I’ve been a full-time “professional” photographer for three years, but I’m just now discovering the inherent value of scouting your location before a shoot. Even if it’s a place you’ve been to a dozen times before, go scope out the location again. Here’s why… (BTW, I’m referring to “location scouting” in the sense that the spot has already been determined, not “location choosing.”)
It will help you know what gear you will need to rent/bring. It’s frustrating to be in the middle of a shoot thinking, “If only I rented a 400mm lens,” or worse when it’s the opposite, “I wish I didn’t waste $45 bucks renting an extra Quantum battery for this.”
You will know your way around the place better. Familiarity lends itself to confidence. You never know if the client will ask you how to get back to the parking lot, and you will be in much better standing with them if you can help with these seemingly small things. The little things can make a huge difference.
It forces you to be intentional about planning and making your shots. Often times this is a key difference between a photographer and a painter. We photographers show up and take a lot of photos, but rarely do we make photos.
It helps you view familiar places in a new light. Think of the space and how your client will be using it. What do they want to capture, and what is the best way to capture it? Build from your past experiences, but seize the opportunity to look for new perspectives. “What if we got a ladder in here?…” “Can these lights be controlled?…”
Your client will appreciate the effort and preparation you put forth. Most clients like to think that their event is somehow different than anything that’s been done before, so not only will you instill confidence in them but you will also appear more professional. Invite them to come along and offer their ideas as well; include them in the creative planning process.
It will get you out of the reactive mode that many photographers get stuck in. We show up just before the shoot, take a look around, and then say, “Well, I guess this means we’re gonna do this… [insert the same approach you use for everything.]” Location scouting gets you thinking proactively about your work.
It gives you more time to solve problems. Every location has at least one thing about it that’s tricky to deal with –it’s usually the lighting, but it could just as well be the client’s expectations. If you wait until the shoot has begun before looking for a solution then you might be too late.
It enables you to imagine possibilities rather than see obstacles. Allow yourself to dream big! Start with a crazy idea, and then run through the logistics of how to pull it off. Eventually you will find yourself saying “What if…” instead of “if only…”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve told many clients that “I don’t need to scout the location before the event because I come prepared for everything, so I’ll be fine.” That’s bull crap. “Prepared for everything,” HA! This comes from an amateur mindset that thinks the only thing you need is a 24-70 f/2.8 lens and a hot shoe flash. Yeah, good luck trying to recreate this shot with that setup.
If I didn’t scout the Newseum or the NanaWall locations before those shoots, I would have come away with nothing but garbage. Both of those shoots kicked my butt, yet they now represent some of my happiest, most impressed clients. I hope you’re noticing the trend here… Pre-production (eg. location scouting) + hard work = great photos and happy clients.
Try it yourself and see if it doesn’t change the way you think about your work.