Scouting Out the Perfect Place to Shoot

Scouting Out the Perfect Place to Shoot

I have been asked by people on more than one occasion how I decide where to go take my pictures? How do you know you will find that bird there or what makes you think that is a great location to go and shoot photos? The answer is VERY subjective and is based on the subject matter you are hoping to capture. In this article I intend to break down my thought process on how I choose a place to go and shoot photos.

Factors that contribute to my decision include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Time of Year
  • Weather
  • Subject Matter (Wildlife, Architecture, Landscape, Foliage)
  • Location (how many people can it accommodate, parking, ease of finding it, fees to go there,)
  • Lighting Options
  • Interest

Time of Year is very critical here in Utah due to snow, rain, wind, and ice. The winter months will generate different results than the summer months and will also have weather to consider as well. Not everyone is excited to go do a shoot in cold weather and snow so I try to plan something that will generate interest and will be safe as well. The time of year will also take certain wildlife off the table and will affect lighting conditions. It will also determine foliage conditions such as spring will produce flowers, and insects, etc., whereas the fall will generate the explosive colors from our leaves. It is one of the major determining factors for choosing a location. If you are shooting indoors location may not matter as much unless you are shooting action shots such as with many sports. Shooting sports and sporting events are very time dependent. They have a definite season most of the time.

Weather seems like an obvious determining factor and of course is ever changing here in Utah. If you take photos outdoors, you should know that all locations outside are weather dependent. Camera equipment tends to be vulnerable to wet conditions so if it is raining, or snowing outside this could be a huge reason to avoid going to do a shoot, unless you are prepared to protect your equipment. There are ways to protect your camera equipment in wet conditions, so it doesn’t necessarily take the shoot off the table, but for many it will add an additional layer they may not want to deal while taking photos. If weather is a huge factor choosing a location indoors may be warranted during certain times of the year to avoid harsher weather patterns.

Subject Matter certainly decides location. If I want to shoot wildlife, I try to find known locations for wildlife sightings. Type of wildlife matters of course, and time of year will factor in as well. Is it the mating season? Is it migration season? Is it baby season? For example, if we want to shoot moose, we need to consider location, time of year, and temperament of these animals. Brighton is a popular location to shoot moose. They can be aggressive during the rut, or if there is a mother and her calf. Certain times of the year they are not as aggressive, and photographers can get closer without worrying about being harmed by them. If I want to shoot baby grebes on their mothers’ backs, I need to consider, where do I want to go? If I choose Bear River Bird Refuge, then I need to consider the bugs and how much do I want to tolerate them. I also might need to consider heat and clothing options to deal with bugs AND heat.

Location is a factor for the following reasons. How far away is the location? Do I need to drive there? Walk there? Fly there? What am I trying to take photos of at the location? Waterfowl will most likely not be seen in the West Desert. Moose will most likely not be on Antelope Island etc. All the factors tie together when determining a place to go and take photos. Recently, the Mandarin Duck was seen at one sole location. It wasn’t seen anywhere else and for a few weeks photographers flocked to the one location until the duck decided to move on and hasn’t been seen since.  For field trips it is important to determine parking, fees, and how many people can the location accommodate. If we are a group are there permits needed or regulations, we must follow? If there are too many of us will the wildlife be scared off or choose to hide? Granted some of these things we will not know, and we just choose to take the chance. So much of photography is chance, luck and timing.

Lighting Options are one of the most variable outside of weather if you are doing an outside shoot. Our weather patterns here in Utah change all the time. The weather apps do a decent job AND they can only predict so much. A nice clear day without clouds can turn into a cloudy day with rain in a matter of minutes or hours and this will change the outcome of the shoot considerably. Being flexible is key to enjoying outdoor photography outside of a studio. We must go into the event knowing the variables and how quickly they can change. The type of lighting one wants to go for will determine the type of shoot. For example, it might be obvious but milky way shots can only be done at night and sunrise shots can only be done at sunrise. Timing is huge for lighting. The blue hour, golden hour and bright midday sun are all time dependent. If you are shooting indoors, lighting choices change and may include portable lighting, outdoor lighting shining through glass windows, or staged permanent lighting such as in studios.

Interest is one of the huge variables in choosing a location. If I am going out shooting by myself, I might have a different thought process around where I go versus if I am choosing for a group. Is the subject matter something many people want to shoot? Is it something people want to do more of but would rather go with a group than by themselves? Is the location going to accommodate a group (see above)? As photographers we all have our certain interests that drive us to go and take photos. Not everyone is interested in landscape photography, or macrophotography or even wildlife. For groups I try to touch on the top 10 hoping to accommodate most people. I also factor in doing something different versus always doing the same thing all the time. This can get tricky, but it is my focus to create fun and exciting new events each month.

I feel that scouting a location to do photography is very subjective, but these are the key factors involved in my personal decision making. There are so many resources online as well and depending on the type of shoot the list changes as would be expected. I hope this article does answer how I choose locations and what factors I consider in my planning process.