above.  In situations like the commissioned shot of Ririe Reservoir (below), I couldn't get a good view of the man-made lake except from the satellite view.  While it painted a very incomplete picture, I had a decent idea of where I needed to go for the best possible angle I could get.  Once onsite, I found the spot where I needed to stand to get the shot you enjoy now.

Cramer Imaging's quality landscape photograph of Ririe Reservoir with cloudy skies and choppy lake water in Idaho

Many times, however, I find that my best photos come from going someplace and coming back with another shot entirely from the one which I planned to get.  Opportunity works strangely for me that way.  I just end up finding something which works on the road or off to the side of my intended subject matter.  Such was the case for the photo below.  I was going for a shot of Seagull Bay on the American Falls Reservoir but ended up coming back with this shot instead because I saw this scene at the right time.

Cramer Imaging's fine art landscape photograph of wind turbines on hill in golden light of sunset just after winter snow storm

I do internet and other forms of research to find just the right places to take my photo.  For example, while national parks are some of the most beautiful places on earth, there are better scenic vistas in some places.  I can get that kind of information from lots of different sources including park rangers.  They know where to send people for the best views.  It's part of their job to know these things.  I do most of this kind of research online but I do find that books, brochures, and other people are good sources of this kind of information too.

Cramer Imaging's professional quality landscape photograph of a tree against the red cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park Utah
I got this shot from Capitol Reef National Park by talking to the park rangers about where some of the best scenic vistas are in the park.
Then, there's one final way I find places to photograph.  I take inspiration from other photographers and apply it to a location where I'm at.  I've gotten several of my best landscape photos for sale from ideas I've seen other places.  While I don't actually travel to the sites those photographers took photos of, at least most of the time, I still draw inspiration from them and plan my own shots accordingly.

Cramer Imaging's quality landscape photograph of the American Falls Reservoir boat dock at sunrise in Idaho
A shot up a dock, like this is quite common, but no one would have thought to try it at American Falls Reservoir.
I take a great deal of time to find places to shoot landscape photos of.  There's a great deal of research before a trip and while onsite which I go through to get just the right shot.  I don't like making multiple trips over long distances to not get a shot.  It's a waste of my time and resources.  So I take time to get the right place(s) planned before I go.

I hope that you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look into how I select the places I go take landscape photos of.

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