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:
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, USA, Australia (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!