View Full Version : Landscape photographers -Do you scout first?

28-12-2011, 4:39pm

I am looking at taking sime landscape photography shots in the new year and was wondering whether you generally scout out your spots first before planning a sunrise shoot there?

Or the other option is get to spot early and find something to shoot on the morning?


28-12-2011, 5:10pm
Yes and No. Sometimes I scout, sometimes I use Google maps (satellite image or street view). I also work out where the sun will rise and set in relation to my location.

28-12-2011, 5:22pm
For a Sunrise shoot it's always a good (And Safer) idea to have knowledge of the area first , No Point in stumbling around in the dark near the edges of cliffs/Slippery rocks etc :eek: So a scout around the day before or some research prior is a good idea as Rick said , You can get to a spot and just as it gets light sus out a place for the best comp , Good idea to take a torch or better still those LED lights that fit on your head like a miners lamp is a good idea as well , But a little planing is a good idea , You will be rewarded with a great time of day , Very relaxing , Good luck :D

PS : Remember to get there an hour before Sunrise to catch the best colours , This usually happens around 30mins before the sun pops over the horizon , Make sure you stay and get the shots using the Golden hour as well

28-12-2011, 6:04pm
Thanks, I should probably also clarify it would be mostly seascapes as well as thats what i have most of to photograph.

28-12-2011, 6:12pm
Definitely agree with the above statements, I carry my camera just about everywhere as sometimes there's a moment of opportunity that can pass you by - especially while in my car I keep a tripod and camera. I have constantly slammed on the brakes and pulled over when seeing certain photographic opportunities.

28-12-2011, 6:19pm
Just to add a little more , Birdman I dont know how old you are , But as you get older it is a good idea to roughly set up your camera the night before , Thats what I do , Set your ISO to 100, f stop 7.1 or 6.3 , It's a good idea to use mirror lockup to stop camera shake on the long exposures as well , If you dont have a remote shutter release , Set the timer as well It's all less you have to do in the dark , Clean filters if you have them , Charge batteries , Long exposures use more power , If your going near the surf , Find out if it is a incoming or out going tide , Incoming can get tricky on a good size swell , Wear shorts , Dont take a wallet , Footwear that is suitable on rocks, I use thongs that have good grip , Dont forget to have a good time ;)

JM Tran
28-12-2011, 6:40pm
One thing I always do - that is extremely important - but has not been mentioned yet - is to let someone or family know where exactly you are going, its for your own safety.

When I am somewhere remote or dangerous I always let a friend, or family member, or hotel or hostel know where I am heading and what time roughly I should be back. In case I dont come back - and always bring a mobile phone or some sort of communication device too.

28-12-2011, 7:32pm
One thing I always do - that is extremely important - but has not been mentioned yet - is to let someone or family know where exactly you are going, its for your own safety.

good point, there is probably nothing more embarassing then being fished out by the rescue, that would then put photographers in the same league (much disliked) as rock fisherman for the rescue guys..

28-12-2011, 7:40pm
Check this great planning tool.


28-12-2011, 7:58pm
Thank you all for the information itis all great and some things you may not think of unless somone mentions it

01-01-2012, 12:00pm
I'm pretty sure this will not be classed as a similar site but check out http://freephotoguidesaustralia.blogspot.com

I am in NSW so there are quite a few good guides floating around which will reduce the need for scouting. It's always good to take a look at Google Maps before you go to see if there are other areas you can explore.

It may also pay to google search the location you are planning to go and see if there are already images taken at the spot which will give you a better idea what to look for and expect.
Remember that tides play a big role in seascapes as it can produce different images and also render some areas inaccesible.
This site will allow you to see the incoming/outgoing tides http://tides.willyweather.com.au/nsw/sydney/whale-beach.html

For easily accessible areas I tend to just go earlier (20 minutes before civil twilight) and pick a spot instead of going there in daytime (it's a 40 minute drive to the northern beaches for me)

01-01-2012, 12:51pm
Again, sometimes, sometimes not. I do use tpe and willyweather to research as well as the free photoguide.

