On Location Shooting

Shooting on location is one of my favorite things to do and a great way for a client to make an individualized statement. While some location shooting is universally desired by many clients, i.e. beach location photography, I always encourage clients to choose a setting or theme unique to their own personality.

With that said, there are many important considerations for on location shooting. From the perspective of the photographer planning is essential. It’s so important that there’s usually a strong correlation between preparation and a successful shoot. When possible advance scouting is preferred, but it’s not always practical to visit a location first; especially when it’s half way around the world. Under those circumstances thorough research becomes paramount. My typical research might include such things as:

  • Online media search to see how the location has been photographed previously. There’s a lot I learn from this such as the quality of light for the particular time of the year the photographer took the image. I also study the overall aesthetic of the image; is it visually compelling enough to consider choosing that location? And of course online research serves as a scouting substitute to actually being there.
  • Researching weather and other meteorological conditions. I have online resources and mobile apps I use to not only determine the weather patterns for a particular place and time, but also the actual time of sunrise/sunset, angle of the sun, where it will rise and set on the horizon, and how many hours of daylight I can expect available for shooting.
  • Using maps to calculate travel distance and time between multiple shoot locations. Factors I consider are local speed limits, vehicle congestion, road conditions, and alternative routes.
  • And of course good ole fashion books. The Lonely Planet series are among my favorite and provide a reasonable starting point. However I always take their advice and recommendations with a grain of salt because their objective as a traveler is sometimes in conflict with my objective of a commercial photographic shoot.
  • Contacting colleagues for their advice. One of the best sources at my disposal is tapping into the wisdom and experience of those that have gone there before me. And unlike books, fellow photographers have information that is very germane to my interests.
  • Arriving early. I always arrive early to a location so that I can do some advance scouting. Early arrival might mean only a few hours for a simple location with few unknowns. However if I’m planning a shoot in a country and location I’ve never seen, then naturally I would arrive several days in advance of the shoot.
  • And finally drawing on my 20 plus years of experience. It’s said that experience is the best teacher and it’s certainly true for location shooting. The more I travel the greater I understand the process, and the more productive I become.

Well that’s some of the things that fall to my responsibility, but there are also things the model needs to understand in advance of the shoot.

  • Expect the unexpected. The simple process of shooting outdoors makes it impossible to control lighting in the same manner of studio shooting. This may seem obvious but the rapidly changing nature of outdoor lighting mandate flexibility.
  • Manage expectations. Because there are always certain things beyond our control, such as changing weather, it’s important to understand how conditions on the ground can alter the final outcome.
  • Be flexible. Last minute location change, shoot times, and wardrobe adjustments are common occurrences in the field. I plan for this by always having alternate places and times in mind, but the model needs to remain flexible with those decisions as well.
  • Prepare for the elements. Occasionally the elements may be so adverse that the model should practice her posing before venturing outside. This was particularly important for a nude shoot I executed one winter in Michigan where the wind chill was just 5 degrees at shoot time. However her advance preparation allowed us to get through 6 poses and nearly 50 images in just 2 minutes and 43 seconds (as evidenced from the time record of my digital images).

With the photographer and model working hand in hand, the likelihood of success rises sharply. Patience, preparation, and persistence are essential in every endeavor, but especially while away from the studio. Hopefully this post provides some insight for the planning involved to shoot on location.

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