When talking about photography, a Tech Scout is a term borrowed from the film industry. It refers to finding a location that will match the setting or scene of a story.
LIke filmmakers, photographers need to do tech scouting (also referred to as a location scouting or a location recce).
The importance of a tech scout is often underestimated. Sure, you may find the most amazing location to photograph a newly engaged couple, but if you’ve overlooked some potential problems, it can end up ruining shoot day.
Why you need to do a tech scout
As a photographer, a big part of your job is making sure you’re prepared. Cameras stop working, software crashes, and you realize that you forgot to charge the batteries for your Speedlites.
Unfortunately, technical difficulties are a part-and-parcel of the job. However, many various other issues can crop up when you’re on location. That location can even be a studio that you’ve never worked at before.
It’s part of your job as a photographer to ensure that the environment you’ll be shooting in is conducive to getting the desired results for you and your clients.
For example, as a photographer who shoots food, I always make sure that there is a kitchen in any studio I rent out for my jobs. Doing so narrows down the available studios that I can shoot in quite a lot. Food stylists work in all sort of conditions and can sometimes make do with a hot plate. However, why not rent a studio with a kitchen if it’s as easy as renting one without it?
Whenever I have to shoot on location, such as in a restaurant, I do a tech scout too. I visit the restaurant beforehand to find out where I’ll be able to shoot as unobtrusively as possible. I also want to see if there is enough natural light coming in from some windows. If not, I plan to bring in a strobe or a speedlight.
Becoming familiar with the environment you’ll be shooting in will help you not only plan your lighting accordingly but also anticipate potential snafus that can prevent your shoot from going as smoothly as expected.
Working with clients on a tech scout
If you shoot retail photography, for example, families or couples, you don’t necessarily need to share details or images of the chosen location or locations beforehand. Perhaps your client may be familiar with the setting or has suggested it themselves.
For commercial clients, however, you may be responsible for scouting several locations and presenting them to the client for their decision.
The client will approach you with a creative brief or some ideas of what they are looking for, but it’s up to you to find the ideal location. Your job is to present at least two or three locations based on the brief or mood board or other consultation from the client. It may mean coming up with a list of possible options before narrowing it down to the ones you will actually go check out and photograph.
How to do a tech scout
To do a successful tech scout, you need to define the scope of the project.
Be clear on the following:
* who and or what are you shooting?
* how many images are required?
* how and where are they to be used?
* what is the budget to shoot these images?
* what does the client intend to achieve?
You may have some locations in mind, or you might have to start with a virtual scout, a search using Google Maps and street view. You can use Google to search for iconic buildings, structures or other important locations.
Once you have feedback from the client, visit each location with your camera and take some pictures. If possible, do your scout at the same time of time you’d be shooting the final images. An app like Sun Seeker or Sun Surveyor can help you determine where the sun will be at that time, which may be a big factor in your decision-making process.
Send the client a gallery of some of the best images with a color treatment that somewhat reflects the desired results.
There are some potential problems that can get in the way of your shoot. Some may be disastrous for you if you haven’t thought ahead, especially on a commercial production where the budget is high.
One such pitfall is permits and licenses. People take images in public all the time, but as soon as you put a tripod down, or have a crew with you, you’ll likely be asked to move along if you can’t provide the proper permits.
Make sure you have the required equipment to shoot in the conditions you’ll be working. This can mean having the right accessories to protect you and your gear from the rain, and even having a large enough vehicle to transport bulky equipment like c-stands.
Parking is another issue you should determine ahead of time. Are you and your crew or the client going to be able to access the location easily, or you will have to walk a bit. If so, how are you going to transport your gear?
Lastly, if you’re shooting outside all day, what are you going to do about bathroom breaks? It may sound funny, but you won’t be able to leave thousands of dollars of equipment and the talent sitting around while you search out a loo. This is a scenario where having an assistant is a must.
Bathroom breaks and meals/snacks are something that needs pre-planning.
Hopefully, you’ve learned more about how useful it is to do a tech scout and the best way to approach one.
Proper planning can make or break a photo shoot. No matter how small your shoot or who you’re shooting for (even if it’s for yourself), checking locations out beforehand can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.