Prior to the internet, photographers were most likely to have discovered photo locations by consulting with topographical maps, scouting by foot, looking at photo books, postcard racks, taking guided tours or word of mouth. Those methods are still valid today but there are many more tools at our disposal now due to the internet. Google Earth is one of the more interesting tools.
Google Earth combines the geographical contours of topo maps with real life satellite imagery and pictures from photographers that have embedded GPS coordinates into their meta data. It is really amazing to be able to “scout” photo locations from the comfort of your living room or even while parked on a sidewalk if you can find a Wi-Fi connection. Anytime you pre-visualize a scene that you aren’t quite sure if or where to make it happen, you can type in the location in Google Earth and search around the landscape to see if it is possible. This can save you a lot of time and even help find locations you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
One of the most useful features for photographers is that you can set what time of day you want to see the landscape and the program will render the light to show you what you can expect to see at sunrise for example. You can also check the atmosphere option and it will take into account how the atmospheric conditions affect the lighting.
I played around with the program several years back but didn’t find much use for it because the renderings weren’t detailed enough. I took another look recently however and the satellite imagery appears to be much more comprehensive and detailed now in many locations. Google Earth is a tool that I intend to use more frequently when preparing for photo shoots. In fact, I found out about this scenic vantage point to photograph Morro Rock through Google Earth and intend to go there on my next visit.