Whenever you are first considering a photo shoot, inevitably one of the first steps that needs to be planned is the location of your shoot! Whether you are wanting your photos taken, or you are the photographer looking for a bomb location to take your clients, there are TONS of ways to find a new location that will fit your needs! The art of finding a new locations for photos is called “scouting”, and is a very important skill to learn if you are wanting your photos to turn out as beautifully as they possibly can.
Not only do you need to find a location that is beautiful and will fit the needs of your photoshoot, you NEED to make sure you are doing it LEGALLY.
Every. Single. Location. You. Use. Must. Give. You. Permission. To. Be. There!!! Trespassing is real guys, and you can get into huge trouble if you do not abide by the law. Not only may you acquire fees for being on property that is not yours and you do not have permission to be there, it will be a huge blow for your business to have a landowner altercation or getting kicked off of a property. If you are unsure, look it up! Most county websites in the US have landowner information available to the public online! Please remember, any business you shoot in is private - get permission before shooting. Any piece of land unless owned by the state or federal government is private, and requires you to get landowner permission or permitting to use. Some public parks and places even require you to get a permit to use - always do your research when planning a session! Always plan your location far in advance, and be positive you have the right to be there! And if you find a location that is private but you feel you just NEED to shoot there, reach out to the landowner! Some people are totally fine with you using their property for photoshoots. Just make sure they sign a release form acknowledging they know you are using their property and they give you consent, and you’re golden.
It has taken me a lot of trial and error to find a system that works for me for nailing the location every time! Below are a few tips that can get you started on your journey of gathering locations to use in your future photoshoots!
Geotags are a phenomenal way to get you started on finding a location! If you are unsure what a geotag is, it is a way people can mark their photos on social media with a location of either where the photos were taken or where they are located when posting. These are seriously so handy! I use Instagram to browse geotags in my area, or areas around where I intend to meet with my clients. It allows you to get different perspectives of a certain park, downtown area, trail, etc. without physically having to be there. It is a great way to get an idea of what the location has to offer simply by looking at the photos that have already been taken there. I by no means make a decision to shoot at a location solely off of geotags, but it is a great jumping off point for sure!
2. Google Earth + County GIS Maps
Google Earth isn’t just for spying on your own house anymore, kids. It can be a great tool in your arsenal for scouting out fantastic locations for photos! I use Google Earth Pro primarily on my desktop, and it is out of this world (har har har) amazing. I also have Google Earth mobile on my tablets and phones, which also is great! If you do not want to install a new software or app, there is also now a version which opens up in Google Chrome- super easy! This technology is amazing because it offers satellite views of the areas you are looking for locations in. Google Earth is fantastic for giving you extremely detailed overviews of the land you are looking at, including topographic information, landmarks, roads and water. You can even enter a ground-level view to give you a true idea of what is located in that area! It can show you things that need to be considered when scouting locations, such as treelines, structures in the area, etc. Satellites do the scouting for you! Just be sure the land you are oogling over is actually available to public before use!
If you want to get to next level spy scouting (like I do), there is a tool you can use that not many people actually know about even though most of the time it is available to the public! Many counties in the US have their GIS (geographic information system) available online and is accessible to the general public! This means that you can literally find the land you are interested in (from Google Earth) on the county website, and it will tell you who OWNS the land. So handy! This may better allow you to contact a landowner if you absolutely are dying to shoot on their property, since many times their mailing address is included in their deed information. You can also do searches on some of the county websites for public entities to find public lands (not available on all GIS systems). Sadly, this is not available for every single county, but many are working towards digitizing their GIS systems. More and more counties are online every year, so check back periodically if yours isn’t digital yet! And if you are super determined but your county isn’t online yet, you can always go to your county courthouse and meet with the Assessor and Recorder of Deeds- they will be able to help you look through land records to see who own a particular parcel you are interested in.
3. Google Maps
Don’t get it twisted - Google Earth & Google Maps are VERY different beasts! While Google Earth gives you an extremely detailed view of what is located in a particular area, Google Maps is fantastic for a more general overview of an area. Google Maps will allow you to find plenty of natural public areas by highlighting them in green (I believe they refer to them as “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”). This is an AMAZING feature, because it even gives the name of the natural area or park! If you know the name, you can now research the heck outta it. It also allows you to enter into ground level view to get a brief look at what the location has to offer. Plus, you can drop pins to save the location for future use, and it will give you driving directions how to get there. Easy squeezy, lemon peasy.
4. Flickr + ShotHotspot
If you aren’t familiar with the motherland known as “Flickr”, get ready to have your mind blown. Flickr is one is the most dynamic and useful sites I have ever come across when it comes to photography. Not only is it a super organized way you can share photos, it allows you to include the most information with each photo. You can include Geotags, hashtags, add the photos to groups & albums you are a part of, include EXIF information….the list goes on and on. So instead of me rambling more about how much I love Flickr, I am going to focus on how it will bring you photos in the locations you are interested in. You can simply type in your town name in the search bar, and Flickr will search high and low for ANY photos in it’s database that contain any information relating to your search. This may be geotagged photos, photos with the hashtags of that particular area, artists from your area, etc etc etc.
Now get strapped in and ready for ShotHotspot. This amazing site condenses all the information that is pumped into Flickr, and spits it out into easy to navigate maps and lists. You can type in your town’s name, and it will bring up the most popular areas to take photos, with examples from Flickr. You can browse the hot spots in your area to see where other photographer’s are shooting, and places that they recommend! ShotHotspot and Flickr go together like peanut butter and jelly - yum.
5. Get Out There!
Out of all the ways to scout a location, this one is my favorite! Basically, just live your life while keeping your eyes peeled! When driving around your area, walking your dogs, or just heading to the grocery store, try to take different routes in your area! The idea is to just get to know your area in a way that most people wouldn’t dream of. Take note of the gorgeous stone staircase downtown that is backlit during golden hour, or the unusual trail that lines the perimeter of your local park, or even the epic tree that is placed in the middle of the local school yard! There are SOOO many seemingly ordinary places that are dying to be discovered in your area! Not all portrait sessions need the epic backdrops of mountain tops or beaches - sometimes you just need an item that will translate beautifully into a photograph and will highlight the main subject of the portrait session, your client!
KEEP IN MIND…..
Even though there are TONS of ways to find amazing new locations for your photoshoot, keep the following points in mind to make sure that the location will fit your needs! If y’all are interested, I can make a whole other blog post elaborating on these points!
PUBLIC OR PRIVATE?
TIME OF YEAR
TIME OF DAY
DIRECTION LIGHT WILL BE COMING FROM
WARDROBE OF CLIENT
Will you be using any of these tips when scouting your next location?! I wish you all the best of luck on your search for the perfect photo backdrop!