Until relatively recently, any book which involved ‘exotic’ settings (anything from a tense Len Deighton Cold War spy exchange across the Glienicke Brücke on a cold November dawn to a raw and tempestuous Wilbur Smith romance backdropped by the wild Witwatersrand), would either require the author to go on expensive trips or to undertake extensive research into their book’s proposed location(s). Assuming, of course, that the location isn’t somewhere they’ve actually resided.
Nowadays, you don’t even need to leave the relative comforts of your home-office. With Google Street View, Youtube videos, and endless images, there’s no excuse whatsoever for not getting a present-day setting perfect – even down to the colour of the signs in shops, the exact location of manhole covers, lighting columns and so forth. It’s all there – just a few clicks away.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to become ‘too accurate’. Those minutiae can be your foe as well as your friend because anything you can see, so too can your reader. In a nutshell, you ain’t telling them anything new. This is why you need to take a step back when describing the setting. Rather than answering the question “What does the setting look like in 300 dpi resolution?”, ask yourself “How would this look as a watercolour?” As an author, your job is to create an image, a feeling for both your characters and your place.
It doesn’t matter that the little café your star-crossed lovers meet at is actually a halal butchers in real life, what’s important is that the sort of café you describe is in keeping with the locale. How would it look AS a café? What would fit into the area?
Save the photography for the cover image – work on the artistry.