Travel and photography go hand in hand for me, and would even if I weren't a travel writer and photographer. It's unheard of for me to not have my camera along wherever I go! Yes, it gets heavy sometimes, and yup, it's cumbersome to always have my dSLR next to my plate of pasta at the table, especially in a crowded restaurant. But I've learned the hard way that often times a great photo op passes you by when you only have your iPhone with you.
I'm a big proponent of photographing from the hip (and heart), but when you're traveling, there are just some iconic shots so compelling to a photographer that you just don't want to miss them. Like the sun setting behind the Ponte Vecchio, the mountain spire of Huayna Picchu at Machu Picchu, the Tower of London and Big Ben. You know, those shots.
But what are the best times of day to shoot at Cambodia's Angkor Wat? What are the best sight lines and how do you cut through hordes of other photographers hoping to catch the right shot at the Eiffel Tower? What if the best view is from private property, or hidden way off the beaten path, down a dirt lane through some grazing goats in the hills of Tuscany?
What you need is a virtual location scout! It wasn't until recently that I found several photography location websites and apps that have helped me find specific information to help me get the important shots. Here are several I've used recently with good success. Give them a try, and don't leave those important shots to chance anymore. (See that shot above in Tuscany? LocationScout.net gave me the exact location I needed to find it at 5am)!
NOTE: Panoramio was one of the first general location websites to show photo locations, and would have been listed here. However, as of November 2016, Google is shutting down Panoramio in favor of Google Maps, and Local Guides.
LocationScout.net is a network of passionate photographers and travellers around the world who provide content on where to shoot your best shots at some of the world's most iconic destinations. Users can search by location, country, theme, or map.
Contributors include Photography Tips, Lat/Longs, and Travel Info on specific shots, including factors to consider such as weather and crowds. This is one of my favorites for their simple, image-driven layout. Online only.
ShotHotspot.com searches through locations that people have already used and also uses the location data of images on Flickr and Panoramio to automatically figure out popular hotspots. Users can search through millions of photo hotspots by category (nature, architecture, people) or add some of their own. Popular hotspots are stored in their database and ranked according to number of comments, likes and views.
Like Panoramio, viewers can see images and search using integrated Google Maps, but location pins are occasionally misplaced, even slightly, which can sometimes lead you down the wrong path. Double search on your intended location and use their Accuracy tool in Advanced Search for location details. Online only.
3. The Photographer's Ephemeris and The Photographer's Transit
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a map-centric sun and moon calculator that allows you to see how the light will fall on the land - day or night - for any location on earth. The Photographer's Transit offers digital shot planning for outdoor photographers with field of view visualization and virtual sight lines, as well as offline maps and elevation charts. It's the priciest of any app listed here but may be a good investment, depending on how often you absolutely need to plan ahead for the right light.
Free desktop web app (browser-based)
$8.99 for downloadable iOS and Androidmobile app, both with full support links and tutorials.
Whether you're a photographer or travel enthusiast looking to ramp up your travel shots, ShutterSpots.com helps you plan trips more easily and browse an area's favorite photo spots. They're relatively new having launched in 2015, first on iPhone followed by their online site, and are somewhat limited in their locations. To date over 500 photography spots have been added around the world.
Users can search popular spots using an interactive map or list. Listings for each spot show photos previously taken in that location by others in the ShutterSpots community and include Flickr shots as well. Users can also build their personal collection of favorite locations and add spots to a personalized list for an upcoming trip.
Free app for iOS. BONUS: compatible with Apple Watch.