The Art and Science of Location Photography

Creating photographs in industrial facilities, in a lab, in an office, in a conference center miles away from a studio, is an exercise in timing, creativity, inspiration, improvisation, perspiration, occasionally desperation, and, of course, diplomacy!

That is why proper planning prevents poor performance… and ultimately, prevents poor photography.

The most successful location shoots start with a plan that answers the question, “What photographs do I need right now to make my marketing successful and why do I need that specific photo?”

For example, “We need editorial style photographs of our financial team, working on our trading floor. The images will humanize our company for our clients, prove our dedication and give our team a sense of ownership in the company.”

This is a great start, but not yet specific enough to be a plan. “We need an image, on our trading floor, of two of our financial professionals working together for the About Us page on our web site.”

That is a plan! It means that we won’t waste time on location trying to “discover, make up or invent” a shot that is effective and interesting. We know the story we need to tell and what most of the elements in the photo need to be and can work to achieve those goals.

So step 1 is creating a shot list, the plan for the shoot. Keep one thing in mind: developing the plan is a collaborative, creative process, involving me and the client, working to identify the image goals. And, it is only the “sheet music” for the actual shoot. Sometimes, reality and the plan don’t play well together.

For that reason, step two is the location scout. Obviously, scouting a location a thousand miles away from my studio three days before the shoot is not very realistic. But, whenever possible, an onsite walk through, plan in hand, prior to the shoot date allows us to refine the plan and streamline the production so that we get the best images without any delays. Plan B, if I can’t be there in person for the scout, is to use a local scout or have the marketing director do the walk through with plenty of snap shots to help the photo crew understand the layout.

With the plan refined, the resources scheduled (who needs to be in the shot(s), what do they need to wear, props, time of day, etc) and the timing nailed down, it is time to produce!

As step 3 begins, the plan is literally the sheet music for the day. And, the creative team (photographer, marketing director, assistants, crew, etc) becomes a band that will rock through the day, improvising as reality and the plan meet (“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke).

Of course, part of our plan needs to include options and definitely needs to include diplomacy. Who do we need to contact before we can shoot on the roof and what do they need to know to help them feel safe with the idea?

Proof of insurance? Sure, we can do that.

Required to have a 20 minute OSHA safety video and test? Put it in the schedule.

Only have the CEO for 15 minutes? That’s fine! We just need to plan ahead.

Location photography is all about the plan and the improvisation from the plan. It sounds like a lot of prep work, and it can be. But it is my job, as the photographer, to help my clients through this process and help them get the strongest, most effective images they can with the resources available to the project.

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