How I’ve Perfected Location Scouting Before Shoots

How I’ve Perfected Location Scouting Before Shoots

There’s nothing worse than visiting a location prior to shooting, only to miss out on important details. Avoid headaches, and make sure that you’re prepared for the shoot day.

A recce (derived from “reconnaissance”) is the art of visiting a set or location before shooting there. Plan out shots, confirm technical details, and save time for actual shooting. I usually wouldn’t need a recce in a bare studio. However, certain locations really need a prior visit.

These are the steps I tend to take in pre-production. Sometimes I’ll need to involve other people, and this is where I first begin.

Who Needs to Join You

There are times that I need guidance and approval from other parties, or I get brought in to assist on a recce. If you need to confirm that the set dressing will fit, then ask the set designer to join you. If you’re shooting an ASMR video beside a train station, it’s worth inviting the sound op. Often a client or producer will need to sign off on the look, and talk to the location owner.

360 cameras have definitely made my life easier. There's always an angle that I'll forget to shoot while location scouting.

The Tools

360 Camera

A week after the recce, somebody will ask how many outlets are in the space – and having a 360-degree photo is a lifesaver. It’s quick and easy. Sometimes it works best with a self-standing monopod. I tend to do one video walkthrough, and then take 360-degree stills around the location. Prior to using 360 cameras, I made use of Google Pixel’s “Photo Sphere”.

Measuring Tape

This should get paired with a notebook. Take note of the ceiling height, width of the doorways, and rough square footage. It will make your life so much easier later. Want to know if you can boom a C-stand? Will a piece of equipment fit in the elevator? This is getting easier with LiDAR tech in smartphones, but for now, I know I can trust a physical measuring tape more.

Video/Stills Camera

I bring a small camera with a super wide lens, plus lenses that might roughly be used on the shoot. This also helps come up with shot ideas in the first place. For example, I was shooting in a location with lots of mirrors this year. I needed to plan the shots in advance so that we wouldn’t set up lighting, audio, and camera – only to realize that the crew is reflected back in a mirror. Having a camera also allows you to quickly test for light flicker at different shutter angles and frame rates.

Phone/Laptop

You’ll want access to weather apps and sunlight position apps. Testing the Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and 5G speeds is also helpful. You may also wind up doing full test shots or a video edit during the recce. When planning out a shot I may ask a producer to stand in for a test shoot, and edit together a sloppy sequence right there and then. This just clears up any questions that might arise in post.

Light Meter

You likely won’t always need a light meter. However, it’s a handy tool for recognizing that f/4 won’t cut it in a low-light environment. If you want to go hog wild, check out Sekonic’s C800 which will give you a color temperature reading too.

From the recce, to the lighting setup.

What to Look Out For

These are the sorts of things I write down in a notebook. It makes it easier to draft up a document for people that weren’t at the recce. It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it will give readers the right idea. Of course, feel free to suggest more in the comments.

Power Availability

Check that outlets work, and how many there are available. If you’re using power-hungry lights it would be great to know where the fuse box is.

Insurance and Union Needs

The location may need proof of production insurance, and you’ll also want to double check that your production insurance covers what you’re shooting. Nobody should be open to liability if someone is injured on your set, and you can’t always be sure there won’t be damage to the location. In addition, double check that local unions won’t need to sign off on shooting in their neighborhood.

Believe it or not, locations can have copyright protections too. Not just the Eiffel Tower. For example, you can’t shoot artwork in the background. Save yourself the hassle of blurring out a painting in a house, and just take it down or replace it.

This shot was quickly tested in the recce, so we knew it would work.

Others

  • Steps and obstacles for rolling equipment.
  • If the floor is level and smooth.
  • Window placement and ambient light.
  • Restroom locations.
  • Parking availability.
  • Nearest hospital location (usually for larger sets).

I hope this article helps readers to up their location scouting game. Feel free to recommend your own process in the comments of course, especially when certain shoots call for extra pre-planning.

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4 Comments
user 65983's picture

Great article. Thanks!

bryan wark's picture

Def some great advice never thought of investing in a 360 camera so I could virtually revisit the space while planning shots in case I missed something the first time

Chris Gallego's picture

I do location scouting for movies and advertising and I would like to add something else to consider. So I hope my English make sense:

-Private locations are the best because they are easier to shoot because of the permits with the owner. It is faster than a not private location (normally)

-Take photos of every corner to leave the location even better than before shoot. So you can demonstrate that some imperfection already were there. Once the shoot finish and everything is wrapped, check the location with the owner.

-Ask if you can move which objects and where can you place them in case you need to do it. The ones with copyrights will need an approval document to use them.

-Check trees through the road because of the tracks and other vehicles. Sometimes the only place for parking is along the location road and neighbours could have some trees that could be damaged by the vehicles.

-Check the ground because it could not support the vehicles weigh. If there is gonna be a crane, evaluate the movements it is able to do.

-Alternatives for basecamp around location in case of wind or rain.

-National Parks are a headache because they required more previous time to get or not the permit. So check where are you able to shoot without damage the flowers and so on.

-Check the possibility of fly drones. Each country has different rules about that for each kind of areas.

-Check tides. A lot of people think waves are just water. What time tides up and down for each day on coast location.

-If you are lucky and can get the lenses and camera they are gonna use, set them in to an app like Cadrage.

-Calculate the time from hotel to each location.

Each production require different points but I like to add between other the ones I list above.

And please...please, if the location manager says something is not possible to do, don't insist. If not... improve the communication with the production department. No one knows better the locations that the location manager, overall if you are not from that place or country.

Stephen Kampff's picture

This is a brilliant list, so informative. Especially learning not to argue with the location manager!