A Photographer’s Guide to Scouting & Finding Perfect Locations

March 19, 2024

As a photographer, you understand how the location you choose for your photo sessions can make or break the final outcome of your images. Whether you’re shooting portraits, weddings, or landscapes, the right location literally sets the stage for capturing the best moments. But it’s not always easy to know where to go for your […]

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As a photographer, you understand how the location you choose for your photo sessions can make or break the final outcome of your images. Whether you’re shooting portraits, weddings, or landscapes, the right location literally sets the stage for capturing the best moments. But it’s not always easy to know where to go for your photo sessions — especially if you’re new to an area or want to switch things up a bit. In this guide, I’ll share my best tips on scouting and selecting the best locations for your photo sessions so you never have to stress about where to shoot a session again!

A Photographer’s Guide to Scouting & Finding Perfect Locations | Jillian Goulding Photography

What to do when scouting locations for a photo session:

#1. Understand your client’s vision:

Before you even start on location scouting, it’s so important for you to understand your client’s vision and preferences. Whether they desire a rustic outdoor setting, an urban backdrop, a studio session, or a tranquil natural environment, aligning the location with their expectations is key to client satisfaction and a successful shoot. Have a conversation with them about what they envision or send a questionnaire ahead of the session to gather this info.

#2. Do your research:

Start your location scouting process by conducting some good, old-fashioned research! Use Google Maps and social media to explore potential locations that might match your client’s hopes for the session. You can also look into local parks, landmarks, and hidden gems in your area that might provide a different type of beauty or that resonate with your shooting style. 

#3. Look into lighting:

Don’t forget to check out the lighting at the location you choose! This is a MUST! Your client might want an ethereal forest session, but if the tree cover is so dense that no natural light can get through, you might want to reconsider (or reposition to the edge of the forest). It’s smart to visit the location at the time of day you’ll be conducting your session to check out the direction and quality of natural light. Sunrise and sunset often offer soft, warm light ideal for portraits, while midday sun can create harsh shadows and unflattering contrasts. Familiarize yourself with the area’s lighting patterns to plan your shoots accordingly.

#4. Scout for composition opportunities:

Great photography locations offer a variety of composition opportunities that will beautifully enhance your images. Look for diverse textures, dimension, colors, and architectural elements that can serve as captivating backdrops. And make sure you consider the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing techniques to create visually dynamic compositions that draw viewers’ attention to the subject. 

#5. Consider accessibility and logistics:

When selecting a location, you’ll want to make sure the chosen spot is easily reachable for both you and your clients, especially if you’re carrying bulky equipment. (Nothing worse than lugging a bunch of equipment a mile up a mountain… or making your clients go on a hike when they’re not prepared!) If it’s a local or national park, check if permits or permissions are required for shooting in certain areas to avoid any legal issues.

#6. Keep an eye on the weather:

I’ve been known to cancel and reschedule a session if it looks like bad weather is coming — no regrets! I would rather have beautiful weather than a potential rainstorm or totally gloomy clouds (which = bad lighting if it’s too cloudy). Weather can be unpredictable, so try to have contingency plans in place for outdoor photo sessions. Scout indoor backup locations or covered areas nearby that offer shelter from rain or extreme weather conditions, or if you have to, reschedule for a better day. Communicate the alternatives with your clients to reassure them that you’re making sure you can get them the best images possible.

#7. Be a friend to your local outdoors areas:

It might go without saying, but it’s always important to respect local regulations, wildlife habitats, and natural ecosystems when choosing shooting locations. Minimize your environmental footprint by avoiding trampling vegetation or disturbing wildlife, and leave the area as you found it. We want to showcase the beauty of our surroundings and not harm them!

Mastering location scouting is an indispensable skill for photographers aiming to deliver incredible images and exceed client expectations. When you know how to find the perfect location, every shoot becomes an opportunity to capture breathtaking moments and build a thriving photography business. For more in-depth knowledge about learning how to take beautiful photos, check out my 7-part, self-guided photography education course, Photo 101!

📖 CONTINUE READING: Capturing Moments: A Guide to 2024 Photography Trends

🎙️ LISTEN: Making Art of the Ordinary with MAGGIE RECHKEMMER

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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