Not selling real estate here. I’m selling you on the best place I can find to take a picture.
Trying to meet a clients ever evolving wish list of backgrounds to support an ever growing list of products to sell is an important part of my job.
Location scouting is one of the necessary luxuries of shooting commercial work. Frivolous and wasteful as it might seem to many looking in from the outside. To a photographer it establishes a carousal from which pretty much the entire project revolves. Often times solitary, sometimes in a group, the scout is usually several 18 hour days of a full blown road trip adventure. Dead ends and dirt roads, miles outside of town or into the heart of an urban landscape in some of the countries most interesting cities.
It always starts with a laundry list of needs: tones, textures, activities, and points of view. A cross between unbelievably specific to vague and unobtainable. Nothing is outside the boundaries of what is expected and only limited by my best intentions, the countless doors knocked on asking for permission to shoot and ultimately the budget allowed. It never ends until the sun sets and then continues well after dark sitting in some random hotel bar looking at satellite images hoping to find that one last missing spot.
As fulfilling as the actual photo shoot can be, some of my favorite memories from a commercial career have been location scouting. Something about rolling into a fresh town and laying eyes on a new location with the potential to blow the doors clean off is down right exhilarating. Turning down a dusty road relying on what your gut tells you is at the end cuts to the very heart of true adventure. Creative direction flushed out while standing, real time, in front of your best location options gets about as close to pure creative collaboration as you are going to get. Take away the pressure of actually having to execute the shoot and you are pretty much at the nexus of all the creative concepts that preceded you.
Focus groups, brand meetings and books filled with tear sheets start the process. The process lives and dies as you stand, toes in the sand, looking at the perfect beach landscape for the upcoming project. Sadly clients often want to join the first day of the photo shoot. A chance to give direction on Day One. In reality, the most important decisions are made during these mileage packed days of a location scouting. Burning through fast food stops with the empties thrown in the back seat while following your inner zen master about what’s just over that next hill.
My best client advice has always been come to the scout if you can. It’s where the creative rubber first meets the road.