How to Maximize a Great Photography Location

As a professional photographer, I’ve had the joy of having a career that allows me to travel to some amazing locations. I’ve seen some of the most famous places during my travels, but just like a lot of people I still have a long list of places to see (and it seems to be getting longer).

Being a photographer is great, but I also love being a teacher and helping people unlock their potential in outdoor photography. I have just as much fun teaching as I do shooting! That makes me pretty lucky!

Let me put you through a scenario. If you’re coming out in the field with me and we have a sunrise location to go to, are you imagining multiple shots at that location or just one? I hope you would say that there are probably multiple compositions there, but if you are anything like me when I was starting out, you might only imagine one.

Related eBook: The Landscape Photography Handbook

I used to lack the vision to see locations for multiple shots. So, what I would like to do in this article is show you how you can maximize a great location and shoot it multiple times. I’ve chosen to take you through a progression of photographs featuring Lynn Camp Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is literally my favorite waterfall to visit because it’s a simple hike, it’s fairly close to home, and it has some amazing compositions.

Understand Your Workflow

Now, your first step in understanding how to maximize a location is to understand your personal workflow. If you get to a location and just set up for one shot that you’ve seen other people shoot, you are probably only going to shoot one photo at that location. However, if you have a workflow that includes walking all the way around a location to take in the lines, perspectives, shapes, and opportunities, you will see more and more framing options as you walk.

Related article: How to Photograph Shapes Instead of Landscapes

As I walked up to Lynn Camp Falls, there was one composition that made sense to me immediately. If you get down onto the water’s edge and get a very low perspective, you can capture the waterfall in the background using the large, mossy boulders in the foreground.

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Honestly, it’s a pretty unimpressive composition. It’s obvious, it’s been shot a thousand times, and it’s unimaginative. Yes, the composition is fine and you are able to capture the water flowing from the waterfall itself through the frame, but for the most part it’s probably a 5 out of 10 on my scale. Luckily I didn’t leave.

Play with Composition

Walking around the various places on the rocks that you can scramble on, you can see different compositions. The thing about Lynn Camp Falls that makes it so easy to shoot is that it’s a three-tiered waterfall, which gives photographers ample opportunity to get different looking shots.

So, I crawled through limbs and may or may not have submerged my feet into the cold water on accident and found a new perspective of the lower falls.

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Same waterfall, much more creative composition.

I especially enjoy the way the rocks in the foreground point to the waterfall itself, but also create a series of triangles in the negative spaces and rock shapes. My settings didn’t have to change; my location had to change. So, while many people worry about the settings on their camera, it’s often more important to worry about your placement to create better photographs. Had I left after one click of the shutter, I would have missed a great shot.

But that’s not all!

What if I simply move to the left slightly to capture a perspective of the same waterfall that is a straight-ahead view of the cascades? It could be interesting, so it’s worth the effort. After all, I only have to shuffle my feet a couple times to get to a new view.

Related course: Photographing Waterfalls & Other Items in Nature

I didn’t want another photo of waterfalls with surrounding green leaves. I wanted something different. Sometimes when there is a lot of calm water surrounding a waterfall, it provides a great opportunity to shoot black and white photos.

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I rarely shoot black and white photographs, but after two shots of the same colors I needed some variation in my life. While this shot didn’t have an opportunity for a foreground, I felt like the high contrasting shadows and highlights gave the photograph enough interest that I didn’t necessarily need a foreground. All I had to do was move two feet to the left to see this shot. That’s now three different photos from the same waterfall.

But I’m not done.

I wanted a really cool foreground photo of Lynn Camp Falls. However, I couldn’t see one from where I was standing. But did I leave? No. I picked up my camera and moved further down the mountain stream. As I walked I noticed that there was a mini cascade that had formed in the middle of the water.

If I could get in front of that cascade I could shoot a slightly longer exposure and use the streams of water as a leading line foreground element.

When you see something in the water that could be a great shot, don’t be afraid to wade out into the stream. Your feet won’t hurt anymore after they’re numb!

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By turning my camera vertically I could maximize the water flow to create a huge foreground.

Success.

Let’s review. I now have four separate shots of Lynn Camp Falls. Two are classic green photos, one is black and white, and one uses a huge foreground. That’s a solid day at the office.

Embrace Seasonality

Seasons can also be a great way to shoot multiple views of the same location. Lynn Camp Falls is great to shoot in any season because it’s surrounded by evergreen rhododendrons.

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I shot this view of Lynn Camp Falls in February during sunrise. The water looks much more milky and hazy because I used a neutral density filter to slow down the flow of the rolling water. Overhead there was an amazing sunrise going on that turned the entire sky pink and purple. Using an ND filter to shoot a long exposure gave me the chance to reflect those colors off of a smooth surface.

Related video: 3 Types of Camera Filters for Outdoor Photography

Like the first photograph I shared, this is a pretty boring composition of the waterfall as well. Luckily the tones on the water give the scene a great rush of color to offset an uninteresting perspective.

Watch the Weather

Events are always huge opportunities to get great new shots of old locations. In my case, it was a rain event.

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There hadn’t been a single drop of rain for two weeks and Lynn Camp Falls was dry as a bone. One Friday there was a respite from the drought as east Tennessee was treated to 24 hours of rain. The newly fallen moisture filled the stream with water.

It must have been the sudden increase in water force because the waterfall was creating some wild bubbles that were traveling downstream. Pair that with a beautiful autumn backlit canopy and you’re rewarded with a great photo.

So, I hope you can see now that you need to explore a location for all it’s worth. When you show up for one photo, you get one photo. If you keep an open mind about what you might find, the possibilities could be endless. I’m sure there are going to be many more photo opportunities at Lynn Camp Falls in the future.

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About the author: When David Johnston isn’t leading photography workshops and tutorials or hosting his popular photography podcast, Photography Roundtable, he can be found traveling the world taking photos to awe and inspire his viewers. David has a passion for sharing his knowledge of photography and has many educational offerings designed to help photographers improve their work. Visit his website at www.photographyroundtable.com.

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Discussion
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5 Responses to “How to Maximize a Great Photography Location”
  1. David

    This is an excellent piece. The photos from 2 onwards look so obvious ex post facto. The problem is to envisage them first! I know someone with this gift and it is amazing to watch him…

    Reply
  2. JmDE

    My pet peeve is shooting every waterfall with milky water. I think it has become a cliche. Let’s change it up a bit.

    Reply
      • Customer Service

        Greetings,

        The photographer who prepared that lesson is not currently available. I’m sure he shared his best advice and examples.

        I can only recommend browsing through more of the excellent OPG videos, and most importantly getting out there and shooting,
        so you can put the concepts and ideas into practice.

        Happy Shooting!

        Steve
        Outdoor Photography Guide Video Membership

        Reply
  3. Arunbir Singh Dhillon

    Excellent articles and perspective… the pics are great and provide a learning and inspiration to explore a scene/ location.

    Reply