Location scouting for natural light portraiture

Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Tutorials | No Comments

Location Scouting is a necessary part of being a photographer – especially if you want to find unique and interesting spots for doing your sessions. Here are my thoughts on location scouting, plus a few in-depth answers to your additional questions. PLEASE feel free to email me with any additional questions I can add to this post – or other questions you would like me to address in a future post!

For me personally I am ALWAYS location scouting, whether I’m driving to lunch, out and about, or intentionally looking for a new location. Many of the spots I frequent regularly are places I found when taking a side street somewhere, or going the back-way to avoid traffic. It’s amazing how many places you can find by just stepping off the beaten path.

When I find a place I like I take some iPhone snaps, and write down the spot in my notebook or iPhone (Moleskin is a great brand, and you can pick one up pretty much anywhere, or on Amazon for a little cheaper). I’ll take note of the time of day, and when would be the ideal time for that spot (morning or afternoon). I try to see the location at the actual time I’m shooting there, but once you get the hang of what direction you’re facing you can guess pretty well where the sun will be and if it’s going to work for you at the times you like to shoot. Personally I DON’T like shooting super early, or close to sun-set, so I prefer middle of the day, when I can work in open shade, and the sun is stronger (and less orange – gross!).

Location scouting for natural light portraits by Michelle Moore

Once you find a location you like, do you reuse it for multiple sessions? If so, how do you effectively create unique images where the background isn’t noticeably the same? Yes – absolutely! I look for new places much less frequently than I did when starting out. I now have a list of 30 or so places that I enjoy shooting at, and I know are reliable for what I need to do. Each time I visit a place I really try to look at it from a new angle, but most importantly it’s about the client and HER personality, so I find it pretty natural to make every location “new” each time I visit it. Since I have so many different places I’m able to switch between them often enough that I’ll “miss” working in certain places once I’ve had enough time away from it.

Do you pick all of the locations for your clients yourself or do you let them choose? When working with my Senior Portrait clients, I always ask them ahead of time which type of location they want. Based on their preference of urban/city versus nature/park I will choose a location from my list. I do go to special locations for clients, but only when they request it. For the most part I am very fortunate my clients trust me 100% and I am able to pick for them where we go. My clients would prefer not to stress out about what kind of location, so I am happy to select it for them.

So often it seems that your locations compliment the colors of your client’s outfits. Do you know in advance (i.e. before setting the location) what they will be wearing? And if so, how? Do they send you pictures of their outfit selections? I never get the chance to see my clients clothes until the day of the shoot. Right after they get their makeup application done at my loft we look through the clothes they brought and I help them choose the best things. I rarely think too much about it – I think it’s more of an instinctual thing about pairing the clothes with locations based on my experience in Fashion.

Tip – if a girl has requested a nature setting, and all her shoes are heels – I’ll take her to a more neighborhood/urban setting that has a natural vibe to it so she can wear her heels on flat ground, but perhaps be standing in front of an ivy wall (for example). I might adjust a location once seeing the clothes, but my clients learn from reading my pinterest what they should wear. This really goes into my point about only showing the type of work you want to book. My clients see their friends on my website and Facebook, and are able to see what other girls are wearing, and base their choices off of that (while still staying true to who THEY are). I am very fortunate to attract a target market that is similar – because it’s what I WANT to be shooting. Girls with great style!

What is your list of requirements for the location. Is there spontaneity? Do you shoot in open shade mostly? My main requirements for a location are,

*Being able to walk to a variety of places within a 3-5 block radius of space.
*At least 4 different types of spots within that area (for example, a brick wall, an ivy wall, a yellow wall, a blue wall, etc.)
*Open shade at the time of day I will be shooting in all those areas (or great places that will be back-lit by the sun)
*Unique and different backgrounds that will compliment my shooting style

When working with my clients there is a loose plan – but of course spontaneity! If a background I picked isn’t working, I’ll move on to another spot, as soon as possible. So if the light isn’t so great, we’ll walk to another wall, or tree nearby instead. I don’t want to waste time shooting something I know isn’t going to work. You’ll want to experiment and play with your locations to see what works and doesn’t work for your shooting style.

For more information about location scouting I do talk about it a bit in my TRA Interview!

Location scouting for natural light portraits by Michelle Moore