Photography Operations

Location Scouting Tips

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Written By Nate Torres

You’re sitting in a movie theater, watching a film that takes place in a stunning, picturesque location.

The scenery is so breathtaking, it almost feels like a character in the story itself.

You can’t help but wonder, how did they find this incredible location?

Location scouting is a critical aspect of any film or photography project, and finding the perfect location can make or break the final product. But how do you know where to start? That’s where location scouting tips come in.

In this article, we’ll explore the art of location scouting, why it matters, and the top tips and tricks for finding the perfect location for your project.

So if you’re ready to take your film or photography project to the next level, grab your camera and let’s get scouting.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

What is Location Scouting?

The location scouting definition is to search for a place to take your video, movie, or photography session.

This process involves a lot of traveling, negotiating, observing, and also planning.

Scouts are required to search for several locations that match the script. Based on the script, they are given checklists that need to be satisfied.

There is also a technical scout where the producer, G.A., Director, The Gaffer, and other necessary departments discuss the technical parts.

They will figure out the best way to capture the vision while considering the limitations of the location.

It is like searching for a date location for your significant other.

You pick some of your favorite areas and eliminate them one by one according to the date theme/plan.

location scouting tips

Why is Location Scouting Important?

Scouts determine how well the overall photo/video process will go along with the factors that should be considered by the director and crew.

Location scouting is so significant that it is the first thing most productions do after getting a script.

They get a location manager, and scouts, and drive to the most suitable locations for the script.

If the scouting is not thorough, it will cause havoc and dissatisfaction for the crew and director.

Imagine if you were videoing a romantic picnic in the woods, and a random bear appeared. Everyone would start running away with their gear while sweating profusely.

bear location scouting
*random bear appears*

The scouts are responsible for noting every single factor that may make or break the filming process and script.

Location managers would consider hiring private security, a ranger to keep them safe, and others.

Without proper location scouting, your film would look unprepared and rushed.

The process does take time, planning, and energy, but hard work does show off.

Enjoy the process, take notes diligently, and figure out possible obstacles.

12 Location Scouting Tips

Location scouting is not easy work.

Every location will have its own set of circumstances that regulate filming on its property.

With that in mind, we made an expert location scout checklist just for you.

Whether you are a beginner location scout, a veteran, or even a curious soul, we think you will need this.

1. Stick to The Script

Sticking to the script is the first and most important tip in your location scout checklist.

As your main goal is to figure out which location will suit the script, this should be the priority.

If the script wants to capture a scene in a bustling city district, then search for one.

If it demands a location for romantic sunset dates, then search for a strategic place for that occasion.

But there will be times when you cannot fully satisfy the script’s needs.

When that time comes, you need to think of alternative options that still suit the theme and ambiance of the movie.

Let’s say the script demands filming at a famous sidewalk where the character’s favorite locations are at.

But the team has a limited budget and would instead not burn their budget and time for permits.

Maybe choose other locations that are still tied with the concept but more friendly to the budget.

2. Take Note of Time and Weather Conditions

Lighting quality is heavily affected by the time of the session, along with its weather conditions.

You may find a stunning location coupled with the almost perfect surrounding for the script and team but always keep on the lookout for its weather.

Knowing what season, you are in should also be considered.

The weather may abruptly change, so consider asking a local about the weather.

Another factor would be the surrounding light levels.

Light levels should be measured when scouting the area.

As that will affect how much lighting the crew should bring on set.

location scouting weather

3. Observe the Lighting

Lighting is crucial to your scouting process.

Many scouts have their sun seeker application which tracks how much light is in the recorded area.

Pick one you like, they pretty much do the same thing, but others may have a UI that you prefer.

This topic also includes the lighting effects that you can use in the scene/image to make a scene more dramatic.

Examples of this would be adding light into a room, or pretty much anything needed.

As we all know, the quality of light changes based on the current time.

It will become much harsher at 12 in the afternoon and becomes softer at 4 pm.

