I’m no real estate agent, but I can definitely appreciate the mantra of LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Being a primarily on-location photographer, meaning any place other than a studio, it becomes imperative to scout out locations. This isn’t going to be a blog post of the list of places to go, but rather a post about FINDING the places to go.
I think finding a location that compliments the subject matter and adds to the overall imagery is quite possibly THE most important aspect to being an on-location photographer. No pressure, right?! But seriously, I would say 90% of the time the location selection is the responsibility of the photographer. There are the few times that you have clients who choose the location, however it’s my experience that the client wants YOU to choose the location YOU think is right for them. This is where you put on your detective hat and start asking questions. Whenever a client defers to my knowledge & experience the first question I typically ask is (for my family/kids/senior clients)… when you visualize your final images hanging on the wall or on display, what do you imagine they will look like or rather, where do you see them taking place? This isn’t necessarily a question that is looking for a specific location answer, only a feeling or vibe. Is it an urban, downtown scene with a busy background (buildings, cars, alley ways) or is it more peaceful and calm, earthy such as a field, desert, lush landscape? For me, this will help narrow down some possibilities. Get as much info from your client and really come up with some creative ideas that you feel best match their personalities or with what their overall vision is for their photos. For my fashion shoots a lot of times there is an already established theme or concept and so the trick is to find a location that works with that concept… but more on that later.
So, how do you stay creative with fresh, new location ideas? Well, it’s not a secret to us Phoenicians here that photo locations can be quite sparse; and some really great [FREE] spots have become unavailable due to misuse and abuse. However, to me that’s just a challenge to find an even better, newer spot. I will say this, though the key to location scouting is that your eyes must be wired almost 24/7 to constantly being on the look out for new areas. I physically cannot get into a car and not be thinking LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Every nook and cranny I pass I am thinking and visualizing what a photo would look like with a client there. Don’t ever be fooled by your own neighborhood or area, either. I promise not ALL the good spots are across town. The trick is to quit “seeing” the same streets and empty lots you pass by 10x a day and really “visualize” those same areas with a client placed in just the right light. And, if you’re still not sure about a spot then take a friend or offer a free session to a family if they will try a new location with you.
I have been very fortunate in both finding some great locations and also having fellow photogs be so willing to share locations with me. I feel like the key to asking is to do it in a private message directly to the photographer. If a photo is posted on their blog or a Facebook page it always seems weird to me to say ‘oh, please share where you took this photo, or where is this location at’, etc. If I’m interested in knowing their great spot then I never want to put another photographer or peer on the spot to have to feel like they HAVE to answer that, or to embarrass myself when they PUBLICLY say they don’t want to tell me. I mean really, if you want to know someone’s great photo location at least have the thoughtfulness to send them a message directly, complimenting them on the great shoot and if they wouldn’t mind sharing the location. The worst thing that will happen is that you will have sent a very nice email to a peer photog and that’s it; the best thing that could happen is you get the details to a great, new location as well as an awesome new photographer friend who would love to chat over lunch sometime.
You NEED to keep a journal, a list, a notebook of some kind with any and all the spots you come across. I cannot tell you how many times I came across an amazing spot while driving and thought to myself ‘geez, that’s such a great spot that I’m sure I’ll remember exactly where that’s at’. Ummmm, yeah right!! I’m a mom and my brain is mush half the time. Enough said. Right it down. On my iPhone I use the Notes application (I think it comes standard on the iPhone) and I have a list that I’m always adding to it when I find something. I type in the cross streets and what it is (an empty lot, a building, anything distinguishing). Another thing I do on my iPhone is use the Drop Pin feature on the Map application. If I’m stopped in front of or nearby a new location then using the Drop Pin will find the address and you can add it to your bookmark of locations. But, you know when they say… there’s an app for that… there actually is! A fellow local photographer [Danno Watts] has created an iPhone application specifically for location scouting (man I wish I thought of it first The app is $2.99, but he recently released a Lite FREE version of it. I haven’t fully tested it out yet, but it does all the things I listed above and then some, just in one app (map it, note it, picture it – with your camera phone).
Also another great tip is to not always take the same route to your usual destinations. Often times by changing up your daily routine you can find some of those great spots. Keep an open mind. The same old drab spots don’t always seem so appealing when looking at the WHOLE scene, but if you can visually crop out those elements that won’t be in the photo anyway then you’ve just opened up a new set of possibilities. For instance, I have a friend who lives near a neighborhood in which the homes use a back alley for their garbage pick up. Certainly on garbage day that’s no place you want to take photos, let alone take a client, however I have noticed that some of those narrow alleys get the most amazing late afternoon light. With just a simple cinderblock wall on one side and an old wooden fence on the other… I know it may seem crazy, but it would be amazing.
Wow… have I rambled on or what?? I sure hope you stuck around to the end because in fact the whole inspiration for this blog post actually has to do with another blog post that is going up tomorrow. I had been wanting to work with Alex of AVE Styles on a fashion shoot for some time and we came together for a shoot we titled WILD ABOUT SEQUINS – and those photos are finally hittin’ the blog. To me location scouting was such a big part of this shoot and so I’ll be sharing some of those details and lots more in the next post.