Location Scouting

A PHOTOGRAPHERS GUIDE TO FINDING SESSION SPOTS

February 8th, 2021


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As a photographer, one of your main jobs is knowing locations to have photoshoots. Sometimes your client may have a specific or sentimental spot in mind, but they generally depend on your help. Depending on what part of the country you live in, your area could be full of public or private land. But how can you find locations and how can you know whether it’s okay to shoot there or not? Today I’ll be sharing the ways I scout for new locations all around me, as well as foreign places when I’m travelling.


Finding Spots

The first step to finding shooting locations is having an open mind! I could be on the way to Costco and see a beautiful, wide open field that would be perfect for a shoot. Every time I go anywhere, I always keep an eye out and mark the location on my phone to later refer to. There are 3 main ways I find my locations:


Accidentally - Devon never lets me drive (it’s like he thinks I’m bad at it or something…), so when we’re out and about or running errands, he’s usually driving and I’m usually gazing out my window. Having a creative eye can help when you see something as simple as a fallen tree branch.

Physically Scouting - Driving around and exploring is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ll pick a designated day for scouting and drive around from sun-up to sun-down. Again, marking any locations I see to refer back to.

Google Maps - I wish I was joking when I tell you how much Google Maps consumes my life. If I’m bored, Google Maps. If I’m sad, Google Maps. If I’m happy… you get the point. If you’ve never looked at Google Maps without the intention of finding a specific location, I highly recommend it. Get lost virtually! When you see green patches, that generally means it’s some sort of park. I also frequently use the street view option to view roads I’ve never been on and get a 360° view.


Once you’ve found a spot that you think would be great, be sure to always check the local tax records to see who the property belongs to. Most of the time (not always) if it’s owned by the city, county, country, or state, it’s up for grabs.


Public Land

Public land is great because most of the time you don’t have to go through the hoops of getting permission.


National Parks - National parks are one of my favorite places to shoot at. There’s a charm in knowing that your special moments were captured somewhere so spectacular. The downside of shooting in a national park is that you typically have to pay to get in. Park tickets last for a week and cost around $35 on average. I have the America the Beautiful annual pass. It’s $80 a year and should get you into any of the national parks. Way worth it, even if you only use it 3 times a year!

BLM Land - Bureau of Land Management dominates the western part of the U.S. and usually surrounds national parks. They offer the same beauty as national parks, without the fees.

• Local Parks - Having a session in your city or town’s local parks is a great way to avoid driving far away to see something pretty. With other land, you usually have to drive or hike a bit to get to a decent location. Parks have everything you need, without all the hustle and bustle.

• National Forests + State Parks - Usually with national forests and state parks, there’s no permits or fees involved.

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Private Land

I live in The Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Other than Shenandoah National Park and a few National Forests, most land around here is owned. What can you do if you find a “to-die-for” spot that is privately owned?


Reach out to the owner - The worst they can say is no! Usually landowners are pretty understanding and would be happy to help out.

Offer free yearly sessions - If a person or family is skeptical about letting you shoot on their land, offer them something of value! Some families would love to have their yearly Christmas photos taken, in exchange for using their property.

 Always advise before having sessions - Contact the property owner in advance any time you’d like to use their location. Even if you’ve gotten permission, don’t ever show up unannounced.


Community

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ALWAYS keep in mind that you usually aren’t the only ones there. Be respectful to the land and those around you.


Leave no trace - I’m very passionate about the “leave no trace” movement. It’s important to appreciate the land you’re using and never leave trash or vandalize in any way.

Photographers - If you’ve chosen a popular spot, there may be other photographers shooting sessions as well. Believing in community over competition will take you far in this industry. Give them the space they need to get their work done. Chances are, you could walk to another close area and still get amazing shots.

Visitors - Depending on where you are, the general public could be visiting from all over the world. Avoid ruining their experience by keeping your noise and distractions to a minimum.

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