01-01-2012, 3:35pm
I've done a lot of scouting around. Many times only taking a small amount of camera gear. This time of year is great for scouting. The days are long, so you get to see more.
I take a pen and note paper and write; where the location is, wet or dry tracks, ease of access and best time of year to be there. Sometimes we might do 500km's and not take a single shot.
Many of the good togs here will say that planning is the key to good photography. And I believe this to be true.

23-02-2012, 9:30pm
Check this great planning tool.


Yes, this is an extremely valuable tool. I took off early from work one afternoon, drove for two hours to a point on the escarpment to get the full moon rising over SE Qld, yep you guessed it... the moon rose not over the open view I had planned, but behind the trees along the road I used to get to the spot. Now I have this tool checked for all shots when the sun or moon may be a factor.


23-02-2012, 10:30pm
I'm half and half on this too. For the last few years I've gone on lengthy road trips where I travel from place to place along the coast and I usually end a day around 11pm in the deep darkness, and I find a place on the map that looks good - then I get up the next morning and hope for the best. I enjoy this a lot, but as you can imagine it doesn't always end well.

In Sydney I know the beaches like the back of my hand, but that said, not each rock. So I don't necessarily do too much research, but I have a good idea of where I hope to go, vague as it is.

I totally, 100% agree with William's preparation techniques - old or not. If you're like me and not even remotely a morning person, set your camera and filters the night before! Without doubt, most important thing for me. Because the amount of times I've had my camera on dodgy settings, gone out tired and groggy, and not noticed the wrong settings until halfway into taking the pics... well, it has happened many times in the past. Setting up ISO, aperture and filters the night before is a must, imo. Probably not a bad idea to just set timer on 'bulb' too if you do plan to get in really early, as it's the only setting you'll be able to use effectively for a while, till some decent light appears. :)

Anyway, long post. Apologies. My new favourite website in the world is weatherzone.com.au:

An "hour by hour" forecast, which is actually every 3 hours, which tells you approximate cloud cover and chance of rain. Since I've had access to this I have not wasted one single morning getting up for a clear sky, which ALWAYS happened to me in the past. My advice in the short time using the site is if the cloud cover is less than 50%, stay at home and catch on some sleep and wait for the next 50% plus day. ;)

06-03-2012, 10:02am
If time permits i would scout. I learnt my lesson when I was walking in the Blue mountains a few years back carrying a backpack with 3 lens, TC, filters, and tripod. It turned out I only used 2 lens at most.

throughout the walk I kept on saying to myself "why did i bring all this gear with me"?

Needless to say i was buggered after 5 hours of walking.

Dylan & Marianne
06-03-2012, 12:45pm
things you can do to optimise a shoot :
- scouting the location is ideal but sometimes not possible
- arrive well before you plan to start shooting (especially dawn)
- use tools like TPE , google maps, to virtually scout out terrain if you haven't been there before
- very important for seascaping is knowing what the tide is doing as well - some places around the metro coast I'll only go to during certain tide conditions for instance
- I always tell Marianne where I'm going the night before I head off
- if you arrive and the weather is just awful , still go out and take some recon shots and scout the area then and there - you'll get better conditions on a future visit!

ps. I used to think that post sunset and pre-dawn shots were always better and on the whole, they are, but do hang around after dawn too - the sun can do wonderful things with the low angle of light when you're looking away from the direct light

06-03-2012, 9:37pm
If you scout with your camera and tripod are you still scouting or shooting? I always take my camera with me when scouting as you can get good shots any time of day. Some spots are worth going back during sunrise/sunset.

06-03-2012, 10:40pm
If you scout with your camera and tripod are you still scouting or shooting? I always take my camera with me when scouting as you can get good shots any time of day. Some spots are worth going back during sunrise/sunset.

I always take camera and tripod scouting and actually shoot the places I want to photograph later normally under better conditions ie: lighting and cloud etc.

