There have been several posts on Fstoppers over the years extolling the virtues of the pre-shoot location scout. Knowing your location in advance not only helps to keep the crushing dread of a possible creative block to a minimum, but your confidence and decisiveness carries across to your clients. They start to see you as a god of light, a master of scene. But sometimes, location scouts don’t go as planned: sometimes, it rains, sometimes, you don’t plan for a gigantic Buddhist festival to be taking place, and sometimes, you accidentally bring a two year-old.
Last Saturday, my wife and I shot a wedding, so the Saturday before was “Location Scout Day.” The morning of the scout, we’d done nearly all the right stuff:
- Brushed our teeth and double-knotted our shoes.
- Checked the wedding timings so we could hit all the locations at the same time to gauge light and crowds.
- Ate a nice lunch so we wouldn’t be tempted by the golden M.
- Put memory cards into our cameras to save files to.
- Put on pants, a shirt, and shoes so people wouldn’t stare quite so much.
But we’d made one simple mistake. When the question “What should we do about Alice?” was posed (Alice is our two year-old, little force of nature), one of us - probably me - suggested that we “bring her along. It’ll be fun.”
Location One was an amazing decommissioned power station that has been partially renovated into a performing arts gallery, bar, and restaurant space with stairs, gangways, graffiti, huge curtains, people, and live music everywhere. For a two year-old, this much stimulus is like a shot of sugar straight into the eyeball and the only thing you can do is run and climb everything in sight. However, we wanted to stand in one spot for more than just a few seconds and look at light, maybe take a few test shots, maybe move a little to the left and try again. This didn’t play well with Alice. We may as well have asked a bird not to fly, a unique snowflake not to dance on the wind, or a demolitions expert not to demolish stuff. The thin veil of civility dropped from Alice’s eyes and she turned, what my wife refers to as, feral.
We soldiered on, one of us checking a shot while the other locked in a battle of wits with our most precious of creations. We told ourselves that the images would look a lot more wedding-ish without the crying child in them, but it was hard to keep the creative juices flowing, and eventually, we had to give in. There was a park next door, and maybe an hour in the playground would tire her out. We’d pick up the momentum at the next location.
Location Two was the footpath (i believe it's called a “sidewalk” in the U.S. of A.) outside of a giant set of warehouses and on quite a busy road. Two year-olds and busy roads don’t mix, so we opted for the “you stay in your pram” approach. Lizzie and I got to work, jumping around, checking light levels, and standing out in the middle of the road shooting each other in front of the sunset. For a short time, this seemed to be mildly entertaining for Alice, and she talked away, sang a little of her ABCs, and played with a flower she’d found. However, kids these days have a short attention span; I blame the rap music. Soon, her patience ran dry, but luckily for us, so had the light, so it was time to move on.
Location Three was a private restaurant sitting on its own in a little grassy park, with festoon lighting leading to a small beach area — very pretty. There were a lot of room for ideas here and we wanted to get a couple of test shots under the lights. Enter the two year-old. Would she be content playing in the park? No, there’s a road right next to the park that needs to be run towards at full speed. Would she be happy on the little beach? No, if there’s a beach, there’s water to run towards, and in this case, it’s Brisbane’s shark-infested river (yes, in Australia, we have sharks in our rivers). It was at this point that we made the best decision of the day. We gave up and went and got dumplings and pork buns.
So, after all that, how did the wedding turn out? Was the scout worth all the effort? Thankfully, yes. Arriving at the first venue on the wedding day, we discovered that it was indeed "World Tibet Day" and most of the obvious locations we’d looked at were now covered in large pictures of the Dalai Lama or strewn with Buddhist prayer flags. Luckily, we’d scouted enough that we had plenty of ideas up our sleeves and didn’t lose any time hunting for a location. Would we take Alice on our next location scout? I’d like to say that we learned a lesson from this, but you know what, last week wasn't the first time we’d made that mistake, and deep inside, it just doesn't feel like it was the last time either.