Taking it on the Road: Location Scouting 101

Taking it on the Road: Location Scouting 101

Lately I've been scouting locations for a calendar project I'm working on, and it got me thinking how little content I've come across online on how to go about it. Location scouting isn't really a science, there are a lot of ways to go about it, but there are a few simple tricks and tools to maximizing productivity in your efforts.

1. Identify your setting (Google Maps)

As with any photo planning work, it's a good idea to figure out exactly what it is you're looking for. Using a service like Google Maps (satellite & street view) can give you a few ideas of where to go, and will let you map out an area so you (hopefully) don't get lost. I prefer to mark all locations on my GPS so I don't have to constantly check where I am, but a traditional map and pencil work too, of course.


If you don't have a GPS system, you may find these apps useful:

- Google Maps (Voice Navigation Included) - Free IOS | Android
BestRoute Free (Google Maps Compatible, Route Planning) - Free Android

2. Pack Necessary Equipment

Once you get to the location you have a bit more work to do than just looking at it. A notebook (or ipad, laptop..something to write with) to take notes on certain elements or conditions such as elements blocking sunlight, traffic, copyrighted signs/content to avoid, etc. It's also a good idea to take photos (I like to use my phone for this since everything syncs automatically to the cloud) of everything you're noting in order to later plan your shots with more accuracy.

Despite my recommendation for using a phone to take photos, I also recommend a tripod and SLR (or at least something with manual settings) in case you encounter low-light conditions, or need to expose for different elements. A speedlite and wireless trigger do not hurt either.

3. Identify the Property Owner (Permission & Permits)

Something that a lot of amateur photographers don't realize is that any kind of photo production requires a permit in areas owned by any municipality. Even if you're out in the country, many fields are privately owned, and these land owners may not appreciate you trespassing with a crew uninvited. It's essential that you have your permit or written permission before you select a final location. For information on how to get a permit, contact your local City Hall.

4. Calculate the Costs & Time Associated with your Final Selections

If this shoot is for a client, your time and travel costs are billable. Using your final selections, map out the most efficient route and use your locally recommended cost per km to make an accurate price quote. If you aren't sure what that figure is, your local government may have a recommended figure available. Here are the 2013 figures for a few of our most frequent reader locations: Canada, USAAustralia (Sorry UK, can't find anything for you). Depending on your fee structure, you may wish to add additional costs to the time you're spending travelling (for those with half day/full day rates it may already be covered).


Of course with the vast possibilities in photography there will be situations in which other considerations should be considered, this is simply a base guideline to build off of. If you have any other recommendations for location scouting techniques, please feel free to share them in the comments!

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David Hobby had a VERY good point concerning permits and location shooting.

Local police forces or small towns don't always know much about flash photography so once you have that permit, call them up to let them know when and where you will be.

Saves you to have to talk to an unknowing officer about a permit he might not even be familiar with. Also saves the PD to come down if neighboors call the cops because they see lights flashing in the park in front of their house....

Extra steps...

Cool post!

Sorry but no 911 dispatch takes these kind of notes - they don't have the time or resources and they are not going to go check for them anyway if they get a call. Local small town police are generally dispatched from larger contract 911 call centers. If you call with this info they will be polite but you're wasting their time and yours unless it is a very big shoot.

Police departments have an office number.

Yes, you're right they do, but the office does not dispatch a response and is not manned at night. It's just not Mayberry PD anymore. A call for unusual behavior or a disturbance in a park at night will be queued and dispatched out on a priority basis through a 911 call center that is possibly 100's or even 1000's of miles away.

Many municipal parks are closed overnight - it's a good idea to pay attention to signs that state hours of closure.

I used to call a non-emergency number for our local dispatch all the time because of my job. They're there 24/7. You don't need an officer to show up to your location, you can just call to let them know beforehand. They'll certainly prefer to be notified before other issues start cropping up.

One thing to watch out for... Private security companies. They can have the cops on your ass in minutes.
I've run into this issue several times when shooting on back streets bordering industrial buildings and warehouses at night.
Even sticking to public property, being picked up on the security system of a nearby building can trigger a threat alert.

take a bike, don't be afraid to go through unseen sideroads, you'll be surprised what you can find. sometimes locations inspire you to make a whole new story

Rob Durston's picture

I use Theodolite when I go scouting; it gives me all the extra information I need. I also use Skyview to track the sun position and Photo Buddy for everything else.




When the community grow, www.shootipedia.com will be a great place to start the search too. Right now it is pretty focused in Utah, but hopefully photographers will get the word out and start sharing.