Dylan & Marianne
07-03-2012, 5:44am
James, scouting and shooting aren't mutually exclusive :)

08-03-2012, 5:07pm
I also support William's ideas on setting up the night before if you are going out at dawn. I even go a bit further and use a custom setting on the camera to ensure that the ISO, mirror lock up, f stop etc are all ready to go when I turn on the camera. I think quite a few DSLRs have a custon setup option now. I use a second custom setting for multiple exposure shots, which are often useful after dawn when the shadows are more prominent.

12-03-2012, 9:14pm
In addition to the Photographer's E[hemeris mentioned above (an amazingly cool program) you might also like SunSeeker if you have an iPhone. It's free for the 'lite' version or about $10 for the full version and not only gives you sunrise and sunset times and angles, but if you hold your camera up to the sky it will superimpose the arc of the sun onto what you see! This means you will know exactly where the sun is and when and can accurately predict where it's going to pop up over the horizon so you can place it perfectly in your composition just behind that tree, or in that valley, or at the end of that pier etc etc. The full version will also show you this information for all times of the year as well, so if you think it'd be really good to get a sunrise when the sun is 'a little further to the left' you can look ahead to when the sun will rise in that spot, set an alarm to remind yourself and head back another time...it's just great. We use it a lot at work shooting breakfast TV too; very useful to know when and where your light's going to be coming from. :th3:

13-03-2012, 4:46pm
Sorry I hadn't seen further posts until now, there are more great tips and useful information...thanks all

I am here: http://tapatalk.com/map.php?wwfviz

13-03-2012, 8:36pm
G'day Birdman

I have followed this thread for a while and noted some of the interesting responses

fwiw - I have had my eye on a certain part of my local coastline recently for a sunrise shot
Over the past 3 weeks I have got up an hour before sunrise on about 10-12 days and driven down the road to this location, then awaited the sunrise itself ... wanting the beaut rich colours etc etc on the clouds against my chosen background

Some mornings it has been raining - so back to bed & don't bother driving; other mornings it seemed okay while it was black as pitch, but with the dawn there was no clouds at all, so no sunrise in the clouds either

Still waiting for my sunrise ...
Regards, Phil

15-03-2012, 9:07pm
i like to spend a lot of time on google maps checking out coastal locations, then check tides and sunrise/sunset times.

not really sure if that scouting though.. lazy me!

16-03-2012, 12:11am
some great info here

18-03-2012, 3:46pm
ya, i second using google maps, surprising how much info u can get! i then usually scout the place out with a p&s if its not too far away

22-04-2012, 8:29am
I mostly use Google Maps to scout a site remotely, and read the Free Photo Guides (http://freephotoguideaustnsw.blogspot.com.au/) if it's a new (to me) location and a guide exists. I also look at other photos of the place on Flickr; often seeing those alone is what sparks my interest in a site.

When we were away after Christmas, I did some on-site recce at a few places. I returned to one the next morning. It's otherwise quite rare for me to visit a site during the day to scout it. It's more convenient for me to do my research online, and between Google Maps, other people's photos and the wonderful Free Photo Guides project, there's a lot of information available to you right from your computer.

Once you get experience with a few locations, you may find yourself returning to them again; some I have visited four or five times.

I use various weather sites to see what the conditions will be like, too. One of the most useful to me is SkippySky (http://www.skippysky.com.au/), which provides a visual representation of forecast cloud cover. Clouds are very important in seascape photography, as they make the sky interesting, produce the most visually dramatic results (colours and patterns), and also make exposure easier. If the sky is going to be cloudless (or contain very little cloud), I won't bother heading out.

In this thread a few people have mentioned issues relating to safety. It's probably a good idea to discuss that issue more, as seascaping can be quite dangerous at times.

A couple of years ago I published an article on Tips for Safe Seascape Photography (http://xenedis.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/tips-for-safe-seascape-photography/). Here's a re-publish of it:

Tips for Safe Seascape Photography

In light of the recent rock fishing-related deaths and my own potentially dangerous encounter with the ocean at Kiama (http://xenedis.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/kiama-dawn-of-death/) not long ago, I felt the desire to compile and post some tips for safe seascape photography.

