How Google Earth Makes Location Scouting 28.5X Better

Recently Lauren and I have been taking our iPad with us while location scouting. It’s pretty amazing to be able to get a satellite overview of an area when you’re looking for a place to shoot.

You’re able to quickly see where roads are and where you can find forests, greenery, structures, buildings and fields. It’s also handy to know where all that stuff is in relation to where the sun will be! While we’ve always had maps on our iPhones it’s easier to use and see maps on the iPad (though it does take longer to load than on the iPhone).

While using satellite imagery is handy during scouting trips, it gets even better than that!

Enter Google Earth!


While you have likely used Google Maps, you may not be aware that a standalone Google program, called Google Earth, is available for both Mac and PC that provides much more functionality than just Google Maps alone.

Here is how you can use it to make your location scouting 28.3X better:

  • When you see a spot that might be worth further exploring (say you’re driving by it for instance) you can check the maps in Google Earth to quickly get more information about the size of the location, how to access it, and gain details you might not be able to see from the road. You can also take a quick spin around the map to see if there are other potential locations nearby, which is especially useful to plan routes for your shoots! (5 points for rhyming!)
  • It’s easy to find natural areas! They’re the big green splotches. Ditto for industrial zones. Those ones are grey.
  • The biggest feature: You can save and organize all your locations! Often you can shoot a location more than once, but you probably don’t want to shoot it right away (so you don’t end up taking the same shots!). With Google Earth you can mark down where the location is, details about it (type of location, colors, light, buildings etc), and when you used it last. This is incredibly valuable information, especially as you start shooting more and more frequently!
  • Quickly find locations for weddings and portraits. The more locations you collect around your city the easier it will be to coordinate shooting locations, especially when you want a spot close to the ceremony location, or your client’s home.

A couple things to consider:

  • Don’t rely solely on satellite imagery for location scouting! You may see something awesome on the map, but try getting there with no road! Things seem smaller (and distances seem shorter!) on maps. We’ve also found that our best location scouting happens when we get out of the car and walk. That’s how you really get a feel for a spot and how it could work for photos.
  • It will take time to build up your collection of places, but try to update it whenever you find an awesome new place so you don’t forget about it! Be patient in creating your collection, and cultivate it. It’s a valuable tool!

I should also mention that there is an iPad app for Google Earth. I tested it out but it seems fairly limited in function (you can’t actually drop pins or create locations). It will sync with Google Maps but not the desktop version of Google Earth. While I find Google maps less convenient to use, it’s a handy alternative to organize scouted locations that way so that you could easily find locations from your phone or iPad while on the go.

To create a map in Google Maps:

  1. Go to Google Maps
  2. Login (do this so it saves your maps with your Google account, which can than be accessed using the Google Earth iPad app)
  3. Click on “My Maps” in the top right
  4. Then click on “Create New Map”
  5. Title the map something relevant like “Photo Locations”
  6. For the privacy and sharing settings, make sure that you check off “Unlisted” unless you want to share your secret photo locations!
  7. Finally, right click on the map where you want to leave a marker and click “Add Placemark”. Make sure you give yourself plenty of info about the location (it’s easy to forget the details later on!)
  8. When you want to add more placemarks head back to “My Maps”, select the Photo Location map, click edit, and then drop some more pins!

Finally you can use just your iPhone or iPad’s built in Maps app in order to track locations. I haven’t done this because I find it glitchy, somewhat difficult to use, and not very functional (you can’t easily see location info, it’s difficult to enter locations and move pins, and difficult to see locations). While the iPad is great for looking at maps, it’s not so good at organizing and entering locations! However If you’d like to give it a try here’s what you need to do:

  1. Open your Maps app
  2. In the bottom right hand corner of the app you’ll see an icon that looks like the corner of a page flipping up – click that!
  3. When you’re at a location you want to remember click drop pin (you can also move pins to different locations as well)
  4. A purple pin will drop and you’ll have the option to move it around. Click on the blue arrow or “i” in order to edit location info.
  5. Click “Add to Bookmarks” then enter the name of the location
  6. Click save and the pin should turn Red and be saved

I’ve tried this numerous times with the iPad and while it works well for the iPhone I have a really difficult time saving locations with the iPad. Anyways one more possible solution!

The more we’ve started using Google Earth and satellite imagery for our location scouting, the more we find ourselves getting the spot quicker, and spending less time driving around aimlessly. It’s definitely not a substitue for a good eye, and knowledge of light and location, but it can definitely make your scouting more efficient!

If you have any tips or tricks when it comes to Google Earth, or Google maps, leave them in the comments!

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!


8 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Oh Jeez, just another fantastic reason to get an ipad or two!: )

  2. Thanks, what awesome info. I have been in depate about getting an iPad, just not knowing if I will use it enough. What else do you guys use the iPad for?

  3. Nicely done! I like the recommendations and step by step instructions. Very practical!

  4. I actually did this to scout a location this summer. Works great! It would be so much cooler on an iPad over the iPhone though.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys! @Lauren we're finding new uses for the iPad everyday. Right now we use it mainly for checking e-mail, Things, Evernote, showing clients photos, videos on long trips, and to entertain our god-daughter with Dr. Seuss and a drawing app. While we use it everyday, I find I use it less that I expected I would. We'll probably use it more in the winter. I should do an updated post on this!

  6. I use google street maps a lot as you get a good view of prospective locations without having to put your coat on…

  7. Great tip! Google Street Maps is totally a great way to location scout as wel!!

  8. I dont know if they have an iPad app, definitely have an iphone and mac app, but the photographers ephermis is great! It shows where the sun and the moon will be rising and setting, laid over a map of the area. Very useful!

Speak Your Mind


Send this to a friend