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location scouting: a primer with design aglow contributor Andrea Joki: part 1

How many times have you been on a walk in your own town when you notice a place you never knew existed? Or maybe you just begin to see that particular place...differently? Or perhaps, while driving on a winter day, you aren't aware that in the spring, there is a beautiful garden off the side of that same road. All around you there are undiscovered opportunities to implement into your portraiture. You just need to learn to train your eye to find them!

Design Aglow contributor Andrea Joki believes “Locations can be a supporting player in your images; bringing depth, interest, creativity and versatility to your portfolio. When the puzzle pieces [variables] come together, the result is an asset that can be used to turn a simple portrait into a distinct story about a person and the place they call home.”

So, what makes for a good location? As most on-location photographers learn, what looks like the most perfect place can be problematic when actually conducting the session. You may find the most beautiful lake in the most perfect season, yet the portrait session is scheduled in the middle of the day when the sun is strong and the light appears harsh across your clients face resulting in undesirable shadows in your photographs. Or it has a private and lush bank that may be accessible for your client to get to in a boat, but you'll need to wear the proper gear to stand in the high grass or in the water to get that perfect shot. Or, you may find a wide open space with rolling hills in the early fall, but when you go out to shoot a portrait session in the late summer, the hills appear to look dry and parched due to the recent drought. It is important to understand the key elements to what makes a beautiful location work.

Here, Andrea highlights each variable to consider when scouting a location for an upcoming photo shoot.

1. Light. “Every location will look very different depending on the time of day for your shoot. Few locations look good midday and some may need either full sun or overcast conditions to really make the most use of their features. It is best to set aside times during optimal hours; early in the morning or later in the day.  Be ready to explore angles - backlighting and front lighting, golden bokeh of a low sun through trees or high up on a hillside. Every location has hidden gems waiting for your lens to uncover them.”

2. Right Season. “Most locations are prone to seasonal change. Often they will be full and rich in spring/summer and then barren and colorless in winter.  Others can be glorious with spring flowers or dead and lifeless by autumn.  It helps to photograph one location during all the seasons.  You may just be surprised at what you find in spring as opposed to autumn.”

3. Scale. “This can surprise a lot of photographers. Buildings and trees are typically 10 or more feet high. If you aren't careful, you end up getting only a clipped part of a building or a lot of boring dress trunks with little foliage in your composition-and no feel of the the location. Or you make the person so small in the frame that the background completely overwhelms them. Wide angle lenses are a must in locations where scale is problematic, but some locations are simply too big in scale to really be usable for portraiture. Chopped off tree trunks rarely add anything to an image.”

4. Versatility. “Locations should have more than just one shot to their repertoire.  Try to find a location with different areas in which to shoot, since it will be a boring session if all the images are taken in the same spot. Texture, depth, richness, color-all these and more are things to be looking for within your location.”

5. Accessibility. “Make sure your location is easily accessible to clients and yourself.  Parking should be fairly close and the walk short.  Nothing frays tempers and spoils moods like the frustration of not finding close parking, having to pay hefty parking or park entrance fees or forced long marches on a hot summer day.”

6. Suitability “Different locations will lend themselves to different types of subjects: meadows and fields for children, grungy urban for seniors, hip city centers for couples.  If you primarily shoot children, for example, you probably don't need to go exploring in old, rundown downtown areas.”

7. Legality “If you are using private property, you do have to obtain permission first.  Be aware that not all parks are public property; many are private and require shooting permissions. Some permits can be quite difficult and laborious to obtain but will earn the time spent through the location's rich attributes.  Most permits and private location shoots will require a liability agreement-it is only natural that the property owner would want to have protection against lawsuits.”

8. Safety “This cannot be emphasized enough.  Make sure your subject is allergy-free (meadows), that the location is not prone to broken glass or other dangerous objects on the ground and it is free from natural dangers (ticks, snakes, wolves etc, in deeper forested areas or deserts.) Hidden dangers can be as simple as ice on a winter stairway or slippery rocks at a seaside. There is absolutely no reason to ever put your subject in danger just for an image.”

All in all, you must use the freedom to choose locations for your portrait sessions to your advantage, thus, thoroughly researching the location prior to the session. This will confirm whether the location is best suited for that particular client at that particular time of year.  Even more, whether the location is legal and if you have the permission to use the grounds.




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