Good planning for a photoshoot is vital to a successful, stress-free experience for both the photographer and the clients/models. Along with reviewing a moodboard, creating a timeline, and other important planning steps, be sure to thoroughly scout each photography location prior to every shoot. In addition to planning for shoots with predetermined locations, scouting is also vital for finding new scenes and locations for your next shoot. So in this article, we’ll review how to scout photography locations in two parts:
- Why Location Scouting is Beneficial
- Location Scouting Tools | What To Bring
- How to scout predetermined photography locations
- How to scout new photography locations
Why Location Scouting is Beneficial
As professional photographers, there are lots of jobs we don’t want to do: marketing, social media, accounting, and so on. The mere idea of adding time-consuming tasks to each of your shoots may seem like madness. Location scouting may represent a significant time investment but their importance cannot be underestimated.
By effectively scouting locations, you can elevate your photography. The right location can add so much to a photograph. There are locations that I visit which ignite my creativity. It feels as though in every direction there is a unique and beautiful photo that springs to mind. Those kinds of locations are rare but wonderful when discovered.
Location scouting allows you to find unique places, which others who don’t take the time will never know about.Location scouting can also give you confidence. Done correctly, you can analyze the lighting you will have, get a feel for the location, and begin to pre-visualize your final images. I’m a big planner (even though things often go wrong) as it helps me to remain calm, organize my thoughts and have a clear vision for the direction (both creatively and literally) of my shoots. I plan where we will be walking and how long to spend in each location so I can get the shots I want.
Location Scouting Tools | What To Bring
Before heading out to location scout, prepare yourself with the right tools for the job. Here are recommended tools and apps to use for location scouting:
- Sun Seeker App – This critical app will help you see the exact direction of the sun at any time of the day. The perfect location isn’t perfect if the light direction is not ideal!
- Pinterest – Pinterest is a great way to gather all of your location ideas. Not only is it easy to upload to, it’s also easy to share with your shoot team when it’s all gathered.
- Comfortable Shoes, Water, Snacks – Be ready to climb and explore comfortably.
- Camera – While your smartphone camera will suffice, it’s often beneficial to visualize different focal lengths and amounts of bokeh.
How to scout predetermined photography locations
Scouting predetermined photography locations is important for every shoot. Here are ways to scout a location prior to arriving.
Location Scouting with Google Maps
The satellite view of Google Maps will give you critical information like driving directions, parking, general direction of the sunset, foliage/shade and more. This is the first step to location scouting.
Location Scouting with Google Images
The next step to scouting locations is to do a general Google Images search. The goal is not to find images to recreate or copy, but rather to understand the different opportunities available at the location.
When viewing other images, pay close attention to the time of day and the lighting situations. Some scenes look incredible at certain times of the day, like golden hour, but may not work in harsh sunlight.
Location Scouting with Instagram and Social Media
Instagram – Instagram can be a great tool for scouting photography locations. To get started, use the search function to look for relevant hashtags, such as #landscapephotography or #urbanexploration, and browse through the top posts and tagged photos. Take note of the location tags and captions, as well as any nearby landmarks or points of interest mentioned. You can also follow local photographers and photography accounts for inspiration and to discover new places to shoot. Additionally, Instagram’s “Explore” feature can show you popular posts and locations near you. Once you’ve found a potential location, be sure to research the area and any potential access or photography restrictions before heading out to shoot.
Local Facebook Groups – Location scouting doesn’t have to be a solo adventure! Try connecting with other creatives in Facebook Groups and ask for advice. Consider posting an image in a local Facebook group and ask for advice scouting a similar location in your area.
How to scout new photography locations
Discovering a new location is the second part of location scouting. Here are some tips for doing so effectively.
Set Goals for Your Location Scouting
As you set out for location scouting, you’ll likely face countless possibilities that will make your job very overwhelming. Before you set out for a location scout, always have a goal or understand the story you’re trying to tell. You’re never bound by your locations, they’re simply backdrops that help tell a greater story.
Here are some things you will want to know or document when scouting locations:
- Various detailed photos of the scene
- Pricing and availability
- Capacity limits
- Access to amenities (power, restrooms, etc)
- Contact information
It’s All About Timing
Locations can change and it’s wise to go check out the scene or scout for new scenes at the planned time of the photo or video shoot. This will help you plan accordingly and keep you from encountering any unpleasant surprises.
The time of day, week, year or season will dictate how many obstacles you will encounter and need to be prepared for. For example, if you have chosen to shoot at an historic landmark, you will want to visit at a time when there will not be a lot of traffic or tourists.
Timing and weather go hand-in-hand, so make sure to check the forecast. Snow, rain, sun, and wind can help or hurt your planned shoot. So, it’s critical to check the forecast as you’re scouting.
Look at the Light
Always, always, always pay attention to the available lighting. Interior shoots will almost always have limited levels of available light so make sure you have the necessary lighting equipment to help out. If you’re using larger light kits, make sure you have space and access to power outlets.
If your scene is outside, it’s important to take note of the time and the direction of the sun. Are you standing in a location that provides full sun, partial sun, or full shade? This is very important to know because bright light can be harsh on people’s skin and light-colored surfaces can be blown out.
Make sure to take a few test shots so that you can go home and preview how it will look.
Always Take Notes
Over time, scenes can lose their magic and most people don’t want to continuously use the same predictable backdrop. New scenes and inspiration can be found almost anywhere. Fortunately, we do live in a digital age where there are a few general solutions that help us find locations like Google Maps, but most current solutions don’t come close to providing the detailed information a photographer will need.
Most of us have the best possible scouting tool available to us at all times, and that is your handy dandy smartphone, which almost has everything you would need to start scouting and logging locations today.
Other Location Scouting Tips
- Think about the requirements of the shoot first. Who’s being photographed and what are their needs? (i.e. will there be small children who need to be close to a toilet? Models who will need to get changed somewhere? Large amounts of kit that will need storing?)
- Find out what is happening both in the surrounding area and directly around your chosen location. Are there sporting events that could cause delays?
- Do I need permission/permits and, if going rogue, how likely am I to get caught?
- Where is the nearest hospital if something were to go wrong?
- I would always advise going as close to the day and time of your shoot as possible. By doing so, you can see exactly how the location will look and can analyze the light, as I explained above.
I am a planner. Often this can be to my detriment but in this regard, it is a massive plus. Location scouting are very creatively freeing and afford me a sense of calm, which is not present otherwise. There is, in fact, another huge benefit that has just sprung to mind. The plan B. When I perform my scouting I will always think about a plan B; typically in the form of a separate nearby location, just in case something were to go wrong with the first.
Location scouting may not always be possible but when it is, I implore you to give it a try. You and your photography will thank me.