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Travel Photography

Lesson 18 of 32


John Greengo

Travel Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

18. Scouting

Lesson Info


All right, this next section is on scouting, looking for good potential photographic situations. And then we're gonna talk specifically about how to shoot certain types of locations and some problem-solving. I talked at the beginning of the class about having creative solutions to figuring out how to get a good shot in a particular place. And this is where I'm gonna be showing you some examples where I show you kind of an idea and then how I had to work through it until I got an image that I was happy with. So let's talk about scouting. Thinking about where are we going, what are we looking for. And this kind of goes back a little bit to the planning stages. So a lot of times we might wanna ask advice about, you could go to the concierge at your hotel and say, hey, I'm interested in photography, what's really interesting to go and see? And I've asked a lot of people for advice and I've heard a lot of unsolicited advice as well and what I have determined from this is nobody can predict ...

what you are gonna like. Everybody is so unique. I have been to places where there's this alley that's just kind of dark and dingy, but there's something down that alley that photographically just fascinates me and I get a great photograph from it. I've been to things that are supposably fantastic, I don't know, wrong time of day, too many people, just didn't strike me as right. And so the beauty is that you should be open to everything, you should have a just open mind, anything can be a possibility. But there are certain things that I do look for as clues. Like oh, it's got that, that can be good if it has other things, and so I'm always looking for these clues. And so you're like a detective, you're picking up, oh, got something there. You know what that's leading to. And so once you get these clues you know that they can make for good photographs. And so I'm gonna talk about viewpoints, but that's a good place to start, because you can see a lot of stuff. Obviously attractions, that's gotta be attractive, people are bringing there. Markets are a great place. Buildings are interesting. Town squares where there's a lot of action going on. And so this is what I was kind of looking for when I was going through Europe last year, several different countries and cities. And then I thought, what if I was new to Seattle? For those of you who don't know, I have lived my entire life in Seattle and I know it forwards and backwards, I've been on pretty much every street around here. I know all the secret places to shoot photos. But what if I was brand new to Seattle? How would I think about Seattle. Well, let me show you a picture of Seattle, aerial view. And if I wanted a picture of downtown Seattle there is a core of buildings downtown. Now where would I think there might be a good place to shoot? Well, I would say this would be my number one spot to shoot, 'cause you've got this large open expanse of water, shooting straight across, the buildings are coming right down to the water. So that I think will be pretty good. There's another strip of water, it's kind of narrow and that might be an interesting place to shoot. There could be a bunch of buildings in the way, that's not a guaranteed spot in my mind. Now shooting across water from the other side might be a possibility, depending on the terrain and so forth. And so I might wanna drive my rental car over there to see if I can get a good viewpoint. Now the other factor that we're not looking at right here is the hilly terrain of this particular location. And if we bring in a little bit of that hills, so that you can see what's going on here three and four in this particular scenario are a completely nonstarter. They are terrible places to photograph downtown Seattle, because the hills are too large. But those hills will bring us in other opportunities. Now number one is a great place to shoot photos, which is West Seattle, Gas Work Park is another one of my favorite places in Seattle, but now we have a new hill just to the south over here, which is another good viewpoint of Seattle, and then we have another one on Queen Anne Hill, which is very close to Seattle, which is one of the most popular spots of Seattle. So sometimes these places are intuitive, you can look on a map and look at a big bunch of open water. In other cases you're not gonna find it. If you do the research on a city you will eventually see any place that's a good place to get to has probably been found out. But I do know that there are a few different secret locations that a lot of people don't know about and so yeah, you can knock off the big spots at first and then kind of look for your own versions of them. Now I did mention earlier that a view place is a good place to go. I know when I was in Europe a lot of times I would just figure out where's the high spot I can go to? And it's not so much that I wanted to shoot photos there as I wanted to scout the landscape with my own eyes. Not Google View, not maps, anything else, I wanna see it with my own eyes. Because there is a deception that you are gonna get great photos at viewpoints. In Death Valley there's this high up viewpoint and everything is really far away from you. And this is what happens on viewpoints is you often get a little bit of atmospheric haze and everything is really far away. New York City, One World Trade Center. It's a fantastic trick, go up to the top, wonderful view. It's a little challenging to shoot photos out of there. You gotta shoot through glass and you lose a little bit of sharpness there, but everything kind of goes far away. It's fine for some snapshots, but it's really hard to get great shots in that situation. A high viewpoint in Sicily. There's just not much going on here. Everything is just so far away from the camera. It's a great place for scouting, it sometimes can turn into photographs, but don't go to viewpoints expecting that's where your best photo is gonna be. What am I looking for? What are the clues that photographic detective John Greengo is looking