Outdoor Lifestyle Photography Location Scouting
Be in The Right Place at The Right Time By Planning Ahead
One of the most enjoyable parts of shooting outdoor lifestyle photography is finding the ideal location. Unfortunately some of the best locations present logistical problems that make large shoots difficult and expensive, but advances in digital technology have made shooting in remote locations easier with less gear and a smaller crew. However, it is really important to plan the shoot out ahead of time to ensure the photographer and the models and crew are in right place at the right time to get the best possible images in the best possible light. To do this properly requires location scouting before the shoot, so that the images are captured in the best possible light.
Make Your Final Shot List and Shoot Schedule After Location Scouting
To get the look I wanted in the above image I knew I would have to capture this shot in the short period of time that the early evening light was scraping across the granite leaving some areas bright and other areas in the shadows. In order to make sure I had the timing right on the day of the shoot I visited this location a few days ahead of time, so that I could watch the light and record the best time to set up and capture this shot. The above image was captured on Bald Rock in Northern California which is one of my favorite shoot locations. Even though I am very familiar with this location, I always get better results when I scout the areas a few days before a shoot, and make a shot list with times that is dictated by natural light. However, a photo shoot often has many moving parts and multiple people involved, so it is important to remember that anything that can go wrong often will go wrong, so that you have a back up plan if you get off schedule.
Even With Proper Planning Problems Will Arise
Below is a behind the scenes video of another shoot I did on Bald Rock that got off schedule due to unforeseen problems in spite of the fact that I had location scouted ahead of time. Fortunately we had a back up plan to ensure we captured the key pictures on the shot list in case we encountered problems that robbed us of shoot time. This allowed us to prioritize quickly and cut non essential shots, because we had made those decisions ahead of time in case we ran into problems.
Sun Position Tracking Apps are Great, But They Can’t Replace In Person Location Scouting
It is pretty important to do the location scouting a week or less prior to the shoot, because light changes every day as the world turns. However there are some pretty good apps like the Photographer’s Ephemeris and Sun Seeker that can help you be in the right place at the right time if your shoot happens several weeks or more after you scouted the location or if you didn’t get to scout at all. I personally prefer the old fashioned way of checking a location ahead of time in person, because I am old and because it gives me an excuse to go for a hike and/or a mountain drive and call it work. If I am shooting for a client I always insist on a scout day ahead of time, because I have seen too many scheduling problems disrupt a shoot that could have been avoided with a thorough scout day. Below is a behind the scenes video of an outdoor lingerie shoot I did in the Bucks Lake Wilderness for Urban Bird Clothing that went exactly according to the schedule I had made on my scout day the weekend before the shoot.
It is rare that photo shoots go exactly as planned but this was a simple shoot with a small crew in a great location, so it went smoothly, but it would have been much more difficult if we had not scouted the shoot locations ahead of time.
Lighting Tests are an Important Part of Location Scouting
If you are location scouting for a shoot with models, I think it is important to bring a person and some lighting gear along to help you prepare quickly for the key shots. As photographers we are always racing the light, and any preparation we do ahead of time could end up being the difference between getting the shot or not getting the shot. The image above is from a shoot a few years back for Tahoe SUP. I went to the location a day before the shoot before dawn with the marketing director to ensure we knew exactly where we wanted the model/athlete (Lel Tone) to be positioned at sunrise on the day of the shoot. This also gave me a chance to do lighting tests and record the results, so that I din’t have to waste time getting the lighting the way we wanted it on the day of the shoot. Because my lighting locations and settings were planned in advance we were able to get more shots on the day of the shoot. However this preparation did not prevent me from losing one strobe and one lens cap by dropping them in the lake. Apparently no amount of planning can prevent me from being clumsy.
Unexpected Weather Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the Shoot Needs to Be Cancelled.
Sometimes weather can mess with carefully laid plans for a shoot, but bad weather doesn’t necessarily mean a shoot has to be canceled. If you have a back up plan for unexpected weather you may be able to get some great shots in spite of the conditions or even because of the conditions. The photo above was from a rainy day retro fashion lifestyle shoot that was originally supposed to be a paddle board photo shoot. Fortunately we knew that Northern California weather reports are often wrong in the Spring, so we had a back up shoot planned and ready in case weather changed. When we scouted this location we made two shoot schedules. One was for good weather and one was for rainy weather. The shoot location is a small lake surrounded by fields, so we had paddle board photos planned for various locations in the lake if the weather was nice and fashion lifestyle type photos planned for various locations in the fields if it rained. Obviously this sort of about face is not a possibility for client work, but this was a stock photography shoot, so we could do what we wanted.
Often extreme weather creates some unique settings, and it may even be a good idea to plan a shoot around inclement weather or find a location that has recently experienced flooding or a drought. The above shot was possible due to the extreme drought Northern California was experiencing up until the Winter of 2017. We knew that the low water line of Oroville Lake would create some great shoot locations so we spent two days scouting the lake shore to find the best spots. You can read more about this shoot in the post called Fashion Lifestyle Photography in A Drought.