If you’re reading this, you’re probably a person who thinks and works visually, so when thinking of where to do your next shoot, close your eyes and “see” it coming together. As photographers, we’re a group of people that make something out of nothing, so it’s important to be able to visualize things. Once you have that vision, you should start to think in terms of how you can make it all happen “there” in that physical space you have in mind.
When I talk about making something out of nothing, I’m talking about the idea that someone—a client, art director, etc.—can have a vision or an idea of how something will look and it becomes part of your job to start to make that vision a product. A big part of this is location. Quite often, I can make most shoots happen outside with just a few props to give context, but sometimes you need an environment to really make a certain concept translate. When I build shoots that require a location, I often try and think in terms of using spaces that are well lit (obviously) and how complicated it will be to get a property release if need be.
When I start to cross the location-scouting bridge, similar to casting, I begin to think in terms of my immediate resource pool. I ask myself, “who do I know that has access to space?” You know, that friend who works on old cars, or maybe that thrift shop down the block, your local optometrist, or that pub where you’re pretty tight with the bartender. Now pitching the idea of you and some kind of crew coming in and shooting is a whole other batch of hoops, but they are hoops you can jump through without too much hassle. Confidence, an easy going attitude, as well as transparency about what you will be trying to do is pretty important.
Now most people running small businesses don’t need to be hassled with the minutia of your shoot, but try and give them a decent scope of what you’ll be up to. Another thing to note here is to keep the scale of the shoot in line with your location. If it’s a small spot, make it a low impact production. If it’s a place that feels like you can get into more of a thing, go for it, just be sure to let the folks involved know. Also, be sure to pitch the idea that “Establishment X” will get sweet images for their use as a thank you.
A Real Life Example
Recently I built out a shoot that revolved around friends getting together and sampling some beers at a local beer garden. I had a vision of what this shoot would look like so the first step was to cast some folks (Model Mayhem casting call). Next up on the list was location and I had a few local spots on my radar so I made a list and started my web search. As a first step, I looked at images I could find of the places I wanted to shoot. Once I had a pretty good idea of what the places looked like, I knew that an on-site peek would be necessary, so I went ahead and scoped out the few remaining locations.
I had my heart set on Fieldwork in Berkeley because of all the great natural light and sparse interior of the brewery. I wrote up a rough sketch of the shoot—the same one I used for the casting—and printed it out along with a couple of my business cards. I got my portfolio and Instagram cued up on my device in the event they might want to see what my work looked like. I chatted with the on-site manager and everything went well. I introduced myself as a local professional lifestyle/environmental portrait photographer and that I was producing a small shoot that involved a small group of friends doing a beer tasting. I then complimented him on the space and asked a few of questions about how business was going, as it’s a new brewery. I tried to be respectful of his time so then asked if he thought I could make the shoot happen down the line? He was amiable, so I got email addresses for the rest of the team and put in the request to the other guys that would make the decision and got the green light. Bam, spot secured!
Luckily I managed to get in and out before the brewery got cracking, I wanted to cut down on too much background noise and I don’t want to have to sweat model release forms for randoms. Now that’s a success story that I wanted to give so you could see how it can turn out. For each time it works out, there are a stack of times it doesn’t, so heads up and don’t get discouraged.
Another avenue to explore when it comes to locations is to take a look at Airbnb rentals. Often, within your given area you can find some petty sweet spaces that can actually be relatively cost effective. Another way to look at it: you’re using a shoot to justify some travel! Remember, over at Model Mayhem you can set up a casting call for where you are going and then book a nice little space and make the shoot happen. Getting everything to come together is super fun, and, because of the novelty of a space or location, you will find your creativity really flowing!
Co-working spaces are also a frontier to explore. In most major city’s there are more and more of these cropping up and they could offer some nice environments to shoot a small business concept or student co-working shoot. Currently, I see Peerspace, Makeshift Society, Third Workplace, and WeWork. Now these are my local places and to be honest I have yet to explore this asset, but part of the idea behind producing your own shoots is to have all your ideas and in line and ready to be used in the event you need them.
Let It Happen Naturally
Sometimes moments just happen and luckily you carry your camera around with you…right? Well, only if you’re that person— frame right, get the mood right, light right, and you don’t need to sweat getting folks involved to make sure if it’s ok to shoot there. Example: you’re at a sweet book store with an attractive friend who has signed a model release and you see some frames. Please! Shoot! Keep your frames relatively tight and really keep the focus on your talent—this is so you won’t need to ask other patrons for model releases—and you should be good to go. After some thought, the right approach for different settings and situations will follow. Like street casting, you have to be ready for a bit of awkwardness and some uncomfortable-ness, but the more you do it, the more it will come together. Now get out there and make your shoots happen!