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A Complete Guide to Location Scouting for Photographers (part 1)

When you first started your photography business, you might have assumed that 80% of your time would be spent taking the actual photos, with the other 20% of your time being dedicated to editing and delivering those photos (and also making tons of money 🤪). 

What you DIDN’T anticipate? Juuust how much work, energy and research goes into finding the perfect locations for your photoshoots. (By the way, if you’re just looking for someone to share the best photoshoot locations and backdrops with you, I’ve done just that with my San Francisco Bay Area Location Guides! Check them out here!)

Whether you’re a brand, lifestyle, family, or wedding photographer, it’s important to know how to find the best locations for your clients, and their photography needs! But it’s also important that you don’t waste any time in the process – because your time is your money, after all.

So, I’ve put together a two-part guide to location scouting for photographers, and I’m here to share it with you! Trust me, you’re going to want to Pin this blog so you can come back to it when you’re doing your own location scouting! 📷

The Basics of Location Scouting: Part 1

What is location scouting?

Simply put, it means physically visiting locations to figure out whether the setting + backdrop will work best for a particular photoshoot!  

Why you should scout locations for your photoshoots.

The backdrop or setting is what can make (or break) the tone and feeling of a photo. Oftentimes, a specific location can take up the majority of an image. For my own style of simple yet impactful photography, I place an importance on finding locations that aren’t too distracting or dark. So, in order to ensure I achieve the style I’m striving for, I have to pay close attention to the backdrops in each location I find.

Additionally, I like to be prepared for each location I shoot in, so I know what equipment to use, and which backgrounds to use. Location scouting before a photoshoot gives me one less thing to worry about on photoshoot day; doing so allows me to creatively plan poses, put together a shot list and gather necessary props ahead of time! Scouting out your locations beforehand can have a huge impact on commercial photoshoots where you’re working with props and a team of fellow creatives, too. Just don’t forget to leave room to be creative and play!

Bonus: When I scout locations, I get to explore new areas and have mini adventures on a regular basis (and call it work), which I LOVE!

When to location scout.

As you already know, lighting is everything in photography! I prefer to scout a location around the same time I’ll be taking photos, so that I know what the light is doing, and where it’s positioned. This makes all the difference in what backdrops I can use if I’m trying to achieve a particular style!

For example, for photoshoots that are closer to midday, I typically look for shaded areas so I can still achieve my bright, evenly-lit photographic style. One location that is shaded in the afternoon might not offer the same light midday – so, I use this sunrise/sunset calculator to plan out the best times to explore an area and schedule photoshoots based on the sun.

What to look for in a location and which kinds of places often work well.

I tend to keep an eye out for a few things when location scouting:

Clean and cute settings

Bright backdrops (not too cluttered, dark or busy)

Architectural/leading lines to make the photo more interesting

The ability and space to capture different poses

At least two different backdrops for variety (or proximity to another great location)

Uncrowded places (because no, I can’t just photoshop everyone out of the background!)

I’ve found that colleges/universities, hidden corners in cities or fancy shopping districts, piers, boardwalks, well-maintained neighborhoods, murals, gardens, greenhouses and coastal hiking trails often offer my list of needs. I recommend jotting down the things that are important to you, and then hunting from there!

Here’s the thing: I have a ton of other tips to share with you to help you scout for the perfect photography locations! But I also don’t want to overwhelm you. So, take some time to write down your notes, digest the info I shared, and have fun finding locations! Then, come back in for part 2 of this series, where I’ll cover how I scout for locations, how I share those locations with my clients, and 5 of my favorite colorful backdrops for you to check out in the SF Bay Area!

You can now read part 2 here or check out my San Francisco Bay Area Location Guides where I share my tried and true photography locations with you, complete with an interactive Google map, highlights of each location, sample photos from my own sessions, ideas on what to wear, insider tips, and more!

Need a cheerleader?

I can’t guarantee that I’ll have pom poms in hand (gotta check the prop collection), but I do promise to share tips, tricks, encouragement and creative strategy with you as your photography mentor! Interested in learning more? Check out my mentorship and other resources for photographers here. No weird pressure, I promise!

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i'm sarah (she/her) , your new quirky, color-loving friend!

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My goal with every client is to cultivate a fun, creative, and approachable vibe. All types of people, all types of bodies, and all types of love are welcome here.

Color and creativity fuel my soul, and whimsical details make my heart happy! I believe in finding joy in the everyday, that real emotions are better than perfectly posed, and that building real connections with my clients is what allows me to create honest photos and capture genuine moments.

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