Do You Search For Other Photographer’s Images Before Visiting a Location?

This weekend I made a trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum for the first time. Over the years, I’ve seen images of the museum from my Flickr contacts. I knew that the museum has a lot of different looks depending on your angle. Searching for the best images of the museum was tempting, but I decided not to.

Photographing a new location, I generally want some knowledge of the location. I’d like to see a few images so that I can imagine myself walking around it and viewing it from different angles. But I try not to look up too many images. I don’t want to arrive at a location and feel that I already know what shots I want. I want to get to a location and let my mind take over and try to find the most interesting places to photograph from. I know some photographers that take this to the extreme and avoid seeing any images beforehand.

At the museum, I wanted to get some of those typical shots that I have seen before. But, as always, I wanted to find some shots that I haven’t seen before. One way to get a unique perspective is to get as far away as possible and zoom in. Another way is to get as close as possible and use an ultra-wide angle lens. In today’s image, I used a fisheye lens and put it up against the glass just outside of the building where the elevator is. I really wanted to shoot from inside the building, but this was as close as I got.

What do you do when planning to shoot a new location? Do you research it as much as possible or do you not even look at images before you go. Let me know in the comments!

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When I’m not staying up all night figuring out the details of our next Out of Chicago Conference, you’ll find me at the park with our son and daughter, playing my guitar, out on the golf course, or following my favorite (Detroit) sports teams. I love Chicago, but I’ll always root for my Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Michigan sports, and Pistons.

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  • It depends on where I’m going to shoot, what the subject will be and how frequently I may be able to go back. For example, I likely will be heading up to Calgary in a few months for work and am hoping to take a side trip to Banff National Park for 2 – 3 days. Clearly there are lots of places in Banff to shoot and it is much too broad for me to cover in that short of time period. In addition, to catch the best light I’ll be up shooting early for sunrise and late for sunset. Due to the limited opportunities to have ‘good’ light (4 – 6 times optimally) I’ll want to be sure I’m in the best position possible to get good shots at those times. During the day when the light is not so good I’ll take my time to do more freestyling and looking for other interesting angles in the park but I’d want to make sure I got my ideal shots/locations picked for optimal lighting so I’m not ‘wasting’ a good sunrise or sunset. However, if I’m shooting locally I won’t spend as much time researching because I
    can go back to the spot other times if I happen to miss the good light or see another location that would have worked better later on.

    When the lighting isn’t as important, like when going to a museum, I don’t do as much research because like you said I like to find the shots that interest me. I don’t believe ‘copying’ is necessarily bad thing especially when we are learning. Scott Kelby made a point the other day on his Grid Webcast that most learning is done through imitation so I don’t think there should be any shame in that as long as credit is given where it is due (guitarists play note for note from other guitarists to develop their own style). Eventually, most photographers will develop their own style that, if done good enough, others will copy from them so it will all come full circle.

    • Great comment, Justin. You make a good point about places that you won’t visit again soon. You definitely want to get to the best places. Come to think of it, that’s really the point of this blog. To get people to the best places in Chicago. But there are times when I want to have some surprise before I get there. I know some photographers that go out of their way to not see any images first.

      I agree that it’s important to “copy” at times to learn. Eventually you’ll have your own style. Well said!

  • I am with Justin. It depends on the location. If I have been to a location previously, I pretty much know what I want and try to capture what’s in my head, either a new shot or an improvement on what I have done already.
    I travel a lot, so, for example, before heading to Spain, I looked at shots, a gazillion shots, to get a feel for what lens I might want to bring. Going back to Michigan or Florida, I might look up the locations for what not to shoot but how to shoot what I have on my itenerary. HDR, now that I am learning about it, vs long exposure vs light painting.
    Thank you for providing such a provocative site. The amount of time and information that you invest is beyond generous. I, for one, have found myself reevaluating and questioning past shots and future get aways. Thank you.

    • Thanks for all of the kind words, Jarede. I was worried that you would disown me after I left you at the pavilion carrying the largest flashlight I had ever seen! 🙂