Posted by: kerryl29 | March 28, 2017

Scouting: A Florida Case Study

As reader Shoreacres astutely pointed out as part of a comment in response to a recent post on this blog, (and I quote):  “It occurred to me this weekend that one thing you talk about a lot, but haven’t really highlighted, is the importance of scouting.”  It’s true.  I discuss scouting on this blog all the time when relating photo trip experiences, but have never given the subject the thematic attention it deserves.  So, using last month’s trip to South Florida as an example, I’m going to rectify this longstanding omission.

Sea of Grass Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

Foggy Morning, Long Pine Key Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

This is going to sound prosaic to the point of absurdity, but I never cease to be amazed how many people don’t seem to realize it:  it’s much, much easier to make good images at places that are at least somewhat familiar than at locales that are not.  It’s a rare thing, at least in my experience, to simply show up somewhere and have everything come together in some kind of magic moment.  And, if you are so lucky to experience something special happen in terms of conditions, there’s an excellent chance you’ll make something less than optimal out of it with a so-so composition–a product of unfamiliarity with the lay of the land.

Pa-hay-okee Morning, Everglades National Park, Florida

The time I spent in the southern section of the Everglades will serve to illustrate the point.  When I arrived in Florida on February 13, I had hoped to have an hour or two at the end of the day to scout the Everglades–enough time at least to locate a sunrise spot.  But, for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t to be.  By the time I reached Florida City, where I would be staying, it was dark.  That meant that I’d have to find my way to an early morning location the next day without the benefit of daylight, let alone experience.  Clearly this is less than ideal, and points out one of the obvious advantages of being able to scout.  And that first day was the only morning during my time in the Everglades that I didn’t have a firm plan of where to go and what to do at sunrise.  That’s because I’d taken the time to scout.

Long Pine Lake at Sunrise, Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Florida

The park road runs roughly 40 miles from the Everglades entrance gate–which itself is several miles beyond the park boundary–to its southwest terminus at Flamingo.  Between the gate and Flamingo, which is located on the Bay of Florida, there are several side roads up to several miles in length apiece.  On the first day I was in the area, I spent most of my time exploring.  I probably spent at least nine of the 11-plus hours of daylight on this day scouting.  And this paid off in a major way in my ensuing time in the area.

Pine Glades Lake Black & White, Everglades National Park, Florida

During the remainder of the week that I spent time in the Everglades, the scouting sessions–which continued, in a smaller way, in the succeeding days–were leveraged repeatedly.  When a certain set of conditions arose, I knew just where to go.  And when I arrived, I already had compositions in mind.  The alternative is a mad scramble, which often leads to poor results.

Evening’s Onset, Everglades National Park, Florida

Admittedly, scouting is a lot less fun than photographing–which is the reason I think so many people skimp on it, if they don’t omit it entirely–but the payoff is so substantial, it can’t be overstated.

Photographic scouting:  don’t leave home without (doing) it.

Pah-hay-okee Evening, Everglades National Park, Florida



  1. Clearly your use of “lightscapes arose from your deep appreciation of light’s magic–beautifully intriguing, once again.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Your usual fine work with pictures AND words. Well done, Kerry. 🙂

    • Thanks, Frank!

      I’m going to post another scouting-related entry–kind of fleshing the process out–soon. Probably early next week.

  3. […] having gotten your attention about scouting–and the importance of doing it–I’m now going to talk about the actual process of […]

  4. I rack up a lot of miles on my car scouting. When the weather and light are cooperative I still benefit from an outing by thinking of its potential at another time, in different light or a different time of the year. Excellent points and post!

    • Thanks, Denise. No question in my mind, scouting is time well spent, pretty much always.

      • I meant to say … when the weather and light aren’t cooperative …

        • Right. I figured that was a typo, given the context of the statement. And you’re absolutely right–even if conditions may not be conducive to great photography there’s still plenty of value that can be done to aid future visits.

  5. This is just great. For one thing, it makes me feel better about the time I’ve spent doing just this sort of thing. Even though I don’t do as much landscape photography as you do, I’ve come to know about a three-county area so well that I know where the ditches and ponds are that the birds favor; where I can find certain kinds of flowers; and where the native prairies are. The time invested saves time in the long run.

    Another thing I’ve begun doing is carrying a notebook with me where I note down details that I might otherwise forget. Just driving the roads is fine, but if I don’t know which of those farm to market roads I turned down, I might never be able to find Shangri-la again!

    • No question, scouting time can pay off for many types of photography–not just landscapes. On the Florida trip, for instance, I learned about a number of popular spots for birds as a function of scouting sessions. Re the note notebook approach: whatever works. I don’t keep a written account myself, but in a way marked GPS waypoints serve a similar role for me.

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