Now, admittedly I do not practice all that I am about to preach, but my experience has prompted some thinking, I am much more conscious of the safety issues, and I will be putting some of these measures into practice. Knowing that I could get injured or killed and never be found again is a frightening thought, and it's not just myself to consider.

So, here is my list of tips, in no particular order.

1. Tell someone where you're going.

It's a good idea to tell someone where you're going, especially if you're going at dawn, dusk or late at night when such places are more isolated, or if they're isolated locations in general.

Many Sydney seascape locations such as Turimetta Head (http://www.xenedis.net/viewalbum.php?a=72157605610813934) (Warriewood), "Canyon X (http://www.xenedis.net/viewalbum.php?a=72157622179859914)" (further north of Turimetta Head), "Devil's Cauldron (http://www.xenedis.net/viewalbum.php?a=72157617239530845)" (south of Whale Beach) and Cape Banks (http://www.xenedis.net/viewalbum.php?a=72157610753256923) are quite remote, can take a while to reach, and can be dangerous to reach (Canyon X in particular).

If you do get into trouble, it could be difficult if not impossible to find you, so tell someone where you will be and when. Arrange to call someone you know at a pre-determined time to check in and advise that you are safe and well, and make sure you do make the call.

On that note...

2. Make sure your mobile phone has sufficient charge.

Ensure your phone has sufficient charge so you can make your pre-arranged call, or in case you otherwise need to make a call. Of course, if you're in a location with no mobile coverage (generally not an issue along Sydney's coastline), that's a risk which requires mitigation.

3. Never under-estimate the power of the ocean.

The ocean is very powerful, and its appearance can be deceptive. Don't assume that an area is safe because it looks safe. Study the ocean for a while; observe its patterns. It has a rhythm to it, and every so often, larger waves will come in. I've been told that every 40 minutes or so, a larger-than-usual wave (I'm hesitant to call it a rogue wave) comes in.

Look for signs of recent water contact from splashes and waves as opposed to a previously high, outgoing tide.

Be aware of the tide. Know its direction and when it will be high, as it could leave you stranded. I use the Manly Hydraulics Laboratory (http://www.mhl.nsw.gov.au/www/sydp_tide.htmlx) to check the tide, and I also have the Pocket Weather AU app on my iPhone, which sources data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (http://www.bom.gov.au/), and in the paid version, provides tidal information.

Never turn your back on the ocean; a "rogue wave" can come out of nowhere and pound you. It happens very quickly. Keep an eye on the ocean and be prepared to retreat.

Having experienced the fury of the ocean on more than one occasion, I can relate personally how powerful it is. The velocity of secondary water contact (ie, splashes after a wave hits a rock) can knock a person off balance. The volume of water can be huge, and will thoroughly drench a person and everything nearby.

The danger also lies in the fact that the water must recede back into the ocean. The "rock current" can be quite strong, and its speed, combined with slippery rocks and unstable rock shelves, can sweep a person into the ocean. There could be jagged rocks on the shoreline, or submerged dangers. A strong swell can pound a person into those rocks and cause severe injury or death.

Don't put yourself in harm's way; a fall or a powerful wave can mean the end of you.

4. Watch your step.

Seascape photography often involves navigating rocky shorelines, often in darkness or near-darkness if you're a dawn or dusk shooter. Dangers include uneven terrain, slippery surfaces from moss and moisture (some moss is black and hard to see), crevasses, rock pools and other pot-holes. It is not difficult to mis-step and scratch a leg, or worse, sprain or break it.

5. Be visible, and be able to see in the dark.

Wear high-visibility clothing in case you do run into trouble. Wear a battery-powered headlamp for navigation in the dark. This is far superior to a hand-held torch, as it keeps your hands free (which you need for balancing or carrying other gear) and also points where your eyes point. These are essential for navigation in the dark, and can also assist with autofocus.

