Location Scouting: faq || dfw engagement & wedding photographer

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Like most any photographer, I get asked a lot where I find my locations, or more specifically, HOW I find them.  And since it's been a while (read: forever) since I've written anything for my photographers "faq" section I thought this might be a good next topic to write about.  Not to mention it's been on my mind a lot here recently since I've gotten married, moved to a new town, and had to scout out all new locations for all my engagement and bridal sessions this spring.

For every portrait session that I shoot (bridal, engagement, senior) I always ask the client(s) if they have a location already picked out that they'd like to use.  A lot of couples have spots that are special to them, or that fits the "feel" of their relationship.  I love it when I'm able to shoot their session at their favorite date place, or where he proposed, etc.  But a lot of times they don't have a preference or know of a good spot so they leave the choice up to me, and I love that too!  I generally will suggest 2 or more locations and then let them choose from those.  There are a couple of different ways I find locations and I'm going to list them in the order that I generally do them, and the order I recommend :)

1.) Pay attention while you're driving.  Seriously, just pay attention to what you're passing as you do normal life!  I have a note on my phone where I write down new location spots all the time while I'm driving.  I write down the location (either the address, cross streets, or landmarks) to help me remember where it is, and then I write down a few key facts about the location to help me remember what "type" of location it is.  Like this:

(don't trust yourself to just remember locations that you see.  because you won't ;)

Also, remember to think about lighting when you find a location you like.  About 90% of my sessions happen during golden hour as the sun sets so I always take the time to think about where that would put the sun setting in relation to the location.  Sometimes I won't use a location that I otherwise might like if I realize that the sun won't be setting on the correct "side" of a field and would require my clients looking straight into the sun or something.

2.) Get in your car and drive.  Anytime I need fresh locations I will get in the car and drive around specifically looking for new spots to shoot in.  Sometimes I do a little research online before I leave, and google areas that I'd like to scout out, other times I just head to an area of town I haven't explored yet and drive until I see something interesting.  It takes time, yes.  But personally I don't mind spending an afternoon driving around, exploring parks and open countryside, and calling it "work". ;)

3). Google it.  I referenced this a little bit in my last suggestion, but especially when I'm going to be shooting in a different state and don't have time to scout out a location between the time that I fly in and the time of the shoot I'll try to look up ideas online.  You can do this several ways.  Sometimes I just open up google maps and look at a map of the town I'll be shooting in and try to find large green areas (parks) or bodies of water (I love shooting around lakes/ponds and they usually have at least one or two pretty park/dock/beach areas bordering it).  You can use google earth to get a pretty good idea of what the terrain looks like, or sometimes if you can find a park/dock name you can google that and find a park website with pictures, etc.  Another way to google is to google the type of session you're doing and the city you'll be shooting in, ex. "engagement session keller tx" and look through the image tab.  A lot of photographers will tag their photos with the city + park name/place that they shot the images in and you can get ideas from that as well.

4.) Ask others.  I almost didn't include this one because it should be your last, last, laaaast resort.  It's not fair to ask photographers to just share all of their carefully selected spots that they've found after doing all the hard and time consuming leg work of location scouting.  I recently had to ask two photographers from my area if they had suggestions for me, but I asked them ONLY after I had spent lots of time online and outside looking myself, and was desperate.  It also helped that both photographers were good friends of mine so it wasn't like I emailed a random photographer who I didn't have a previous relationship with and asked for a favor.  (This is one of many times that investing in and building genuine relationships with other photographers in your area can be a blessing, but that's a whole different blog post.)  The only other time that I've asked photogs for help is when I'm coming to their city for the first time for a shoot and can't find any good location options online.  Be courteous and respectful to other photographers and don't try and take advantage of others who've done all the work for you ;)

And my last little tip is to not get too hung up on every location being "perfect."  I've learned to not always look for the obvious spots, but be willing to go off the beaten path a little bit and think outside the box while scouting.  Those usually make for the most unique and fun pictures.  And while the location should be a beautiful spot that compliments and fits your client, your pictures should be more about your subject and less about the setting.

My last engagement session was all shot on a little city greenbelt/bike trail.  Seriously, bikers, walkers, a huge main road all around it, but it turned out to be one of the prettiest locations I've shot at in a long time.

 This family session (one of my favorite sessions to date) was shot on a big green belt with a pond in the middle of a big office park in the city.
 Chloe's senior session was in E. Texas which is one of my absolute favorite places to shoot.  The fields and open countryside is gorgeous and endless, so we ended up just driving around for a couple of hours and stopping everytime we saw something that fit what we were looking for.  SO much fun :)
Almost all of Zach & Kaitlin's engagement session was shot in this small field + grove of trees that I found hiding out behind a gas station.  Not kidding.
For this little family session we just walked down to the end of their street in their neighborhood where there was a little hilly area with soft pretty grass.

So, see?  Locations are everywhere, even when you live in Ft. Worth, Texas where almost everything is brown, dead, and under construction :P  Little nooks and crannies of golden, hilly, grassy, tree lined lake-side dirt paths, or whatever your particular wants may be, can be found all around if you're willing to look for them!

Hope this helps a little bit!

Much Love,
Jessica Shae

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  1. Have you ever spotted a field you LOVE but it's probably private property? How do you handle that - do you contact the owner and ask permission?
    Great post!

  2. oh thank you! I had been struggling with good places to take pictures. My family recently moved to a new state and I have been having a difficult time with finding good places to shoot since I'm not very familiar with this area (or really the south;) I'm a northerner:)
    these tips will help a lot! :-)
    thank you!:)

  3. LOVED this post, Jessica. so good. fabulous words where you said "while the location should be a beautiful spot that compliments and fits your client, your pictures should be more about your subject and less about the setting." AMEN. :)

  4. I really appreciate the tips Jessica! And I echo Kathryn Grace's question too because a lot of the beautiful places I just drive by, I think are probably privately owned fields/acreage.

  5. I'm wondering the saaame thing Kathryn is wondering! When you find the right location, do you use it unless there is a "No tresspassing" sign? I see so many great places, but I don't see any privacy warnings, etc., so I'm not sure if I should just "go for it", or search for a phone number.

    Thanks so much for this post though! Locations are currently my biggest issue. :)

  6. Thank you SO much, Jessica! This was very helpful and I loved hearing your thoughts on finding locations for photo sessions. And, ahhhh...the pictures in this post are SO gorgeous! Thank you so much for sharing your advice and suggestions - I really appreciate it! Love these faq posts. :) Blessings!!

  7. You are really a great photographer, these photographer are looking very nice that you have shared with us, i love these excellent photographs. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing.



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Thanks for taking the time to say hello, it makes my day everytime! :)

Jessica Shae