Photographing a New Location: Resources to Help You Create Your Shot List

Golden Gate Bridge with Flowers

Peter and I recently spent some time in San Francisco for work.  We were excited about being able to photograph some of the vibrant places in the city, but realized we didn’t have the luxury of time to scout out locations.  We had a limited amount of time, and needed to be strategic about where and when we were going to shoot.  Here are some of the resources we use before going to new places, or just to provide fresh ideas about the places we go to often, including our own city.  I’ve listed them from lowest highest cost.

Tip 1:  Search on Flickr

We often use Flickr to see what people find interesting about a place.  You can search the site, and then filter the results by “Interesting”.  You will see photos that are viewed most often and selected by others as a favorite (this helps to weed out people’s vacation shots of their friends and family).  I also view the work of an incredible, and prolific, photographer, Thomas Hawk.  He organizes his photos by city and will often provide geo tagging so you can see the exact location.  I would have never made this photograph of a dome in a San Francisco shopping mall, without Thomas’ inspiration.  It took me 10 minutes to walk to the mall, and 20 minutes to find the dome once inside.  This location was not mentioned in any other resource.

Dome in San Francisco Shopping Mall

Tip 2:  Look for an App

For San Francisco, I found an app called:  Photographing San Francisco Digital Field  Guide.  It is based on a book written by Bruce  Sawle.  It not only highlights great shooting locations, but allows you to create a shot list of those locations, plus your own, organizes them  by time of day, and provides a variety of maps based on how you want to see the information. Here is a photograph of the Transamerica building at night we found using this app.

Transamerica Building at Night

Tip 3:  Thumb through a Book

For large trips we will buy a photographer’s guide book.  They are often written by people who live in the location you are visiting, and also provide tips for people trying new techniques.  When we were photographing the Golden Gate Bridge, we immediately headed down to the beach for the iconic shot, and then remembered a shot from a PhotoSecrets book that included flowers.  This caused us to explore the bluffs above the beach and capture this image of flowers and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge with Flowers

Tip 4:  Read a Newsletter for Photographers

We subscribe to Photograph America, written by Bob Hitchman.  Bob focuses each newsletter on one location and publishes a new one every quarter.  He primarily focuses on nature photography, and thoroughly researches each place.  If you like to get the iconic shots, as well as some off the beaten path, this is a great resource.

Tip 5:  Hire a Local Photographer for the Day

Although costly, sometimes this can be the best way to efficiently photography a new location, especially if it changes for the seasons.  Local photographers keep an eye on things, and know which locations are ideal when you get there.

Here are more photographs from our trip to San Francisco.  An image on Flickr reminded me to stop on our way back and photograph the Bay Bridge at night from this point of view.

Bay Bridge at Night

This photograph of the San Francisco skyline at night, was taken on Pier 7, a location highlighted in the PhotoSecrets book.

San Francisco Skyline at Night

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, here are the resources we used:

  • Thomas Hawk – Top US cities
  • Photographing San Francisco – Digital Field Guide App
  • PhotoSecrets – San Francisco and Northern  California, Andrew Hudson
  • Bob Hitchman’s Photographing San Francisco in the Rain
To see more of our photographs, go to

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