One of the most challenging things about planning a photoshoot is figuring out where to do it! Where do you begin?! Even after you find a spot, there still are questions to be answered. For example, are you allowed to shoot there? What time will the lighting be best? I’ve discovered some helpful tips and tools for giving your clients a variety of location options. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned how to scout locations for photoshoots!
- Google search. Many of my photo locations have been a result of some search engine explorations. There are a variety of terms you can search to start compiling a list of locations to scout. You can start by seeing what places other local photographers are shooting at by typing things like “Los Angeles engagement photos” and checking out the search results as well as Google Images. To find things that are more outside the box, you can do local searches for specific types of locations like “forest” “mansion” “winery” etc. Or you can even just see what comes up by trying things like “unique locations in Orange County”. One of my favorite websites for finding unique local sites is Atlas Obscura. I can literally spend hours exploring the corners of the internet and finding cool places that I never knew existed.
- Google Earth. If you want to explore a location that is in a Downtown area or is directly on a street, you can take a virtual walk around it with Google Earth. This, of course, does not work for hiking trails or things that are off the beaten path. However, it is extremely helpful for times when you are going to be shooting in an urban area and want to get an idea in advance of what is around. Here’s an example with one of my favorite locations, the Pasadena City Hall. I “walked” around the outside of the building with Google Earth street view and screenshotted some of the best spots.
- Research their photography policies. No matter how epic a location is, do not attempt to shoot there until you have researched their photography policies. Many locations have permit fees and/or insurance requirements for professional photographers who are photographing paid assignments. It’s important to understand and respect these boundaries so that there is no trouble on your shoot day! I typically find it easiest to Google the name of the location and something like “photography policy” or “professional photography”. If they have information online about their policies, this will usually pull it right up.
- Scout in advance and drop pins. To have the most success with shooting at a new location, check it out in advance. I like to take a walk around before the actual shoot day and use my phone to drop pins/mark locations of spots that I want to shoot. That way I never have to worry about missing spots that I wanted to shoot at or forgetting where to go!
- Sun Seeker App. No longer do you need to pre-scout a location at the same time that you plan on shooting there. Thanks to the Sun Seeker mobile app, you can check out your location at any time and still get a visual on exactly where the sun will be at any time of the day. This has been beyond helpful for me! For example, I was able to scout this spot in Yosemite for a sunrise session without actually having to be there at sunrise. Thanks to this app, I scouted the location at my own convenience but was still able to see exactly what time the sun would be where I wanted it to be for my shot!
- Create a location guide for your clients. Now that you’ve found some places that you would like to use for future photoshoots, you will want to compile a guide with this information. This will save you the trouble of communicating the same details every time you book a new client. My location guide has over 20 location suggestions and includes photo examples of each of them, as well as all of the details they need to know. This includes things like permit fees, hazards, the ideal time of year to shoot, etc. The best part about this is that my guide has made it possible for me to shoot at most of the locations on my wishlist! Every time I find a new place that I want to shoot, I add it to my list of suggestions and usually, a client ends up choosing it!
Above all… be smart and be safe. Read signs and take care and caution with choosing the places that you are going to bring your clients to. But on the other hand, don’t be afraid to explore new places and step out of your comfort zone with new locations. Shooting somewhere new is always so refreshing and exciting to me!