How to Find a Photoshoot Location

You have a picture in mind and now you want to try to make it a reality. Or, a client has contacted you to help them take a photograph they have in mind. And now?

The obvious first step would be to start researching the details needed to achieve your vision. What type of photography is it? Landscape, street, adventure or astrophotography? If you’re working with a client, what type of photo are they thinking of? Architecture, wedding or sport? The list of details could be endless, so we’ll skip to the subject of this article: how do you find the location for the photo shoot?

Research is key

Once decisions have been made on photographic vision, the key to finding a suitable location is research.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • What type of location is needed to produce the visualized image?
  • Is the proposed location available and accessible?
  • What are the alternate locations, if any?
  • When to photograph (best light, sunrise, sunset, time of year, etc.)
  • Are there any restrictions or special weather conditions needed? (i.e. fog, hot, cold, rain, northern lights, etc.)

Location type

This is perhaps the easiest part to decide since the image you have in your head will usually dictate the location. It may just be a matter of limiting the precise location to a few places that will work. A good idea is to use online resources such as Google Maps to help you preview what a place has to offer. Although you can also look at other photographers’ images of the location, you may want to avoid this as it may influence your original idea.

Accessibility

Once you have decided on a possible location, you will need to find out if you can shoot there. Public spaces are generally safe for free photography, but it’s a good idea to research photography information locally. You may need to get permission, need a permit, or pay a fee if you’ve chosen a location that’s on private property. State and national parks may fall into this category, so always do your research to avoid any surprises. A phone call may be all it takes to get your questions answered.

useful advice: If you speak to someone on site and they provide the necessary answers, always get their name and contact details in case difficulties arise later.

Alternate locations

It’s always a good idea to have another location in mind in case the first choice doesn’t work. If you work for a client, they’ll appreciate that you’ve done your homework and have a backup location. The weather may be unfavorable or the location may not be available on the date you need. Expect the unexpected so you can quickly pivot your plans with minimal headaches.

When to shoot

Your image may need to be photographed at a certain time such as sunrise or sunset. If so, your choice of location should be able to provide the conditions you need. Make sure you can access the location when you need it. Is the park you want to use for your sunset open after dark? If not, can you get special permission to access it after hours? You may need a certain time of year to get the image.

Fall is a popular time of year for photography due to the fall colors. Look for when the fall colors are peaking at the location and time your shot to give yourself a multi-day window. Maybe you’ve selected a favorite mountain location, but want to include wildflowers. Maybe post a question in a local hiking Facebook group for suggestions on when the wildflowers will bloom.

Above all, once you have planned your schedule, arrive early! This will allow you time to make small adjustments to the photoshoot as needed.

Special conditions

The need for special conditions to get your image is perhaps the trickiest part of choosing a location. Maybe you need certain weather conditions such as snow, so it is important that the location is in an area where snow has already fallen or is expected.

Selecting a location based on weather conditions can be problematic and flexibility in your schedule is required to ensure you get the time you want. Checking the local weather on one of the many weather apps available such as Ventusky can help in making decisions.

Also consider contacting people who live near the selected location for advice on specific conditions. You are simply trying to stack the odds in your favor.

Example: photographing a German skyline

As fate would have it, a recent trip to Frankfurt, Germany allowed me to put my own advice to the test. When traveling to big cities, a favorite pastime is capturing an image of the city skyline. Since the general location was already selected for me, it was just a matter of tweaking it. So this became my test case to see if the above suggestions are true.

The location

My concept preview basically included an image of the downtown Frankfurt skyline at sunrise or sunset. Examination of a map of the area around the city center revealed that the River Main runs through the city on an east to west course. The image in my mind has now turned into a horizon line with a first body of water. Google Maps helped tremendously to get a better idea of ​​the area on the south side of the river when looking north at the city skyline.

Google Maps Street View helped decide which viewing angle would work best. There are several bridges that cross the river in this area with one, in particular, offering an elevated position. Google Street View also showed that there are several floating restaurants anchored along the river. I made a mental note to see if any of them might be part of the picture once they got to the scene.

Accessibility

Examination of Frankfurt’s waterfront on Google Maps and Google Street View showed that it was primarily public space. Walkways and pedestrian bridges by the river are available to set up a camera and take some snaps. To be sure, I searched for terms like “Frankfurt photography restrictions” and found nothing that might affect the location I selected.

When to shoot

Choosing the best angle to view the city also helped decide when to shoot. In this case, a sunset image would definitely work best. Using Photo Ephemeris, the location of the setting sun was found to be mostly behind the city skyline. Shooting at sunrise would put the best light way too far east.

When I could shoot was decided for me since my time in Germany was limited. Looking at my available free time, there were two days I could get there at sunset. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that the first day would offer the best chance of clear conditions by sunset. The next chance would be five days later and the extended forecast was for cloudy conditions. I decided to do everything possible to get there on the first day.

Special conditions

Since my decision was to shoot at sunset, the weather was going to have to cooperate. As the chosen day approached, I watched the weather forecast. A partly cloudy forecast actually made me happier because a sky with clouds is definitely more interesting than one without.

I also realized without planning that the image would only really work on a summer shoot. With the sun setting in the northwest, the city skyline could only be backlit during the summer months. In this case, I was lucky with my timing.

Get the shot

When it came time to capture the image, all the planning really paid off. I knew where to go and how to get there. However, due to flight delays, I did not arrive there until just after sunset. Of course, I was very disappointed.

My disappointment was short-lived when the hour blue light began to add dramatic reflections to the clouds above the city skyline. The mental note made earlier about riverside restaurants (or beer garden in this case) helped me decide on the final location. Perched at the southern entrance to the Eiserner Steg (iron footbridge), I captured a twelve-frame panorama (two rows of six images).

Final Thoughts

From this experience, I learned that planning your photoshoot location beforehand can pay off in many ways. The biggest advantage was that there was little time wasted looking for the right location. I knew a few hundred meters from where I wanted to be and how to get there. The tools at our disposal make this type of planning very simple, provided you devote the time to it.

I’m sure every photographer has their own system for finding the right location for the shot. The suggestions above are meant to help you think through the process and find the method that works best for you.


About the Author: Curtis W. Smith has broad photographic interests ranging from travel and landscape to motor sports. He’s based in Kingston, Washington, and loves being outside with a camera, rain or shine. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.


Picture credits: Header photo from Depositphotos

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