So, you’re most likely sitting down at home wishing & hoping you’ll find the energy and time to go out and scout out some fun new locations for your upcoming sessions. You’ve worn out every possible option near by, and feel completely bored with everything. This happens to me ALL too often, so I have made it a distinct point to make location scouting one of the top priorities of my business “to-do’s”. Having fresh locations that clients & myself can enjoy is definitely something that makes a big difference in a shoot for me.
Not everyone has time to spend a day, leave the house though and drive aimlessly throughout a new part of town, just because. Whether it be that you have kids, gas prices are too high, anything – you name it. It’s hard to give us that time we need to spend on finding fun & unique locations. What if I could tell you that majority of this could be done from home? All while in the midst of eating your favorite midnight snack, sitting in your jammies on the computer!
Where do you start? I can pretty much narrow my personal scouting processing into three easy segments:
You may or may not already have an account, but if not, I suggest making one immediately, even for the sole purpose of this task! This part of the process is very hit or miss. I will go ahead and tell you that from the beginning. Sometimes I will hit the jackpot by using this technique & sometimes it fails miserably. Majority of the time, this is going to be my first step of the process. I begin by typing into the search bar the town/city I am looking to “scout” around. For example: Frankfort IL, Chicago Industrial, Joliet IL, etc. Narrowing it down to simply the city & state usually does pretty well for me. If it’s a bigger city, you’ll get more images. Sometimes up to 20+ pages of results, most of the time though I’ll get just a handful of pages.
From this point, browse around. Majority of the folks who “give away” where these locations are, are usually just people who enjoy snapping photos of these random locations. It may be a barn, old building, factory, alley way, etc. It could also range to be anything else related upon whatever you searched for. What you NEED to keep an eye out for is to see if they have included a map of the area or possible address in the description. See below for an example of one of my images:
Majority of the images you will search through will NOT give any inkling to where the location actually is. There are some that do though! This is when you can create a batch of images as your “favorites” on Flickr to always go back & search through.
GOOGLE MAPS/STREET VIEW
This brings me to the next step of the process & probably one of my most favorite parts! In some scenarios, I may just skip using Flickr and head straight into using Google Maps if I have a specific area in mind I want to “scout”. In most scenarios though, I take the addresses I found on Flickr and then search them in Google Maps to assure that it is a real location, what it is surrounded by, what direction it faces, etc. A lot of questions come into play with this! Sometimes with street view, you can see what the parking near by looks like, if the area seems “iffy” & sometimes can spot out other locations near by. How does one do this?
Street view, when enabled, can pretty much be your best friend! I call it “driving from home”. Not every street will give you this option, but majority will! What you can do is take the little “orange/yellow man” and drag him onto the road. The road will be highlighted in blue if you are able to utilize street view. From this point you are able to see the fronts of the buildings & get a much better aspect on the area. Surely it’s not the highest quality, BUT you can get a lot accomplished.
Be sure to take screen shots of everything you like so you can then save them into a folder of locations for you to have on hand. This is great for you to keep tabs on addresses for not only yourself, but your clients as well. I am a very visual person and like to try and show my clients where we will be shooting so that they may in turn be inspired & understand the setting a bit more. Also helps bring up the excitement! Seen below is how I’ve organized some of my recent findings on Google Maps. Easily found 30+ locations within 2 hours!
GET OUT THERE & EXPLORE!
While I know many of us don’t have the time, it really is the best & most crucial part of location scouting – actually going out there and seeing what these locations look like in person. First and foremost is ALWAYS going to be safety. Safety for myself when going scouting (always have a friend!!) and safety for my clients. As amazing as a location might be, do NOT put yourselves in danger in any manner. I’m not going to say that every location I use is peachy keen, but they are also not places that I feel threatened at. Use your best judgement!
Next key point is to always try to scout at the time of day you will usually shoot at. This allows you to see what the light looks like. You could have the best location, but the light could be terrible! Be sure to see if there are spots that you can utilize different types of lighting (open shade, backlighting, etc.) which will offer you different options!
Another key point you want to be sure of is variety! Sometimes, one simple wall won’t cut it. How much variety do you want out of a location? I personally like to use two main locations TOPS. I love locations that offer a ton of variety, or that possibly have other great spots within walking distance/a short drive. Once you’ve scoped out your desired spot, take some time to just drive around. Keep making left turns till you get lost (obviously with GPS at hand!) and you’d be surprised what you can find. Take a different way home & allow yourself a little extra time to explore on the way to run your errands.
Lastly, always document your findings! Sometimes, I completely forget some of the spots I have found. Take a few snaps with your camera, iPhone, etc. Just have some visual references which help not only you, but your clients!
So as you can see, location scouting can be a TON of fun. I know it may not be at the top of your list, but it is definitely something you should take into consideration. Your clients will love the fact that you take this much pride into finding just the right spot for them! I hope this has helped you guys. This may already have been your go-to process, while some of you may have never even tried it. Either way, I hope it’s helped in some way!