I demand so much of my shooting locations that finding that perfect spot doesn’t come easy.
For me, choosing a location is oftentimes the most frustrating part of the whole image-making process. Sometimes I’ll keep scouting right up until the day of the session.
Even after I’ve selected a location, fear of the unknown can stress me out.
In order to choose locations with confidence, I had to learn how to location scout — how to spy, explore, study and evaluate optimal locations. First, you have to know what makes a good location for photography in terms of the scene’s compositional elements, the gear you’re using and the available light.
Recognizing potential compositional elements
I look for environmental and architectural elements I can use to my advantage. The more the better for variety in your collection. Foreground interest. As photographers, it’s natural to size up a background, but we shouldn’t overlook the possibilities in the foreground. I love to angle myself so as to incorporate something interesting in the foreground. Because I focus on my subject and use a wide aperture, whatever is in the foreground is blurred. That’s good — I don’t want to detract interest from my subject, just add a bit of interest and depth to the image.
Tip: Even if you scouted the location ahead of time, I recommend getting to your session a little early. Review your ideas and make sure to jot them down. Take a picture of your notes with your camera so that the first image on your camera will be your ideas. Get stuck during the session? Just hit the playback button on your camera and the right arrow one time and you can quickly review the notes you took. Take pictures of the location as well. That way when you start shooting, you can quickly refer to the first view images you took to remember those things you saw before things get a little too free-form.
As photographers, it’s natural to size up a background, but we shouldn’t overlook the possibilities in the foreground. I love to angle myself so as to incorporate something interesting in the foreground. Because I focus on my subject and use a wide aperture, whatever is in the foreground is blurred. That’s good — I don’t want to detract interest from my subject, just add a bit of interest and depth to the image.
Look for linear elements at the location you can use in the frame to lead the viewer’s eye. Because the eye experiences different lines in different ways, your lines can lead into the frame, out of the frame, or around the image. For maximum impact, try to capture your subject right where the leading lines converge as at a vanishing point.
While not necessary for a close-up shot, half-body or full-length shots, sometimes a portrait can benefit from the use of a posing aid for a more relaxed and natural pose. Giving your subjects something to do with their body can make them feel more confident, and that will shine through in their images.
Pattern and repetition
There are two common ways to use pattern and repetition in photography. You can fill the frame with a repeating element to create harmony, or break the repetition to draw the viewer’s eye to a certain point. If you choose to break the flow, pay careful attention to where the interruption is placed so that you still get a compositionally sound image.
Done correctly, framing can lead to interesting, dimensional, and powerful images. Framing allows you to direct the viewer’s eye to the center of attention. It can add context to the image when you include key features of the particular location in the frame, such as bridges or unique architectural or natural elements. Add drama by photographing the subject framed in doorways, windows or railings, or make her an island of calm amid foliage.
Tip: Seeing opportunities at my locations has become second nature to me. In fact, even during a session, it’s not uncommon for me to see something new and say, “Let’s try this!” It doesn’t always work, but trial and error is what makes my location scouting skills and vision stronger.
Test drive your gear on site
My gear and my personal style are important factors in my location scouting. I usually shoot client sessions with my 85mm lens, so I visualize in terms of that focal length. I try to envision how the bokeh would look and how much of the surroundings I’d be able to capture in the images. Occasionally I’ll see something in a location that triggers me to use my wide-angle lens, which excites me because it means I’ll end up with a more diverse gallery.
Tip: Download the Sun Surveyor app! You can view augmented reality projections of the paths of the sun and moon, and pinpoint the time they’ll be at a particular location in the sky. I love it!
Looking for the light
I try to scout in the same time frame as the scheduled session to get a good idea of the nature of the lighting conditions I’ll be shooting in. Then I can envision the kinds of images I can best create there, and come prepared to create them. I end up with compelling images and varied galleries. For a diverse gallery, you could strive to capture these lighting situations in a single session: open shade, blocked/interrupted light, haze/flare, reflected light, backlight, dusk/silhouettes.
Tip: While out scouting, switch to manual focus and intentionally shoot an out-of-focus image. It will simulate the bokeh effect to give you an idea of how the background will look when your client is there and you’re using a wide aperture.
This article first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Click Magazine. Order your digital copy from the Click & Company Store.