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Find the Perfect Photography Location Using Google Maps

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No matter if you’re planning your next photo road trip or you’re scouring the city streets looking for the perfect viewpoint, Google Maps and Google Earth are the most valuable tools to add to your arsenal for finding the perfect photography location.

Planning to Shoot

I usually travel for work, or with family, so I don’t have the luxury of as much time as I might want to search for the perfect vantage point in person. Nor to scout an area to compare locations that I want to dedicate to the one sunset that I’ll have time to shoot. Google Maps to the rescue!

While planning a trip from home, you have much more time to explore the area in a virtual capacity instead of being out there with boots on the ground. Nothing can compare with actually being there, but the tools available to you are getting better every day and the ability to nearly frame your shot is a realistic time saver. Time to turn the volume on your pre-visualization up to 11.

If I’m planning a trip or have an idea for a shot, I’ll start with Google Maps and zero in on the area that I want to shoot. You probably already do this, too, but let’s just take it a step further. Click the icon in the lower left corner labeled “Earth” to start the Google Earth browser plugin. This has replaced the satellite or aerial view for much of the world’s map, but instead of only offering a flat, two dimensional view of the map directly overhead, you can now tilt the map and see an approximation of topography, texture, and elevation.

Default Earth View

Normal mouse controls on the map let you pan in all directions, and zoom in or out with the mouse wheel. In order to adjust to a view that will help you get a better idea of the terrain, hold down the shift key, click and drag upward. That will rotate your point of view (POV) so that you now have an aerial view looking toward the horizon instead of straight down. Dragging left or right while holding shift will rotate your point of view instead of panning.

Rotated Earth View

But, you don’t have to be tied down to your desk to do this. Just two weeks ago, I was out with a friend exploring San Francisco and searching for a specific vantage point of the 101/280 freeway interchange. We knew the general area that we wanted to shoot from, but with so many streets winding around, using Google Earth on my mobile phone helped to eliminate some of the trial and error of driving around without a clue how to find what we wanted.

101 280 Framing the Shot Mobile

101 280 Framing the Shot

Desktop interface Google Earth view looking south

Joe Ercoli Land of Confusion 600

Finished image from location scouted using Google Maps/Earth

The example images from this article show the area that we shot in, including a screenshot taken from the mobile interface, and the completed image. Of course the view that you can get from the map interface is never as good as what you’ll see in person, but it’s an excellent way to help you hit the ground running when you get on-site with your camera in hand.

NOTE: The camera is facing South in the final composition, not North as in the initial Google Earth Point of View.

Have you used Google Maps to find any cool locations? What other tips or tricks have you tried? Please share in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Joe Ercoli is a commercial photographer that specializes in residential interiors, most notably, kitchens and bathrooms. He finds balance through a passion for urban landscapes and road tripping through California. Keep up with his next update on social media or by following his blog.

  • Michael Owens

    Invaluable too for planning! Awesome! 🙂

  • Fitzroy Malin

    I highly commend The Photographer’s Ephemeris – an iPad app that graphically shows the track, elevantion, etc. of the sun and moon for any location, date and time. I photograph sunrises and sunsets, so knowing where to position myself is a great time-saver. But it’s geat too for working out where the shadows will fall and whether that fantastic image you’ve visualised ahead of your trip might be ruined by lens flare because you’re forced to shoot into the sun.
    [I have no association with the app or its developers, except as a happy user.]

  • I agree! While you can use the standalone Google Earth app to approximate shadows and lighting for different times of the day, the Photographer’s Ephemeris gives you data with unrivaled precision.

  • Peter A

    You could see what other people have taken photos of before – http://www.sightsmap.com/

  • This is good advice, I have been using Maps for planning my photo trips for a while and it’s a great way to get better photos in less time!

  • For landscape snd cityscape photo locations and info also try out http://www.pashadelic.com

  • Kunal Chopra

    Awesome!! There have been several very apparent tips which never occurred to me including this! I’m going to Florence soon and I just tried to use street view via google maps! Thank you Joe 🙂

  • I’m jealous – have a great trip!

  • raghavendra

    After a long time this is one good information.

  • I also use google maps to look for areas of white on a stretch of water that might indicate a waterfall….

  • That’s an awesome tip! Thanks, I’m going to remember that!

  • Lau

    There’s a funky google map implementation called ShotHotspot – it’s pretty useful for find places. It can also use geodata of images on flickr to suggest places.

  • Marc Vogel

    Stuck on earth is a great app for planning too!

  • tedstrauss

    Thanks for the tip. Will definitely check that out.

  • This is a great idea for photographers to capture stunning scenes in their hometown. For other talented cityscape photographers, Luminoto is looking to help emerging photographers gain more exposure over at https://www.luminoto.com/sell-more-cityscape-and-landscape-photography

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