8 Tips for Shooting in Difficult Locations

I’m just gonna go out there and say it: I don’t like shooting in the studio. Yes, there certainly is a time when it makes the most sense. It does offer many creature comforts that a lot of locations won’t have. But I feel that shooting on location adds an interesting element to an image, and a cool location can take a shoot from good to great very easily.

By Dana Pennington 

That being said, there are some really awesome locations that are quite simply, a huge pain. But that should not discourage you from shooting there. If you’re well prepared and know what you’re getting yourself into, there’s no reason why you can’t have a fantastic shoot in an exotic location.

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1. Scouting

Prior to the shoot, try to physically scout the location if you can. If you can’t, Google is your friend. Maps, Earth, and image searches will give you an idea of where you’re going and what you will find. (Stay tuned for an in-depth look into the art of location scouting coming out very soon.)

2. Bring What You Need

If your location requires that you hike 4 miles up a mountain, you probably don’t want to pack your entire studio. If you’re bringing lighting equipment, try to bring only what you think you’ll need. Paring down your kit will make your life infinitely easier. Your back (or your assistants) will thank you for it. I try to avoid bringing traditional umbrellas at all costs when shooting outside. It’s like mother nature knows when you’re trying to use an umbrella, and she always kicks up the wind. Beauty dishes, softboxes, and small to medium sized octoboxes typically work well.

My location lighting kit typically consists of 1 battery, 1 strobe, a sturdy light stand, and a beauty dish or small octo. This is a kit I can put into a duffle bag, making it easier to carry into and out of a location.

3. Check The Weather

Sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised what the weather can do. In some places you can almost set your watch to an afternoon thunderstorm. In other places it can go from warm and sunny to freezing cold and snow in a matter of hours. Going to the desert? Don’t assume that it will be scorching hot. I’ve frozen my ass off in the desert on numerous occasions.

4. Take Water And Snacks

Sounds like another no-brainer, but the last thing you want is to get dehydrated in the middle of nowhere. I like to stop at a convenience store and buy a small case of water and a box of granola bars that the entire team can have. It’s a nice, cheap way to score points with your models/stylists/makeup artists. They’ll think you’re super sweet and want to keep working with you.

5. It’s Kind Of Like Camping

I always carry a small LED flashlight and a multi-tool and/or pocket knife with me. Just like I would if I were camping. The flashlight can make focusing in the dark easier if it’s starting to get late and nobody wants to trip over a log when hiking out of a location after shooting through the magic hour. I also keep a small first aid kit in my car(which is probably just a good thing to do in general).

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6. Sunglasses

You’re a photographer. Your eyes are important. Staring at the sun through a camera lens is painful. And yes, you can get a sunburn on your eyes. It hurts. Take my word for it. Do yourself a favor and carry a pair of sunglasses.

7. Be Safe

I’ve encountered all sorts of weird things when shooting on location. Crazy bums. Wild animals. Unsafe old buildings. Treacherous roads. Even some unsavory onlookers trying to harass models. I know several photographers that prefer to pack a little heat when they shoot on location. I don’t necessarily recommend that as it may or may not be completely legal (or any safer), but I do recommend doing whatever you can to keep safe. If a situation seems sketchy, don’t chance it. If someone is harassing you, just find a new location. It’s not worth having someone rob you or worse. If you come upon a wild animal, use your common sense. You don’t want to be that photographer that got mauled by the Chupacabra (although if you happen to actually see it, make sure you get a good picture). Let people know where you’re going and when you’re planning on coming back.

8. Stealthiness Helps

Not all locations were meant to be photo shoot locations. I’m not advocating any trespassing, but if you want to shoot in a building or on lands that may not have rolled out the welcome matt for you, be quick and unobtrusive. The easiest way to get kicked out of a location is to attract a lot of attention. Don’t be there any longer than you have to. And try to do things the legal way if at all possible. But if you’re willing to take the chance, sometimes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than for permission. Just be polite and respectful should someone question what you’re doing.

Most importantly, have fun. Shooting on location is awesome. You can explore some really cool places and make some great memories in the process. Snap some pictures of the adventure along the way.

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Dana Pennington