Facebook Pixel 5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

Maybe by a show of virtual hands, how many of us have ever been in a situation where we have gone to a location for a photoshoot only to find out that something unexpected like a marathon, construction or worse demolition, is going on that prevents you from using the space as you intended? And I am being very serious in the demolition example!

One of my favorite local parks went through a complete revamp a couple of years ago and for months the only thing I could see was demolition equipment all around. The dirt paths that I loved so much had all gone and tar biking paths took their place!

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

The dirt path with the cover of trees in the background was one of my favorite spots in this local park. The light would filter through the trees and the dirt path would act as a natural reflector and bounce golden light back to my subjects! – now this whole area is a parking lot that leads up to the trees!

I am a natural light outdoor photographer for the most part. Hence, I rely on outdoor locations for 75% of my photoshoots including the weddings I photograph. More often than not, my clients, the bride and groom, look to me for suggestions on natural outdoor locations for their bridal portraits and family formals. Even my lifestyle family photo shoot clients love suggestions on the best locations for beautiful family photos especially in the fall when the leaves all change colors. To that end, I am always on the look out for clean, beautiful and unique outdoor locations for my photoshoots.

Here are a few tips on how to scout and find the perfect location for your next photo shoot.

#1 Know your clients

Every client is different and every photoshoot is unique. It behooves us photographers to really get to know our clients so we can tailor the photo shoot to fit their personality. This not only ensures that they will have a good time but also that they will be more relaxed and happy during their photoshoot. This means you will get pictures that they are bound to love and hence recommend you to all their friends and family. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For my wedding clients, I have a formal questionnaire that they fill out to describe their style and that of their wedding. This helps me plan out locations and poses that will reflect their style and personality. For my family photos, I have a conversation with the family to see what type of photos they gravitate towards. Do they want to have fun outside in a park? Or do they want to hang out at home with each other? The family photo session is tailored around their needs.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

My lovely clients wanted a location in nature among the trees. She told me her outfit choices ahead of time so I chose this park with a small waterfall. It seemed to fit their personality and the theme of the shoot ‘The quiet before the storm” quite well.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

This session, on the other hand, took place at my client’s home. During our consultation, she mentioned that she wanted to use her 2.5-acre backyard for photos. I knew the green of the grass and the trees would add a lot of color cast to my subjects so I recommended neutral colored clothing. We also waited until the sun passed behind some clouds to take some of these shots to prevent too much color cast on their faces.

#2 – Scout at different times of the day

When I look at potential locations for my photo shoots, I always try and visit the place at multiple times during the day. This gives me an idea of the lighting at different times. Does the location get direct sunlight or is it shaded and hence gets only directional light? Is it a busy street and with potentially lots of people that might be walking around and getting in my shots? What are the traffic patterns to get to the location? All these little details are really important for me to be able to plan my day and photoshoot so that I can get the best possible pictures in the time I have at the location with my clients.

Tip: If you cannot get to a location ahead of time, use Google maps and sunset/sunrise times to figure out where the sun will be at the time of day you are photographing. This will help you be a little prepared when you get to your location.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

For a bridal editorial shoot at a beautiful historic location, I scouted the location a few days ahead of time and realized that the area where I wanted to photograph was full sun at 2:00pm (on the left)). So I knew that if I moved the photo shoot to the morning, this area would be in the shade and be evenly lit. Sure enough, the light was gorgeous for my editorial photo shoot! Had I not scouted the location, I would have been scrambling to find the right spot in the afternoon.

#3 Pay attention to details

One of the biggest problems that most photographers face is related to light. Not all light is equal and photographing in different lighting conditions will lead to different results.

Early morning light is generally soft and subtle. The afternoon light is often harsh, especially if you place your subject in full sun. Evening light tends to be more warm and golden hue. Post-sunset light is blue. You can photograph in each of these lighting conditions provided you know how to position, pose, and light your subject in each of instance.

Quality of light matters

When scouting a location, pay attention to details around the quality of light at different times of the day. Another thing to keep in mind is color casts from surrounding objects. This is quite prominent around trees, colorful buildings and graffiti walls. Try and find natural reflectors (eg. a white wall) that will bounce light back onto your subjects or use reflectors that do the same thing and balance off the color cast. You can always fix it in post-processing if all else fails.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

A location in historic prairie preserve is a photographer’s favorite in my town. But I find that photographing inside the front patio adds a color cast from the yellow ceilings and directional light (photo on right). Yes, in a pinch I will take the shot and fix it in post-processing. But I prefer to either photograph my clients sitting at the edge of the patio on the steps where they are still in the shade of the patio arch but don’t have any color cast.

Karthika Gupta Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Importance of Location Scouting For a Photoshoot-06

So instead of dealing with the color cast from the porch, I took my client outside along the dirt path by the house and photographed her there. The concrete and the dirt path acted as natural yet neutral reflectors and bounced soft white light back onto her face, eliminating any color casts.

#4 – Tap into other resources

I belong to several photographer groups online and offline and we constantly share tips/tricks and location ideas amongst the groups. These groups exist to help each other out and everyone is open and welcoming. If you are photographing in an area that you are not familiar with, try finding a local photographer group for that region and ask around. Be friendly and genuine in your requests, and you may find some unique and off-the-beaten-path locations from the locals in the area.

#5 – Take a road trip

I love road trips! It is the best way to explore new areas and scout potential photography locations that will suit you and your specific needs. I generally take my family along so it is a fun-for-all experience. In a pinch, my kids will also act as models helping me test the light and background ahead of my client photo shoots.

A few years back I had a high school senior’s photo session and her mom wanted to find a unique spot where we could see the fall colors. I drove around my area for a few hours but was not finding anything that I really liked. I stopped by a local farm to pick up some fresh fruits and realized that the farm had everything I was seeking for my photo shoot. So I walked up to the owner and got permission to photograph there the next day. The senior’s mom got the photos she wanted and I found a unique location for my fall photos.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

The red of the trees does add a little color cast to my subject’s face but she really wanted the backdrop of the fall colors.

What are your tips to find the perfect location for your photos?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Karthika Gupta
Karthika Gupta

is a culture, people and travel photographer, based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural, and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course, a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.

I need help with...