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Digital location scouting is one of my favorite parts of planning for landscape photography. The apps and tools I’m sharing below have helped me prepare better, and in turn, create better images. While there are countless resources out there, these are the ones I like best and use just about every outing.
When I’m digitally location scouting, one of the first apps I turn to is Outdooractive. Outdooractive, which can be used as a mobile app, or on a desktop, allows you to find trails for numerous outdoor activities (like hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.). In addition to searching pre-mapped routes, you can also easily plan your own tours, view topographical maps, see trail closures, access avalanche reports, and more.
I use Outdooractive to plan the majority of my hikes. As I plan what trail to take, I’m paying close attention to interesting features shown on the map, such as small, lesser-known bodies of water and alpine lakes.
Google Earth Pro
After picking a trail to explore, I’ll hop over to Google Earth Pro and continue my digital location scouting. I use the desktop version since the mobile version doesn’t include all the features. What I love about Google Earth Pro is how easy it is to digitally scout terrain by using the ground-level view and Pegman to ‘’walk’’ around an area. The ground-level feature helps me get a much better feel for how flat or rocky a spot is, tall objects that could be blocking the sun, etc. One interesting fact about the ground-level feature is that the display is shown at a focal length of about 31mm. This tip can help you decide how wide of a lens you may need to capture a scene. An additional amazing feature on Google Earth Pro is the ability to view the sun alpenglow, and the position of the Milky Way from any location, at any time of day. You can find a short, helpful tutorial on how to use this feature here.
When I’m not at my computer, Photopills is my go-to digital location-scouting app. While the app offers quite a few features, including depth of field and time-lapse calculators, meteor shower information, etc. I don’t find myself reaching for these options. Instead, I primarily use Photopills for a quick way to grab sun and moon information such as golden hour, blue hour, nighttime, moon phases, moon rising and set times, and Milky Way visibility times. The Augmented Reality feature for finding where the Milky Way is located is especially useful when I’m out during the day, but plan to come back and photograph an area at night. Photopills is one of the few paid apps I own, and the small, one-time fee (around $11) is definitely worth it!
While Instagram can be used in digital location scouting as a way to get inspiration for how others have captured a spot, or maybe even looking for tips on the ‘’best places’’ to go, that’s not how I use the app. I primarily use Instagram to get a better feel for recent conditions on a trail or location. Using the search function, I can see geotagged and hashtagged locations, then view the most recent photos. In winter, this allows me to see how much snow is at a spot, or if patches of grass are still showing. In spring, I can see if the wildflowers are beginning to pop. During the fall, I can get a better idea of whether the trees are changing color, or all the leaves have fallen off.
Living in the alps, I feel particularly spoiled that there are webcams all over the mountains, which makes digital location scouting easier. These webcams sometimes display nearly 360-degree views, day and night photos (updated every 10 minutes), and more. Like Instagram, I use webcams to get a better idea of current conditions. Some webcams even include archives over the years. I use this feature to figure out when snow usually arrives, when does a location typically melt out, and how busy a certain mountain is during the summer high season.
Some of my favorite webcam sites for digital location scouting include:
Windy.com for Weather Forecasts
The last app I use for digital location scouting is Windy.com. Weather plays a large role in landscape photography, and Windy.com makes it easy to look at the forecast, and compare multiple forecasting models against each other. Some models perform better than others in certain environments (such as mountainous regions), so it’s especially useful to see where there’s forecasting overlap (or a lack of it). The one area Windy.com has let me down on consistently is cloud cover predictions. I’ve had much better luck with AccuWeather for that, so I also take their forecasts into account.
Want More Alps Landscape Photography Inspiration and tips?
If you want more outdoor photography tips and tricks, follow along on Instagram @madudesinthemountains.