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location-scouting Tips & Tricks

Should You Spend Extra Time Location Scouting?

By Max Bridge on December 16th 2015

I was recently watching Lighting 201 and was reminded of the importance of location scouting and doing a recce. Pye was taking us through the photo below and telling us about all the different elements that made up that photo. A key takeaway for me was when Pye talked about pre-visualized his shot. He knew the time of day he wanted to start (despite that not happening) and even knew the direction he wanted the light rays to fall in the image.

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Location Scouting | The Job Nobody Wants To Do

Firstly, let me very briefly explain the difference between location scouting and doing a recce. Location scouting is the process of actually finding locations, either for current or theoretical shoots. Whereas, performing a recce (reconnaissance) is something that I do closer to the day of the shoot as a final check/moment for pre-visualization. I have no idea if other people split this up like me or if this is exclusive to me, but I view the two tasks as separate.

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. For me, location scouting and recces 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.

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Location Scouting | Visualize Your Shot

During both the location scout and eventual recce, I am always thinking about the final photo. The image above may seem like a candid moment of these two little girls, and it is, but it is also far more than that. Much more thought went into this photo then it may seem. From the recce, I knew that light was going to hit that spot, at that time. I knew the pond would be covered with this blanket of algae (which during the recce I was not 100% on). I also knew that I would have a brief window as the sun rose to get this photo. Therefore, when this moment happened, I was ready and knew exactly what I wanted.

[REWIND: LOCATION SCOUTING WITH SCOUTT – TRADE YOUR GREAT BUT TIRED LOCATIONS FOR NEW ONES]

Location scouting allows you to find unique places, like the one above, which others who don’t take the time will never know about. This location only works for me at this specific time of day. Location scouting can also give you confidence. Confidence that, barring any major **** ups, you can get some lovely photos. Major **** ups often occur but being prepared has always helped me to deal with them.

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.

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Location Scouting | How To Do It Properly

I shoot lots of types of photography. However, family photos tend to be my bread and butter. Working with children, I find location scouting to be essential. There are so many elements that can go wrong when children are involved that I want to eliminate as many as possible. It is, however, important for lots of other genres as well. On film sets, you may even have a team of people whose sole job is to scout locations in advance and manage them on the day. They’ll be looking for many more things than the majority of us, but it just goes to show how important this part of your shoot is.

I’m not going to pretend that location scouting and performing recces is a particularly complex task. However, there are a few key points I feel must be done/considered beyond the usual creative ponderings.

1) 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?)

2) Find out what is happening both in the surrounding area and directly around your chosen location. Are there sporting events that could cause delays?

3) Do I need permission/permits and, if going rogue, how likely am I to get caught?

4) Where is the nearest hospital if something were to go wrong?

For the recce, 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.

[REWIND: WHAT’S NEW ON YOUTUBE: DIY GOLDEN HOUR, WEDDING PARTY POSING IDEAS & INSTAGRAM]

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When I location scout, I am constantly thinking about how my subjects will fit into the environment. It’s quite creatively freeing. There’s no pressure, you’re on your own (usually), and you can spend as much time as you want slowly building a picture of your final photo. On the day, it’s a simple case of placing your subjects into those pre-visualized photos. With the photo above of the little girl staring at her boot, my recce photo (which sadly I deleted) was almost exactly the same, minus the little girl. I even go so far as to focus on where I envision a subject to be and take photos out of focus to see where I think people would be well placed.

Location Scouting | Summary

I am a planner. Often this can be to my detriment but in this regard, it is a massive plus. Location scouting and doing a recce 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 recces 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.

As mentioned, the idea for this article was spawned from watching Lighting 201. I refer to these videos in all of my articles as I see so much value in them for photographers of all levels. Make sure you check out all the educational content in the SLR Lounge Store. You can also jump straight to Lighting 201 by clicking here.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Liam Douglas

    Awesome advice, location scouting is a must in my opinion, even when shooting my personal project Forgotten Pieces of Georgia, I don’t shoot all of it spur of the moment as some of the locations just look the best when scouted ahead of time and shot as specific times of day from a specific angle.

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  2. Mark Romine

    When I was doing commercial work I always pre-scouted locations and charged for doing it. If possible I would try to get the art/creative director to tag along. Highly beneficial, doing so helped me to determine if I needed to rent additional lighting gear.

    When I transitioned from commercial work to weddings I tried, initially, to continue doing extensive scouting. But after the first couple years I gave up doing extensive scouting. I quickly learned that weddings time-lines rarely went the way they were supposed to and I often got frustrated by not being able to incorporate cool locations on the wedding day. So now, we will arrive an hour or so early to a new wedding location and do a walk around to see what opportunities we might have to work with. But I don’t put the time into it that I used.

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for the comment Mark.

      With commercial work I think there’s no way around it but as I mentioned, and you demonstrated, it’s not always possible. I don’t shoot weddings but the way you do it sounds logical to me. Your still getting a bit of a location scout in there, even if it is a small one.

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  3. Ed Rhodes

    great article!

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  4. Peter Nord

    I’ve use some iPhone apps that show the sun angle any time any where. Very handy. Kind of virtual recon.

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  5. Kishore Sawh

    Good one. This is hugely important. I know it’s possible to wing it, but I almost always fine images I love are shot in some interesting, suitable location. Too often for it to be mere coincidence, and then you realize just how much the environment can add

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    • Max Bridge

      You can definitely wing it. Head somewhere known to be nice and hope to find the perfect place, chances are you’ll be ok. But I guarantee you’ll find something better if you give yourself that added time.

      Like I said in the article, I also love being on my own and having the time to think. I can work under pressure but I prefer to “create” when I’m a little more chilled.

      When I worked in the film industry, the importance of good locations, or having amazing sets built, was something I was reminded of almost daily. Those films you watch which are more like artwork are quite often built around this kind of thing, as well as lots of other stuff of course.

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  6. Rick Burgett

    Really great advice! Location scouting and advance research can make a huge difference in a shoot.
    I don’t always do it, but should make the time.
    Thanks for the reminder.

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