How to Effectively Scout Locations For Your Upcoming Photoshoots

How to Effectively Scout Locations For Your Upcoming Photoshoots

Developing an idea for a memorable photoshoot is not an easy task. It involves concentration, creativity, discipline, managing skills, and much more depending on the type of photoshoot. Often, we start with a barely visible image in our head. But having a strong sense what we want, will help us develop it into a final, achievable visual. An inspiration is a crucial part of this algorithm. Everything can serve as an inspiration: from a dress to a hair color you saw on someone; from music to a movie you watched last night; from a color at the shop counter to a tree in your backyard. When you have something realistic to build your theme upon, things get easy. But what do you do when you have no idea where to shoot it? Your mobile phone can be your savior here.


In the place I live and work I don’t have the luxury of hiring big teams to help set up a shoot. This means doing mostly everything on my own, from the styling, to the idea development, to the art-direction, to organizing the whole shoot. But the one thing we cannot overlook is the location. There can be no shoot without the perfect location, but there is not always time to scout for locations. As a result, I have developed a scenario some of you might already be using. Instead of carrying a huge camera bag all the time, I rely on my mobile phone which is in my pocket at all times. This way I can always take a snapshot of anything my eyes find potentially interesting and exploitable as a location for a shoot.

This might sound simplistic or just too easy, but it really works. Have you ever stopped to gaze at a structured wall, an incredible shade of sky, or a geometric building somewhere in the middle of a walk? I bet you did. And that’s when you need to take a snapshot of it with your phone. In time, you will have a huge library of snapshots of locations and when you need one urgently, you just go and pick.


Nuances to Pay Attention To

  • Taking just one picture is usually not enough. You can carry a notepad to make notes on location surroundings, but what I usually do is take several pictures to have an idea of my workable angles. Sometimes, a 360-degree video is useful, but scrolling through snapshots is much easier.

  • A very important step is to spot the sun and note the time at which you took the picture (which is automatically embedded into your mobile snapshot details FYI), and know what direction the sun is going to move. This step will save you a lot of time when you work on your lighting scheme. There is no worse scenario than arriving at your perfect location under totally wrong lighting conditions and with inadequate lighting equipment.

  • Consider the objects or people that might clutter your images when shooting at a chosen location. For example, cars are your enemies, unless you need some in your final photos. Pay attention to the time. You might spot an excellent location while you jog one early morning, but that same location might be an overcrowded place at noon. You might see a nice alley which is full of students around afternoon, but all free when it’s class time. Those windows in time can allow you to better schedule your shoot and save you a useless trip.


It is obvious creative people see usual things under a different light. So never be afraid to try and transform any usual place into a remarkable location for your upcoming shoot. You might see doubtful faces asking why you shoot at this or that average place. They might even whisper discouraging words, but that should never stop you. One of our duties as photographers is to show the world under different light.


If you also work with this method, then show before and after results of your vision in the comments.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

Emma Grigoryan is an award winning Fine Art/Fashion photographer based in Armenia. She enjoys styling and creating her own sets and looks: be it a conceptual shoot or a beauty look. Her biggest inspirations are diversity, color, water and geometry. Since 2012 she is a contributor for Art+Commerce and Vogue Italia.

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I absolutely love this article.

glad to be helpful !

great article! I find the before and after images to really be beneficial

For some reason, this article inspired me more than any other I've read on Stoppers... I feel like it was telling me, 'enough with the excuses', lol.

that's a good thing to read in the morning! awaiting for results !

Really good article. Thank you Emma.

Great article :-D

A good article and some great uses of the scouted locations too

#afterbefore :)

To check for the sun's positions, apps such as Sunseeker or Helios can be really useful too

thanks for the tip ! haven't used any of those, will have a look

Great great article! It's always fun to scout out new locations for shoots. These are all things that are very important to keep in mind when searching for the perfect spot!

Great post ! Valuable advice !

Too good article. :), really inspiring.

Great article, are there places where police or another autority won´t let you make photography unless you get a permission?

I have had couple of locations like that, and if there is any doubt you should for sure double check for permission in advance.

Tools I use often for outdoor photo/video shoots:

1. Google Earth
2. Google Street View (if available)

Great read Emma!!! When i am out and about I always see places that I think would be fantastic for a shoot but just catalog them in my brain. Never thought of simply taking out my phone, which I always have, and archiving those locations!!! Thanks for waking me up!!! LOL

most welcome !

I use a scouting app called MapAPic, which lets me shoot pix of an area, geotags it, and then lets me title the set of shots (Like, "Location by viaducts"). I can then add notes and more importantly, assign keyword tags, which is helpful if i want to to shoot at a coffee shop located in midtown, or a theatre in the southside, look for places i've tagged with specific mood.

Big help when trying to come up with ideas based on a theme and you have an area in mind. I'll often shoot a location out of my car window and add the info later to it. There are other location scouting apps out there, but i've been using mapapic for a few years on my iphone and it's been incredibly helpful.

sound really helpful, will have a look !

I have done a fair amount of location scouting and shooting but this really opened my eyes. Excellent work Emma.

glad to be helpful

I see surprisingly few articles about locations and this is brilliant for me. Seeing the before and after shots really shows what you can do with a space, it's quite inspiring. Time to get scouting! Thank you :).

You have inspired me! thank you!