Location Scouting. One of the most undervalued aspects of photography. Whether you're a landscape photographer, wedding photographer, portrait photographer, or fashion photographer, the more locations you have at your disposal the more valuable you become. In fact I'm often told by my clients one of the reasons they hired me was because they love the locations I use.
I Always try my best to find new and unique locations that most people don't know about. I have spent countless hours researching locations and driving around scouting locations. Because of this I'm not always quick to giveaway my favorite locations to anyone who asks. In this article I wont be giving away my locations but rather teaching you how you can find the perfect location for your next shoot all on your own. Connect with me on Instagram HERE and let me know the most helpful tip in the comments below.
Location Scouting Tip 1: Just Drive
Let's start with the best way to find a new location. Literally drive around and look with your eyes. As I'll mention below the problem with scouting online is you can't always be guaranteed a location will still be around or that it's in the same condition as in the photos you saw or if it's on private property or if there are obstacles to get there.
For example if you need a field or even abandoned house for a shoot you probably want to try driving out in the country. That's where you'll find fields and abandoned dilapidated houses. You may have to drive down random roads with no destination in mind until you come across the perfect spot you're looking for.
When you find one open Google maps.
- Look for the blue dot indicating where you are.
- Tap and hold next to the blue dot until a red pin appears. At the top of the App it will say "Dropped Pin."
- At the bottom of the App click "Label"
- Name the label something that you'll remember like "Abandoned 2 story house in Field" Then save.
- You now have that secret spot Saved in google maps so you can GPS to it in the future. Check out what my google maps looks like after all the locations I've saved.
Now for your final step. After you've Pinned the location take a photo or 2 for reference when you forget in the future and trust me, you will. Open the photo in your Instagram story, add corresponding text to the photo as shown below.
The text should match what you labeled it in google maps. For example I have a folder in my phone for abandoned places. So when I find an abandoned location that I'd love to come back to I'll pin it and label it something like "Apocalypse 1." I'll then take a photo and add corresponding text that says "Apocalypse 1."
That way if I open my maps and can't remember what the pinned location was or I want to share location ideas with a client I can find it in my folder on my phone. Organization is king. You can use other apps to add text to a photo but Instagram is easy so I'll use it to add the text and save the photo but not post it. Then I'll save the photo to the corresponding folder on my phone. Boom!
Location Scouting Tip 2: Instagram
Instagram is a great tool to find locations. Just think about it. Everyone uses Instagram to post where they are and what they're doing so more often than not a photo will be tagged with the location. So get on Instagram and go to the search bar and click places. Let's say I need a coffee shop for my location or I just wanna explore the area to see if anything jumps out at me.
Search the general area you're looking for like "Portland Oregon" Make sure you're under the places tab. Once you type in "Portland Oregon" it will come up as an option as well as popular locations in the area. This is the perfect place to explore nearby locations. When you click one, like "Oregon Zoo" it will take you to a feed of photos where people have tagged that location and you can get ideas of what you can expect. Let's say you click "Oregon Zoo" and it doesn't look like a good location. Go back and try the next location like "Portland Cars & Coffee" Do this until you see a location you like.
An even better option for searching Instagram and my go to is searching with tags instead of places. So You might search Oregon under the tags tab. Then you'll see a feed of photos anyone has posted with the #oregon. When you see a location that looks good click the photo and hopefully they tagged the location. If they tagged the location it shows at the top under their user name as shown below. Click the location that's tagged and it will take you to a feed of photos all tagged with that location as I mentioned above. This way you know they tagged the right location (Sometimes they don't) Once you have your general location you can start your research via google.
Location Scouting Tip 3: Evaluate the area
Do your best to evaluate and prepare. Especially when shooting with a client. It's always a good idea to visit the area before meeting a client there. Be aware of any obstacles. Be aware of the weather and temperature. A desert location, mountain location, or beach location will all have different weather and temps. Is your subject posing in water? How cold is the water? Could be a hot day but the water might be freezing. Prepare for that. What will the lighting be like? This will make a huge difference. Where will the sun be rising, where will the sun be setting. I use an app called PhotoPills to know ahead of time the direction of the sun at a specific location.
How popular is the location? Know the up and down times. Lets say you need a coffee shop or dinner. Find out when the slow times are so you can shoot without disrupting customers or getting people in your photo. Maybe you're shooting at a popular landmark. Unless you want a tone of people in the background behind your subject you might want to get there at sunrise.
Is the location on private property? This is a big one I run into all the time. When it comes to trespassing I can't tell you it's a good idea. That being said I do it all the time. However my caveat is this: I would never trespass on property that is currently occupied. That's just dangerous and extremely rude. But if I come across somewhere that's clearly abandoned I'll usually take my chances. Just don't forget it is against the law and I've been caught trespassing more than once. It's never fun. Any chance you get to ask for permission you should.
Location Scouting Tip 4: Flickr
Much like Instagram, Flickr is a photo sharing app where photographer share beautiful photos from all around the world and more often than not they will share the exact location. Try searching an area your interested in and see what you find :)
Location Scouting Tip 5: Loaded Landscape
Loaded Landscapes is one of my favorite tools when traveling. What they do is simple, they help photographers find the best locations to photograph, and provide helpful information that you can use to plan your own trips. I love that they constantly add more destinations. This site is made for Landscape photographers but is a huge tool for portrait photographers and lifestyle photographers. Just click the link and click the state your interested in. You're guaranteed to find something new :)
Location Scouting Tip 6: ShotHotspot
So, ShotHotspot is my favorite website for finding abandoned locations. They use sites like Flickr and Panoramio to build up an idea of which areas of the world are the best for photography. I use them to scout locations for photo shoots all the time, abandoned places, beautiful landscapes, and more. Urban exploration is huge right now but if you're exploring an abandoned location it's best not to go alone and if you do please be careful.
Location Scouting Tip 7: Leave no Trace
This is the most important tip of all. As photographers we all know how important it is to keep our favorite locations exactly the way we found them. It's imperative that we never leave anything behind and always respect the location.
Lance is a well known published Portland based Portrait photographer.