See what I did there? Amazing eh?
Anyway, on to the topic. Location scouting. In a few weeks I’ll be off to Scotland for 10 days to take a whole bunch of photos, hopefully, and maybe squeeze in some quality time too visiting the odd distillery, hiking the odd munro and eating a lot of fried breakfasts. Here comes the problem…I’ve never been to Scotland. Well, I have, but only to Glasgow and Edinburgh, which means I know nothing about photos locations there.
Now there’s a lot to be said for just showing up somewhere that you have a hunch might be good and seeing what you can make of the landscape. There’s also an equal amount to add regarding exploring without knowing where you really are, or what awaits round the next corner, and trusting light and luck to show up at the correct time. Unfortunately when you’re paying a lot of money to go on holiday, as well as the fact that you don’t get too many holidays, these approaches don’t really do it for me.
When you’re a professional, I imagine you have more opportunities to get out there and take photos. Visit and revisit locations, even in places far from home, in order to find the best locations at the right times and get the shots you want. For the amateur like myself there’s this necessity to come home with a whole bunch of shots to tide you over until next time you can get more than a weekend away to take photos.
There are many great tools for location finding; OS Maps, Flickr, 500px, Google Maps, the whole internet in general really. The problem is that they rely on someone having been there before, and generally those people have taken a photo or two at the same time. So you’re looking at other peoples’ photos, thinking “Wow, that place looks awesome”, but then someone has already been there and taken a great photo. This brings with it another issue, as now there is the pressure to take something different to what has been taken before.
Sometimes I have gone to a photo location, taken a shot, and then found out later that someone has taken near enough exactly the same shot as me but maybe a week earlier or later. Other times I have been to a location I have seen on the internet and been completely unable to find a composition that I haven’t seen somewhere on the internet already. So what do you do then? Take the same shot as everyone else and be unoriginal? Take no shots out of desperation to be original? A classic example of this is the old pier at Swanage. I think 90% of semi-decent landscape photographers in Dorset must have the same shot, me included. A long exposure of the old pier, with the wooden struts poking out of some milky water, usually converted to black and white. Does the fact that everyone has it make it a worse photo? I don’t know, but I do know that someone is going to have done it better than me. Another thing I know is that it’s unlikely to win any prizes or get published nowadays.
This originality problem seems to apply to landscape photographers more than anyone else, as the things we are taking photos of have generally been there for years, and will continue to be there. All that will change is the light, the clouds, the tide and the colour of the trees.
So anyway, as usual I have diverted from any kind of plan I had for this post at the beginning. All that remains is to wait and see what I come back with from Scotland. You can bet there will be shots that others have too. The Glencoe valley, Old Man of Storr, Quiraing and so on will all no doubt feature in my visits, and there will probably be other people there at the same time taking the same photos as me.
What I will do is set myself a challenge of coming back with two completely different shots from each of these famous locations that I am happy with, at least composition-wise. Unfortunately the weather is out of my hands!
The picture accompanying this is a good example of something unoriginal, Corfe Castle in Dorset. Unfortunately there’s only one or two compositions of this place that are truly stand-out photos, and everyone has them already. As you can see I prefer to come home with something unoriginal than nothing at all.