for as I'm scouting the areas? All right, parks are nice. They're free and available to go to, lots of places to roam around, lots of places to shoot from, things to frame in. I like going to the high points and hills, as we just talked about. Anything old is cool in my book. Texture is nice, patina is nice. Bold colors, obviously gonna work good. There's sometimes buildings that have really colorful sides to them. A lot of action at markets, that's always a good place in and around that. Bridges are awesome, because you can shoot from above, below, there's framing elements, all sorts of things are going on with bridges. Walkways can be leading lines in going places. Anybody's noticed a lot of my photos I have a lot of stair photos. It just, visually it's a pattern, we love patterns, but they're going a place, there's some symbolism in there. Any nice, large, open area, like a town square, I like going in those places, because then you can start shooting with longer lenses and have different types of composition in there. And water is awesome, just because it gives you that nice, open spot, it gives you reflections and there's just so many things that you can do with it. And so these are things that, hm, check, check, check, check, check. Something gets three or four checks in there that's gonna be a area, that as I said before, a target rich environment. All right, so we had some good things. Here are my ominous elements. These are things that are like, eh boy, I don't know about this. Now I will have to say in every one of these cases there are exceptions to the rules. I have seen beautiful photos of freeways, of course they can be great. They're big, monstrous, they get in the way and don't have a lot of access there. Parking lots tend not to be very interesting. Of course, the ever present closed sign. Modern malls, just not that interesting. Maybe that's just me. Crowds, yeah, they can work for some shots, but a lot of times I try to avoid them. The places that don't allow tripods. The dimly lit rooms. Sometimes I don't even try to shoot, 'cause I just know there's nothing good that you can come from it. Now I mentioned walkways were good, but I don't like boardwalks. I like certain aspects of boardwalks, but I hate boardwalks in the sense that you are allowed to go here, you cannot go here, this is a no-no, you have to stay here. And so as you're trying to get your composition you're forced into this little tiny narrow spot. I like, I was so, I loved Iceland when I went there, 'cause they had no fences. You could go anywhere. You might walk into a thermal pool, that's fine, just Darwin's theory, just take care of yourself and shoot wherever you want. Obviously the no photography signs. And fences, oh, I hate fences, especially barbed wire ones. But they're there for a reason I guess. And so those are things that always kind of bothered me about situations. All right, so you're kind of making plans for your day, getting ready to go out. What do you wanna do? I'm gonna look at a map, where's my hotel? Where am I staying? How far can I get? And what I often like to do is kind of just do, let's just do a light scout trip. Let's not take all the gear, let's just go light, and see what this place has to offer. I'm gonna take a camera and one lens or a very small pack a system, and let's just walk around and see what we have. And what I will do sometimes is I will take scout photos. I know this isn't right here, but boy, tomorrow morning I think this is the composition that I wanna have. One of the things that I did when I was in, time yourself from B to A. So what I mean by that is I was in, let's see, where was I? Prague. And I found, I went down to the Charles Bridge and I looked up and I found that this was a cool hilltop to go to, so I walked up to the hilltop and I said, this is a place I wanna be tomorrow morning and I wanna be here at sunrise, before sunrise, but I don't wanna be dumb and wake up too early in the morning and spend a bunch of time waiting around here. I wanna get up here and be ready to shoot without being too early. And so I says, okay, I'm done for the day. I'm gonna walk straight back to the hotel, see how long it takes me, and then I'm gonna schedule that on the way back, so I know exactly how long it takes me to get back there in the morning, so I know exactly what time to wake up, get there. And so I can get the next morning and I have a little bit better light that I prefer in that particular case. And so I'm not wasting time. Talking the beginning of the day, that is being efficient with your time. The shot list can be important. Think about which types of shots you wanna get at what time of day, at what type of location. And then always scheduling free time for roaming. Unscheduled photography section. Your partner will ask you, what's this unscheduled photography section? That's the most important part of the day. So if you were to have a list of things, think about what am I gonna do when it's sunny? What if it's cloudy? Does that change where I want to be? Maybe I wanna go to the park where there's a lot of trees and normally in the sunny day it's too contrasty, but on a cloudy day that's the good time to be there. What's best in the morning? What's the hills of the city? Do I wanna shot from this side or that side whether it's morning or evening? Think about being at night or even what am I gonna do if it rains? Am I gonna go out and shoot out in the rain? 