But if you are photographing/videoing indoors, that would mean you can control the lighting better.

Meaning that you should also follow the sun as the session progresses, to achieve better captures in the afternoon.

Note how much additional lighting or even diffusers you should bring to the location and bring your camera for visual evidence.

4. Listen to the Surroundings

Locations can always seem unknowingly noisy.

Background noise is one of the main concerns when filming in a populated area.

Say you are on the street near office buildings, there will be sounds of the crowds, vehicles, and exhausts from the surrounding cars.

These sounds are not desirable for most filmmakers as they make unwanted noises.

But they are mostly factors that you cannot control, so focus on sources of sound you can handle.

By not photographing/videoing at rush hours, knowing the time when planes/big vehicles drive by your location, and many others.

There will always be some sound that leaks into the video, so there is no stopping that.

Get creative when solving your problem and think about what you can do to prevent/minimize the total sound.

minimize noise
no noise

5. Hunt for Unique Captures

Take different angles that seem unconventional.

The location scouting definition is not limited to just sightseeing and predicting how useful a scene is.

Sometimes we need to focus on the entertainment value. Your audience will always be ready to see the actor facing the camera, but did they expect an image/scene from a strange angle?

Now that is a hook for the audience. Taking images or recordings from a bizarre angle may be what you need.

Try to explore and ask your model, sound director, or anyone accompanying you to pose there.

Play around with the framing and focal lengths. If you like it and it is engaging, then your audience will also feel the same.

Keep the script in mind while doing this so you can get an idea of how it would fit in.

6. Search for Power Supplies

Not all locations will have power breakers.

The number of these breakers alone will determine how much equipment you can bring onto the scene, along with other pieces of equipment.

Starting from adaptors, and generators, are there other sources where you have permission to pull electricity?

These questions should be answered on the day of scouting.

According to the crew’s needs, you can cooperate with the higher-ups (such as the location manager).

location scout light
power supply

7. Choosing the Best Location for the Session

Locations and scripts are always correlated. But what if you stumble upon a good site or objects along the way?

Maybe something interesting perhaps an exotic animal or a small place within the area you booked beforehand.

Maybe you were planning to capture your interview in the model’s house, but instead, you find out that they have a fantastic-looking shed with an exciting vibe that coincidentally fits your script.

Script changing may seem a bit challenging and unnecessary at first.

But as the location scout and manager cooperate with the director, some boundaries can be pushed.

So, if it fits your script and you see it as impressive, your audience will see it as enjoyable too!

8. Remember the Crews Need

Your crew will always need supplies and shelter.

Supplies will include food, water, etc. In comparison, the shelter is adaptable based on the location’s weather and area.

Setting up a base camp would be better in an accessible place for crew members to enter and exit.

If there is no shelter, bring one yourself! You could get a couple of tables or even tents to set up, maybe get a patio/beach umbrella if the area is too hot.

Some locations may not be as practical for your crew, e.g., limited area to work.

To counteract this with the tight budget in mind, maybe taking a long way around is worth it.

Ask your crew about the best way to handle the situation with the current resources available to them.


9. Get Permission & Be Honest

Getting permission is one of the problematic parts when scouting a location.

Intellectual property is one of the problems you will face when filming in an area.

Because almost everything you see starting from logos, art, and even decorations, counts as intellectual property, this means that each of those properties that enter your scene must have a permit.

When asking for permission to use a location, always be honest.

Tell them what movie genre you are going to take. Be transparent and be open for the sake of the permit.

Even if you are recording a risqué scene that may involve suspicious-looking action, you better be honest in the permit.

Nothing is worse than getting kicked out by the owner while filming.

10. Search for Back-ups

Back-ups are always significant whatever the circumstances may be.

Although there is a clear distinction between over and under-preparing, there shall always exist a backup option.

Your scouting should find a handful of potential locations, including another scene appropriate for the script if everything goes south.

