As I mentioned before, the locations for Overgrowth are inspired by real-life locations. While a lot of good research can be found online, there's no substitute for actually visiting places in person. Important aspects of the experience can be lost or misunderstood when relying solely on descriptions and photos. For example, I recently visited Yellowstone National Park while traveling south:
I learned all sorts of facts about the area by reading about it. The main area of Yellowstone is actually the caldera of a volcano, It was the first national park (in the world!). It had a major fire in the 1980's. These random background facts about a place give you some context on what you are seeing while you are there, but visiting and looking around helped me associate these facts with visual details. For example, the fire explains why there are so many young trees alongside dead trees.
While it's not necessary to communicate background facts like this to a player, it's important to keep them in mind so that you can create locations that have realistic and consistent detail. Seeing how the history of a real place affects its appearance can help give you good ideas for the history of your fictional location.
Often framing a shot for a photo means editing out things that are boring. Things often seem boring because they are common, but it's the common things that make a space feel real. If your game environment is missing common details like how grass transitions to dirt, or the different components that make up forest soil, then it ends up feeling like a cheap movie set.
Having all "epic" things all the time also makes it hard to emphasize areas that are unique and cool. It's hard to take a scene seriously if you have a giant floating castle, a glowing crystal cave and a lake of blood all in the same space.
Seeing real animals is different than seeing a photo, since they can interact with you (by mauling and eating you). Also, you can hug adorable bears like this one.
In person, it's easier to understand the scale of a place, how it smells, what the weather is like, and how gameplay should be affected. For example, If we have hotsprings in Overgrowth, the sulfur smell should make it harder for enemies to track your scent.
It's possible to get by with fudging the details, or only giving people what they expect to see. Some users might find this kind of product more appealing, but levels like this actually help make people more ignorant. That isn't something I want to do.
It was getting dark by the time I made it to Artist Point to look at Yellowstone Falls. I didn't plan to shoot it after sunset but I still like how it came out.
Ultimately an environment artist is trying to distill the feeling of a place into their art. That is why it's critical to go places and see what they feel like to you. While I've been to quite a few places, I would like to travel more. Are there any places you've been that you would recommend?