'Cause rain is, I haven't really found a magical way to shoot in the rain. But the few tips that I do have when it does come to shooting in the rain, things that you can do. So if it's raining one of the options is go find a bookstore and just look at the photo section. Just see what sort of books are in that country or in that location. Spur your ideas for when the weather gets a little bit better. A just rest. Remember we talked about health and safety. Just it's a good time to just rest up and recharge the batteries. Watch a movie, that's fine. You could take one of those traditional tours that some of you would never, ever normally take. Like the ducks tour. It's way too campy, I can't shoot good photos from it. Hey, you know what, I'm under cover, I'm gonna learn about this location, I'll have some fun in a different way. That's perfectly fine. You could work on your computer and cull your images, figure out what your best images are and get some of that done, so you don't have to deal with it later. And something else I don't normally do is I don't normally spend a lot of time in museums and galleries, but it's not that I don't go to them, I just pick and choose when the best time to go to them, when the photography is not so great. If you're on a road trip maybe that's a good time just to drive onto your new location. Planning and scouting for when it does get better. There's a lot of travel chores, we all know, those catching up on emails and everything else and everything's there. And of course, you can go out and just shoot in the rain. That's fully possible and there's a lot of great shots that you can get out going shooting in the rain. I know I learned a lesson from some of our clients that we had in Cuba. We had scheduled the night before, we're gonna meet at seven o'clock, we're gonna walk downtown, we're in a little tiny town, and we're gonna go shoot photos at seven o'clock in the morning. 6:30 in the morning, just raining, and I'm like, well, we're not gonna go shoot today, but seeing how I'm a tour leader I guess I'd better get up and go meet anybody who happened to come out to tell them that we're not going. And wow, the people that we were with, they were go-getters. They're like no, let's go, we wanna go, I don't care if it's raining. And I'm like, okay, let me go back and get my coat. Because I did not expect anyone to wanna go out and shoot. And it actually worked out quite fine. One of my favorite photos from that day. And this was due to the fact that both sides of the street had covered places that you could shoot. You didn't really need to be in the rain to shoot things that are going on. And there's all sorts of great colors that start reflecting in the water. And so if it's raining there could be some great shots out there and when it stops raining, when the road is still wet and everything's still wet, things are kind of cleared out, it's still a great time to go out and shoot. And so if you do wanna shoot in the rain it's nice to have a camera that is more weather resistant, and none of them are perfect, but some of them are better than others. There are rain covers that you can get. I normally don't carry them, 'cause I don't shoot that much in the rain, but it's possible. You can just be in a covered area and there's lots of places that are big, open covered areas where you can be shooting out into the rain. And then you, of course, if you can find an inside location to shoot. So there's lots of things that you can do if it happens to be raining. Normally I don't like traditional tours. They're too constraining, you don't have control of your time, your point of view, and how much you're shooting, but they can be very helpful for learning about a location, taking the traditional tour. And so obviously grabbing a window seat helps out, prepping cameras when they are giving you the history of things, okay, I'm gonna get my camera ready, so that when I get into this particular location, whatever it happens to be, I'm ready to go right away. I typically like to be either the first in or the last out and I usually go with the last out and so that I can hang there for just a moment and get those final pictures while there isn't anybody else cluttering up the area. And so if you're on a walking tour I like to be either at the front of the tour or the back. If I'm at the front and I find something really good then I can stop and shoot at it as every walks past me and then I'm on the back of the tour. And then I walk real quick and I get back up to the front of the tour. And so I'm just picking off those few things that are the best. But sometimes the back of the tour is also good, because you can shoot things behind you with none of your group in it. I used this when I was in Washington DC. I wanted to get a picture of the Library of Congress and there was just a lot of people in the group and it was chaos. I just kind of carefully waited. I was the last one out. I wasn't a big problem, I just got my few shots, nice and clean shots, and then go out of there. My favorite single piece of travel photo advice that was given to me by a non-photographer was this, I was going to Iceland and I think this friend of mine knew that I was gonna be taking lots of landscape shots, 'cause Iceland has a lot of beautiful landscapes, but he said, John, people are gonna wanna see you doing this bike tour in Iceland. You gotta get some pictures of you biking. And so on that trip and subsequent trips I basically had a self timer of the day. So every day I would bother my buddy once in order to set up this self timer shot, so that we can get ourselves, so that we could show our story going in the pictures. And whether you know that person or not it's nice to have a person for scale. Way back to the composition idea, having scale in there. And so even though I don't know these people I think it's helpful having people in the shots to help show what this location is like in some regard. And so it's okay to photograph strangers on public streets like that. Something happens after you've been in an environment after a while. And we all know, you're on that trip and you're like, I am done with this city, let's move on. And sometimes you are done before you are done and you still are in this location and you've kind of just expended yourself creatively, you've just, I don't know what else to shoot. I just, I have no more inspiration. And if that's the case, you need to make a change. Change something, change anything. There's a lot of things that you can change. Maybe you've been shooting landscapes, now it's time to shoot people. Maybe you've been documenting a particular story, it's time to just do something different, completely out of the realm of what you're doing. You can change the lens, you can change exactly where you are, something about it. But just choose a goal of changing something and see if that doesn't inspire you to go continue shooting in some other manner.

