For anybody who shoots outside of a set or the studio, location scouting is almost a necessity. Whether you’re shooting video or stills, if you have a specific look in mind for the final result, you need to have a suitable location. Sure, you can skip the whole planning thing, and just drive around while shooting in the hopes that you’ll eventually find a spot. For some run & gun styles of shooting that might actually work, but for a lot of things, it doesn’t.
Location scouting allows you sort out shooting spots in advance. It lets you plan ahead and account for things that would otherwise be impossible to foresee had you just stumbled across it while out shooting. This free checklist from StudioBinder, helps make your location scouting life a little easier by reminding you of the things that you may need to check when at a location.
The checklist is generally geared more towards film and video production, but many of the things on it also apply to stills photography. You’ll still want to know how your environment looks from all angles, if you’ll need to hire the venue or get a permit to shoot there, how the sun affects the location throughout the day, etc.
Pretty much the only part that wouldn’t be applicable for photographers sound the section dealing with sound. If you’re only shooting still images, getting good quality clean audio isn’t going to really be an issue. Well, unless you want to shoot a behind the scenes video to go along with it, then it might become important.
One of the things right at the top of the checklist is interesting, and doesn’t immediately seem to apply to photography. The story. In a movie, this one’s obvious. If you’re shooting a crime drama in New York, there’s probably not much going off to shoot a scene in the Florida swamps and trying to ass it off as NYC.
In stills photography, though, the location can add as much to the story as the subject, lighting or anything else. While there may not be a running theme that you need to consider across multiple sessions, does this location help you tell this story better?
Nearby facilities, such as bathrooms where your subject may be able to go and get changed, parking availability, whether or not power is available, can all be major factors for location photographers. The list will obviously vary depending on the style of photography you shoot, but it’s a great starting point for helping you develop your own checklist.
For me, I’d be adding a “Gear needed” section to this list. Sometimes, you show up at a location, and you just know that at a certain time of day, something’s going to cause you issues. Maybe it’s projecting ugly shadows or one great big shadow that leaves a part of your location in darkness for some of the day. Take this location, for example.
This is one of my favourite somewhat local locations to shoot at. Right from sunrise, shooting upriver gives the most amazing backlight. When I first discovered this location, I immediately knew that unless I planned to shoot silhouettes, I was going to need flash. Probably large reflectors, too, or I wouldn’t be able to adequately light subjects standing in the river.
After noon, the sun goes behind trees and the entire location is in shade until the following morning. If I want to try to simulate that morning look during the afternoon, I won’t be having to compete with the sun, but again I’ll need lights, and a lot more of them than I needed in the morning to get a similar look.
But it won’t be exactly the same. So, scouting this location and seeing it at different times of day lets me know in advance that there’s going to be issues. So, I book morning-only or afternoon-only shoots at this spot. The one time I tried to push it, the afternoon shots still looked good, but they didn’t match the morning shots and weren’t included in the final delivery to the client.
This maybe falls under the “Sunlight” bit in the “Sight” section of the checklist. But, knowing what gear I have available to me and my own abilities, I can refine the checklist to make it specific to me and my needs. It may be lighting equipment, or it may be a reminder to pack a specific lens or other gear just to make my life easier on the day of the shoot.
I’d also suggest that when you go outdoor scouting, get a lot of photos with your phone. Or, if your DSLR has a built in GPS, use that instead. That way, if you happen to stumble upon locations that may be difficult to find again in the future (which is most of the ones I find), you’ll know exactly where they are when you want to use them.
You can download the checklist from StudioBinder here. If it already serves all your needs, awesome! If it doesn’t, use it as a starting point for building your own checklist.
Do you use a location scouting checklist? What’s on it that wasn’t mentioned above or in StudioBinder’s list? What’s missing from your checklist that you’re thinking about adding now? Let us know and share your thoughts and tips in the comments.
[via No Film School]