These back-ups may also include searching for the nearest gas station or electrical store for a quick fix or adding more equipment.

Bring your location scout checklist with you and secure the prioritized items first, then the rest.

11. Always Return the Favor

Through the course of your journey, while making deals on locations, you will always stumble on kind souls that will allow you freely use their site.

But please take into consideration that maybe they are underestimating how time-consuming video making is.

Some think it would take a minute or two, but never an hour or a full day.

With that in mind, try offering them something in return for the trouble, either cleaning the place up after you leave, offering them some promotion or endorsement, or any other viable options.

For example, if they own a sleeping lodge or a small business, offer to promote their business through your film.

Another choice would be buying products from them, such as souvenirs, food, etc.

thank them

12. Take Accurate Notes

Detail everything that you see in your notes.

Add in every nitty-gritty detail that should be noted based on the script’s need and the location managers’ survey.

Bring your camera to reinforce these notes.

Take a video and record yourself while making a commentary on the location.

This will serve as an example of what the lighting looks like at the said time, and the audio quality on the site while also noting the details of the taking in the video.

There might be another time when you will need a location that coincidentally fits your earlier site.

To further explore the subject of location scouting tips, we also recommend this video by D4Darious:

Location scouting? Watch this FIRST!

What is the Difference Between a Location Manager and a Location Scout?

Location managers and location scouts may seem like the same thing.

These roles can be held by one person only, but it often brings too much pressure and workload.

So, what does a location manager do compare to a location scout?

Location Manager

Often seen as the higher-up in the video maker scene, these people are tasked to prepare permits and supervise the crew at the location.

Most of the work lies in striking the contract and negotiating.

Still, these managers also do similar tasks to scouts, such as searching for parking spots, power supply, and other factors.

Location managers are mostly responsible for the on-location work during the production.

By cooperating with the director and production designer, they secure, choose, and even adapt the script according to the locations available.

Along with the other producers, the location manager also calculates logistics such as distance between session locations, number of crew needed, and much more.

They also need to prevent accidents from happening, by supplying a generator if there is low electricity, and supplying a tent or umbrella if the location’s prone to rain.

They also secure the site from any potentially disturbing factors such as random animals or random people passing by.

Location Scout

The bulk of the work for scouts is in the pre-production phase of any film or video.

They will conduct online research while being helped by their established network before visiting those destinations themselves.

After arriving at the selected destination, they will start taking scout photos/filming to give the others a rough estimate of how the image will look.

Partnered with a location manager, they will scout the area for potential factors and technical issues that the crew would face to video/photograph in that area.

Everything gets written down on notes and captured on the camera.

To conclude, the difference between location scouter and location managers, let’s say the location manager is the leader, and the scouts are the members.

Location managers pull more strings and deals.

To further explore the subject of location scout and location manager, we also recommend this video by CareerSighted:

How to Become a Location Scout & Location Manager

Final Remarks

I hope you enjoyed this guide.

People often see location scouting as a mini adventure to seek out a stunning and befitting location.

Yet, location scouting is much deeper than that.

They do negotiations, searching for potential risks and things that might slow down the process.

To sacrifice a tremendous amount of time and effort to make the session progress go smoothly is the location scouting definition.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What skills do you need to be a location scout?

To be a location scout, you need to have a keen eye for detail, excellent communication and negotiation skills, and a strong understanding of the technical aspects of film or photography production. You also need to be able to work well under pressure and be comfortable with frequent travel and long hours on location.

How long does a location scout take?

The length of a location scout can vary depending on the project’s requirements, budget, and complexity. A location scout can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks, and sometimes even months, depending on the number of locations needed and the scope of the project.

What is the difference between a location scout and a tech scout?

A location scout is responsible for finding and selecting potential filming or photography locations, while a tech scout is responsible for evaluating the technical feasibility of shooting in those locations. During a tech scout, the production team will assess factors such as lighting, sound, access, and safety to determine whether a location is suitable for filming or photography.