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Tips for travel photography

I get to travel to some unusual place through work (and pleasure) and have built up a routine to help me get the most from my limited time in any one place. Since this often means going to places that are not well known, how do you scope a site before you travel? I thought I’d share my format with you. If you find this useful, please leave a comment.

1. Open Google Maps and find the place you are going to. At the top right you should be able to hover over the Map or Satellite icon and choose “Photos”. Work out the area that you can travel to in the time you will have. Then spend some time zooming in and examining the photos. Find a few locations that you like. This does not have to be photos that you like and want to copy, in many cases I don’t like the picture aesthetically, but think the location has promise.

2. Open Flickr in another window and search for the location. Take time to look at the images and see if you can locate where they were taken for any interesting images. You can also search for specific locations or monuments, or buildings and do the same thing.

3. List a few locations that you would like to travel to. Ideally do this in two categories – must see – and if time permits. Make sure you have more locations than you have time to visit them.

4. For each location, find it on Google Maps. I then use and Android phone app called “Sundroid”. (If anyone find a free/cheap PC version, or iPhone version let me know.) I use this to find the location on the map. I then set the date and look at the “Sun, moon & planet tracker”. Set this for sun, or moon if you’d like to do night shots. This app then shows you where the sun will be during the day, in comparison with your location. You can then work out where sunrise/sunset is, and what direction you should be in to make the most of the golden hour. I then go back to Google Maps and try to find a suitable location to put my tripod in (using the satellite image). Write enough details about this against the item on your list so you can find it when you visit.

5. When I arrive at a destination I then use my mobile to look at the weather forecast. Broken cloud or intermittent rain may give you the best pictures. Make sure you arrive at a destination with plenty of time to scout the site. Don’t be tied to your list, keep looking for unusual images, and be prepared to miss one out if the situation demands it. As an example, despite my best efforts to get a full shot of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last year, I had to give up even though I had a whole week. The week started with the Berlin marathon and ended with an open air concert. There was not a single sunrise or sunset without scaffolding and bright red portable fencing!

6. Be prepared. As an example, when I visited Leipzig last year I knew in advance that the Völkerschlachtdenkmal commemoration monument would probably have a lot of on-going building on site. I was prepared for this and decided in advance to scope the site to see if the offensive aspects could be removed later in Photoshop. Since I thought this would work, I stayed for sunset and ended up with this image. Here is one of the original images

7. Please leave questions, comments and your own advice below.


  • Charmiene Maxwell-batten
    Charmiene Maxw...over 2 years ago

    thankyou for sharing!

  • jules572
    jules572over 2 years ago

    Thank you Graham, this will come in handy as I’m in the planning stage for our next holiday – to where at this time I’m not sure (Spain or Berlin)…Jules

  • Revenant
    Revenantover 2 years ago

    Thanks for the tips. I use two applications more often than not in my photography:

    1. The Photographer’s Ephimeris – thanks to Paul Kavsak for telling me about it

    Windows/Mac versions are free downloads. They’re also available (at a cost) in the App store and presumably in its Android counterpart.

    I can’t help thinking that contacting a fellow photographer in the area via a photography community site would be a win-win move. The “local” gets a new insight on home turf and the visitor learns local tips. I have written more than one post about photography in Provence, France, where I live and am happy to share what little knowledge I have with anyone interested.

  • Thanks for those software links. I’ll check them out and edit the post in due course.

    – GrahamCSmith

  • TheWalkerTouch
    TheWalkerTouchover 2 years ago

    I was going to mention The Photographer’s Ephimeris too. It is a piece of software that plots the position fo the sun for any location and any time of day and year so you can plan where the light will be best for the location you are going to. Used in conjunction with google maps, it can really help plan what the light will be like (weather permitting, of course). I haven’t actually used it myself yet, but I know of it and it will be really useful in the kind of trip you want to make.

    Don’t forget Google Streetview too. That can be really helpful especially if you are driving, for finding where parking etc is, and what the local area is like,

    Here in the UK we also have, whose map section offers a ’Bird’s eye’ view of places, which is an aerial view which can be viewed from four different directions. It is great for checking out landscape features, such as viaducts, bridges, etc, but alas only covers the more built up areas so far.

    Last but not least, don’t forget to search for the location on Redbubble. Most places I want to visit are already on here with some stunning shots, so it gives me ideas for what is possible.

  • some great ideas here. Thanks.

    – GrahamCSmith