6. Protect your gear.

As I've experienced, electronic equipment tends not to like being wet. Invest in a weather-resistant camera bag, and also carry plastic bags which can cover your camera in case it rains or in case a splash makes contact. Use zip-lock bags for smaller items you wish to protect from water (eg, mobile phones, GPS units, wallets, keys, remote shutter releases, memory cards, etc.). Bring towels, a chamois and other drying equipment in case it's necessary to dry yourself or your equipment. If you're not using some item in your gear, keep it in your bag; this will prevent it from being lost or damaged if water comes into contact with it.

Insure your gear, and make sure your insurance policy covers accidental damage, and also covers your equipment while it's out of your home. Having it insured only while it's in the home is useless for a device that was intended to be portable.

7. Go with someone.

Seascape photography can often be a solitary hobby, but being alone in remote, dangerous locations in the dark can add to the general danger level. It is better to go with at least one other person. If either of you runs into trouble, the other can lend assistance.

Having a mate with you can also be handy if you encounter other dangers, such as aggressive, drunken fools out in the streets (or partying in an isolated location) after a Saturday night on the turps. You're less of a target to would-be attackers if you're not alone.

8. Dress for the occasion.

It is essential to wear shoes which both provide grip, and can get wet. Hard-core rock fisherman have metal cleats on their shoes which provide good grip. I personally have a black pair of Dunlop Volleys which have good rubber grip, are inexpensive, light and can get wet. I throw them into the washer and dryer with no problems.

Now, I have slid on rock shelves whilst wearing these; they're possibly not the most effective shoes for rock-hopping, but they do a fairly decent job.

Wear shorts, not jeans or other heavy long pants. I wear shorts even in the winter. There are two benefits. Firstly, you can be knee-deep in water without having drenched clothing. Secondly, if you do get swept into the sea, it's less weight to restrict your mobility or weigh you down. The down-side is that your legs are exposed to the cold, and to sharp rock edges which could scratch or gouge you. A light weather-proof jacket is a good idea, too.

Seascape photography can be dangerous business. Hopefully the above advice will prevent you being injured or killed.

You may like to view Brent Pearson's video on extreme seascape photography at Devil's Cauldron (http://brentbat.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/extreme-photography-dont-try-this-at-home/) to see how dangerous the ocean can be, and how suddenly it can lash out.

22-04-2012, 8:34am
Just to add a little more , Birdman I dont know how old you are , But as you get older it is a good idea to roughly set up your camera the night before

My standard practice is to always keep my camera at an optimal setting.

In my case, exposure mode is manual, ISO is 100, aperture is f/2.8 and shutter speed is 1/200th or so.

Now, I'm naturally not going to shoot at these settings during dawn light, but if I need my camera at some other time, it's not set to some whacky long exposure or higher ISO.

I always restore my camera to this kind of configuration as part of my post-shoot cleanup. My gear gets cleaned and re-packed in my bag, ready for the next shoot.

I generslly don't need to touch my gear before heading out for a shoot; the only variations to that would be battery charging the night before and reformatting the flash card, which I usually do after I've transferred my images and backed them up to several disks. It's a good idea to start each shoot with a freshly-formatted card.

22-04-2012, 10:45am
Some great, useful info there Xenedis, I have seen that video of Brent and it is a reminder to be careful.

22-04-2012, 11:35am
Yes, the ocean sometimes does remind of us how small we are.

I've had a few close calls myself, and lost thousands of dollars worth of gear in a split-second.

The ocean can be deceptively 'calm'. It does have patterns, and every so often a bigger set of waves will roll in, and these can be the most destructive.

The danger is more the surge than the wave itself (unless you take a direct hit). When you're on rock shelves, a 60km/h surge can easily knock you over, especially on rocks where traction is lacking.

A pair of spiked reef boots is a very wise investment. I've been meaning to get a pair of these for a while now.

16-05-2012, 7:04pm
Scouting is half the fun i reckon. It makes me excited to get back there with my gear and see if what id scouted actually was worth it once the photo's aare taken.

17-05-2012, 6:45am
I am more worried about access and making myself familiar with the surroundings so in the dark may not struggle so much. I even check direction of the sunrise or sunset using an app on my iPhone.

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