Class Description

Are you going on a once in a lifetime trip and want to have photos that you can share with friends and family? Do the decisions of what to bring, where to shoot, and what to capture feel overwhelming? Travel photography can feel challenging, time consuming, and expensive. But with the right tools you can plan and prioritize to come home with images that you treasure.

Join photographer, educator and author John Greengo, who has photographed all over the world, as he guides you through all of the steps that you need to capture the photos that you want during your travels. This class will offer different plans of what to bring, and how to create a realistic agenda based on your priorities, whether it’s documenting your trip, telling a story through photographs, or simply capturing great images.

John will teach you:

  • What gear to pack based on your goals.
  • How to create a media storage plan and workflow while traveling.
  • Best practices on how to find and scout the best locations to photograph.
  • How to approach locals and build trust before taking their portraits.
  • Camera techniques and settings for different shooting scenarios.
  • Different types of travel photos, such as The Walk Away, The T-Shot, and Environmental Portrait.
  • What to do with your photos once you’ve returned home.

Don’t let the challenges of travel photography keep you from capturing images that will provide you with lifelong memories. Join John Greengo to learn the best techniques, tools, and technology to capture great photos no matter you limitations in time, money and resources.



As usual John has been an awesome instructor. He is so energetic and fun. I love taking his courses and this was no different. I absolutely loved it. I have learned so much by taking his courses. Thanks John for all you do to help us beginners out.

Melissa Maxwell

So inspiring! This class is so comprehensive and I look forward to applying all of Greengo's tips. He is a wonderful instructor and the example photos are breathtaking.

user 1399347749726793

John is fabulous ... and so inspiring! I can travel the world and live vicariously through him! I've watched John for years and always find that he teaches me something new every time! Thanks John and CreativeLive for another awesome class!