Planning For Shoots In Unfamiliar Locations

As photographers, how many times are we faced with a situation we have never been faced with in the past? If you’re anything like us, pretty much every day! As wedding photographers especially, we face new challenges every time we lock our lenses into place and turn on our cameras. Every wedding is different. Every couple is different. Every DAY is different. You just never know what you are going to get!

If we’re honest, that’s one of the things that keeps us getting up every day. We never enjoyed sitting behind a desk. We wanted to roam free. “Fly like the wind!” We love being faced with new challenges all the time. It keeps us on our toes!

But there’s pressure. Tons of pressure. These are once-in-a-lifetime moments we are charged with capturing. Wheew!! So how can we make sure that everything goes perfectly on a wedding day or an engagement session? Good question. In short, we can’t. No one can. We don’t control the weather. We can’t make sure the groomsmen remember their ties. We wish we could.

HOWEVER…we can make sure that we are as prepared as possible for every scenario we can dream up. And that philosophy has served us well. Very well. Here’s how it works. It’s very simple.

We control what we can control. That’s it.

There are a lot of facets to that diamond, but today we are going to focus on one. We want to talk about how to be prepared to shoot in unfamiliar locations. But before we do that, here’s our general philosophy, unfamiliar locations or not. We believe that the biggest variable we can control on a wedding day or any is shoot is to know where we want to shoot before we get there. In other words, we have a plan before we arrive. Always. The last thing we want to do is walk out the door, the bride just finished getting ready, and we have to figure out the best place to take photos. Panic sets in! You know the feeling! So we plan everything. Everything.

But today we are going to explain how we plan for shoots in unfamiliar locations. And just like any good article, there is an introduction (see above), 3 bullet points and most likely a conclusion. Read on and find out! Advertising at its finest, folks.

1. Check It Out In Advance

We’re going to start you off easy on this first one. It’s such an easy thing to do, but so many photographers just don’t take the time! We will admit, it’s a time commitment, no doubt. But it’s worth it.

We advocate that, if your location is close-by, you take the time to go in advance on a day prior to the session or wedding date and plan. Why? One of the most important things we do to get our couples comfortable in front of the camera is to encourage their pants off! We don’t even allow a silent moment during our shooting time! We build them up so much! We feel that if we don’t go in with a plan, we will spend more time thinking about where the best light is or where to go next that we won’t have time to focus on our couple. It’s a disservice to them if we don’t plan ahead. They deserve our time!

The best way to make sure we give them our full attention during that time is to go in with a plan. So we take the time. We envision the wedding day. We go at the same time things will be happening. If your session is at 6. Go at 6. We create a plan for if it’s cloudy. Or if it’s sunny. Or if it’s rainy. You have to know all of those! Write it down! It will give you a comfort level that you have never known. Trust us!!!

2. Use The Tools At Your Disposal

Sometimes, checking out your locations in advance might be too time consuming or it’s too far away. It may be impossible for you to get away from your kids or your job long enough to do that!

Enter, Google Maps. Yes, the Google Maps we all know and love and use on an everyday basis. If you’ve never used Google Maps to scout locations, now is the time! It’s so easy! Here’s how it works.

Go to Google Maps and type in the location or a location close-by. Next find the little yellow man (usually in the bottom left of the screen) and drag him onto the closest street (or, you can just click on Street View for those less adventurous). BAM! Now you can see it! You can navigate down the street. Sometimes you can even go into parks and look around. How cool is that?!

Sometimes there are limitations as to where you can navigate. And you have to remember, like we said earlier, the weather might be different than it will be on the date of the shoot. Keep that in mind!

We have used this in the past and it has been a huge life-saver. Back in April, we did an engagement session in Cincinnati. We don’t know the area well enough to know where the best places are with the best light. So Alyssa searched for parks and found a gorgeous park just outside of Cincinnati. She was able to navigate around the whole park and find 3 spots that she felt would look good. So when we arrived, all we had to do was find those spots and determine which ones we thought were the best! So easy!

3. Don’t Limit Yourself

When we shoot an engagement session, we often end up choosing two prominent locations. When we say locations, we don’t necessarily mean that we had to get in the car to go from one to the other. Many times the second location is right around the corner. But at the end of the day, we choose two locations that we feel like will be the best. Sometimes inspiration strikes and we end up with three locations or more because we saw a perfect spot while we were walking around. But for the most part, for consistency, we keep it to two.

That being said, here is our last piece of advice when going into a shoot in an unfamiliar location: Don’t limit yourself.

We have said it before and we will say it again. You have to be prepared for everything. Rain. Cloud. Shine. And everything else! One time, a long time ago, we arrived at an engagement session in downtown Greenville. We had a plan, but it was shaky at best. It was going to be a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of day. When we arrived, we realized there was a huge event happening in downtown Greenville. People were everywhere. Everywhere!!! Our shaky plan was now no plan at all. We vowed never to let that happen again.

The bottom line is this: As much as you plan, you never know what might happen on the actual day. What if someone sets up a booth right in your favorite spot? What is someone cut down the field you were going to use? You don’t know!

So don’t limit your options. For us, we ultimately end up using two main locations usually. But that doesn’t mean we only go in with two ideas! Give yourself some breathing room! Go in with 4 or 5 ideas, knowing which ones are best in case everything goes perfectly! If you are prepared for anything, your mind will be clear and you will be ready to love your couples and give them the experience they deserve!

*Bonus tip/caviate/we-don’t-have-kids-so-we-know-it’s-harder-for-some-of-you: If you can’t do any of these things because your life makes it impossible to do so, AT LEAST show up 30 minutes early to your session or wedding and do some scouting! You will feel much better!

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy this series for photographers!

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