Happy Discoveries Or Intentional Scouting

March 08, 2023

Every time I teach a workshop inevitably the question about my method for scouting for new locations will be brought up. This question always makes me slightly uncomfortable as I know that my reply will be unsatisfactory for most photographers. I know that there are landscape photographers who meticulously map out possible locations, use apps and Google Earth, find out about the position of the sun and moon and then set out to look for the thing they hope to find. 

Happy Discoveries or Intentional ScoutingHappy Discoveries or Intentional ScoutingThe reasons why I do not scout locations and think that scouting might be detrimental to creativity and the enjoyment of photography and the landscape similarly

I quite honestly do none of those things. I don't have apps on my phone telling me where the sun and moon will be at a given moment, I don't use Google Earth for virtual scouting and I don't even like to browse the internet before I go somewhere. There is a very specific reason for my refusal to go into nature with this kind of intentional approach though. 

First of all, I have the inclination to want to see and find out things for myself, the hard way. I don't want to be directed to something someone else found interesting, I want to keep an open mind.  I am also not particularly fond of making my life easy, because nothing that comes very easily brings me as much pleasure as something that takes effort. I simply like to put in the effort, because this in turn helps me be more confident creatively speaking. It gives me the sense that I earned whatever result might come out of it and I am much more likely to experience flow, that is.....if I am not interrupted in the process. 

So, I do not scout. I know how this is a disappointing reply to the question that keeps coming up, but this is how it is. I really love to be in nature, I absolutely love to walk long distances and I make sure that on every hike I have my cameras with me. Scouting would be intentionally walking around whilst focussing selectively on just possible frames. It means constantly narrowing my mind to things that I know might be working, but I much prefer to be open for new discoveries. I always say that I just visit the green areas on my maps and yes...they are paper maps still....and I explore with nothing else in mind than just spending time in nature and hopefully taking a long hike. 

I don't seek, I find. I would never want to sacrifice that feeling of surprise, of coming across some unexpected scene that installs in me a sense of reverence for going into nature with the intention of seeking frames. I honestly do not understand why one would want to forfeit enjoying being in and truly experiencing nature so one can spend more time in one's mind which is focussed exclusively on finding frames. I dare say that I think that this attitude is detrimental to finding new and exciting possibilities.

CornucopiaCornucopia I think that going into a landscape with just the intention of scouting makes it a less pleasurable experience and one that might lead to frequent disappointment. I much prefer to be surprised rather than influenced by what others have found interesting about a spot. I want to base my photography on what I find interesting, what I connect to and also on my preference for happy discoveries.

Also, I might be different to many photographers as I don't feel the need to actively search for new locations all the time. I'd much rather build up a relationship with a location or photograph locations that I already have a connection with. I am not one to get bored easily. I do however like to be outside and I hike a lot and preferably long distances. I take my camera and by just being there, walking, I leave those thoughts of having to find something to photograph behind. I am perfectly fine with not finding anything. It does not even mean that there was nothing there and sometimes I go back for a second walk and I see things differently. It all depends on my state of mind, the conditions and the season whether or not I see something I feel connected to and feel compelled to photograph. Many of the photographs in my portfolio were created in places that I did not think were particularly interesting, photographically speaking, on my first few visits. Some locations give up their secrets only to those who wish to really spend time there. Other locations seem to be full of options and this often leads to making photographs that are more obvious, which is also not something that is very appealing to me.

My simple advice is to leave the hunter in you at home and to slow down, take your time and have the confidence that you will see the opportunities when they arise. Hunting down frames means you might not even see all the possible compositions, because your mind is just focused on the hunt. 


Slow down, be open to happy discoveries and remember that this is something you are doing because you found joy in it. It probably started with a love for your subject, not a love for the resulting frames. A hunter's approach might quickly lead to disappointment and boredom. Just think about your childhood birthdays. If you received a present that you had not expected at all, it was so much more special than knowing in advance what it would be. Why would you want to rob yourself of these surprises and of the joy of being outside? The days of our lives are limited and I'd much rather spend these with a mindset of being open to happy discoveries than to hunt down frames. It is about the days of our lives, how we choose to spend them, how we make meaning of the time that we get to spend on this planet. I am much too fond of those unexpected moments of enchantment to ever consider handing this over to some app and by doing this letting someone else decide for me what is interesting. These moments are what makes life beautiful to me, it gives me a sense of mystery and I find joy in navigating the unknown as well as the known, but not the preconceived. Preconceptions might work in activities that you have a lot of control over, but the landscape can not be controlled, is different all the time and what is here today, might be gone tomorrow. A scene that I find today might not exist the next time I visit, because the conditions created its appeal. I have photographed in many locations that at first sight did not make me want to photograph. Sometimes on a 6th visit I suddenly see things that I missed before and many pictures I feel proud of were made in areas that I did not feel especially attracted to the first time I visited. 

My approach is based more on building a relationship with an area, or relying on an already established connection with the knowledge that on every first visit I probably see things too superficially and that like friendships, the connection develops over time. 

As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my photography and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties to keep my integrity and stay autonomous, but of course writing them takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. Prints are now available for many more countries in the EU. If you would like to buy a print and can't find the image in my print shop, please let me know and I'll try to make it available.

My new mentorship program is open for registration, only a few "seats" are left for 2023. 

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