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How to Scout for Portrait Shooting Locations

A Guest Post on Scouting for locations by Kyle Miller from Photography Tips
I remember driving around for hours on end through urban and industrial landscapes and to remote areas of the countryside that even the local farmers had forgotten about, all in search of prime and unique location photography spots. In the end I came to learn that some of the best locations were, and in one instance literally, right in my back yard. I still used many of these remote locations I found, but in general I saved them for special shoots. What helped me find the location spots around my office, as opposed to miles away, was learning what truly made for the best areas for location photography.


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A beautiful location shot, but this would most likely be to distracting to also include a model. Image by Kyle Kruchok

It’s only natural to look for amazing and extravagant areas to use as location photography spots. But a problem with these areas is that they are too extravagant, and while they may be unique to photograph on their own, they do not work well when used as a location spot. This is because they pull interest away from your model, who is the main subject. Simplistic areas tend to work the best for locations spots. These areas should have a simple theme or feel about the that complement your subject rather than pull away from them.


While you should always retain a fairly large number of potential location photography areas, you should remember that not every spot will work for every shoot. The majority of the location photography areas you use should hold an almost universal appeal, that allows the area to complement virtually any shoot. If you only use specialized locations than you will inevitably come across a shoot that none of your locations will work for. I have found that it is good to retain a few cliche location photography areas, such as train tracks, a “downtown” area, an open field, and a lightly wooded area, but also to keep some specialized locations as well, such as an industrial area, a unique alley, a train bridge, and even a run down building (not a condemned building, as that is unsafe and illegal.)

Multiple Areas in a Single Area

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This would be a prime location, since it is both interesting and retains multiple areas that could be used. Image by Eneas

As you scout for locations this is probably one of the main points to keep in mind, as it lends itself greatly to the universality of a location photography spot. An area that you believe would work well for location photography, should contain multiple areas that you can shoot at, all within the same general area. For example, one of my prime locations I use in most of my location portrait shoots is a decommissioned railroad bridge. This location has a unique predominate area of an old wooden bridge with railroad tracks, but I can also use the underside of the bridge, the creek the runs underneath it, or even the light wooded area that surrounds the bridge as areas to shoot.

Safety, Seriously.

This is a huge part of finding locations to shoot at, and should always be the main point kept in mind when deciding on a location. I will not advocate that I am the safest person in the world, but I damn well make sure any location I take a client to is as safe as possible. I have some fairly run down locations that I tend to use including decommissioned tracks, bridges, and even run down buildings. But before I ever even mention these locations to a client, I make sure to inspect every aspect of the location to make sure it is suitable to do a shoot, and if it’s not I will not use that location no matter how interesting it is. A cool photo is not worth getting sued or going to jail for reckless endangerment (or potentially manslaughter). Be smart about your location choices, seriously.


It doesn't matter how awesome an idea you have is, areas such as this should be avoided. Image by Sister72

Kyle Miller has been a professional wedding and portrait photographer for several years. He shares his knowledge on his blog Photography Tips where you can also download his eBook 7 Essential Photography Tips for free.

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