A safe, controlled studio environment is an all too familiar sight for an experienced photographer. It’s a space we trust - our team and equipment is all under one roof and it’s an easy environment to work with a client on set.
Often we have to break out of our favorite four-walled friend and think outside of the box to get a fresh perspective on our portfolio – whether that means venturing out around your community, or catching the next flight to a lush tropical location. If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand the desire to feature different environments in your shoots. For me, the location is the main part of my editorial work that brings the story together. I treat the location like I am setting up a short movie – thinking about what corners, walls and landscapes I will feature as my background, and what will compliment the overall theme. Growing up in England my surroundings consisted of lakes, woods, grasslands and manicured gardens of large mansions. Today in NYC, my playground is the streets of Manhattan with tall giants above and fluorescent lights everywhere I look. However, the opposite is true once I travel a short distance from the city – colorful beachfronts with pastel signs on the boardwalks of New Jersey or Coney Island and time trapped motels I’ve stumbled across on my travels. Each of these locations is handpicked for the story I am going to shoot and play a huge part in building a successful fashion shoot.
Over the past few years of traveling to various locations for shoots and seminars I’ve experienced both the glamour as well as the less desirable parts of traveling. I’ve learned first-hand how successful producers work (and admittedly – the mistakes they make as well) and the work that goes into making travel shoots seamless. Good stories take time to build, so it’s important that you take the time to build a strong starting point.
One of my most recent jobs was shooting three editorials back to back in Costa Rica with London based magazine ‘Hello! Fashion’. We shot three very different editorial stories to gather enough content for upcoming issues. This shoot was the perfect reminder of how important planning is on set – each shoot was planned carefully to get the most out of each day and the team/models were selected carefully based on the editors ideas. The shoot featured here is the first shoot we did which was a sporty beachwear editorial.
Below are my top tips for location shooting. The biggest tip I can give is to have a folder full of your plans – including all or a few of the following; location scout images, mood-boards, travel / accommodation bookings, call sheet with team contacts and a schedule for the day(s) you are shooting.
Assistance & Team
The more assistance the better – even if that means a member of the creative team doubling up as an assistant on set!
Hire or get local help – get assistance of people that know the area; or even better – someone who is involved in photography that would be able to help you with scouting and equipment. Photo Studios or rental houses often have contacts to photo assistants. Local travel guides can also be a huge help in recommending locations and assistance.
If budget allows – get a producer! A lot of photo assistances also know the ins and outs of production.
Ship equipment in advance with a trusted shipment company (be sure the value of your equipment is insured).
If you’re taking equipment with you, check the weight and size limits of luggage on airlines in advance. Take your camera and lenses as carry-on items - I always pack mine into my small carry on suitcase (this way it’s not obvious I am carrying a camera).
If you’re checking in baggage, be sure to have protective casing such as Pelican.
Research local rental houses – this will save you carrying equipment and avoiding costly airline baggage fees! I usually travel with my camera & lenses only, everything else is rented at or near the location where we will be staying.
Always take a rugged hard drive (or two) to back up your memory cards. I suggest the Lacie Rugged 1TB.
Educate your team – not everyone will know the ins and outs of location shooting. Make your team aware of what is required of them and be sure to give them an area (preferably indoors) to do hair and make-up. We like to call this a ‘base’. This can be anything from a café (with permission and usually with the promise of giving the owners business!), an RV or a rented studio space.
Location scout ahead of time (shoot snaps on a phone or on your camera to build a document of how you want to schedule your shoot day). Use this document on the day of the shoot as a guide, alternately; you could have your producer/assistant handle this!
Give yourself options - If you are booking accommodations for you and your team, look into places that can double up as a shoot location. I have done this several times through websites such as www.airbandb.com or even asked the hotel if we could use the grounds in return for credit.
Research if photo permits are required for certain locations. Generally you don’t need a permit if you shooting casually, for example – doing a location scout. However, this changes if you use a tripod or anything touches the ground (i.e lighting equipment). It also changes if you are shooting on public property and/or whatever you are doing will impact the environment or the public. A quick google search of the city/township in question AND ‘photo permit’ will usually bring this up. If you’re unsure of the situation, then hotels, rental houses, producers and assistants may be able to provide you with this information.
Check the weather forecast and plan ahead in case the weather is not what you expected it to be. Most often my clients plan for a weather day in-between shooting. If this isn’t used then we use it to either a.) relax (preferred!) or b.) location scout the next day or go over images from the previous shoot. Having an extra day is good for many reasons.
Make a light plan - If you’re relying on natural light for your shoot, make a plan for the light change that occurs during day. If I’m shooting during golden hour in the morning I almost always aim to capture the same light in the evening. If time/budget allows, I also try and shoot on different day.
Use an app such as LightTrac to help you track the suns position throughout the day.
Avoid midday sun. Instead, use shaded areas and scrims/flags to diffuse the light as much as possible. I almost always advise my client or team to break for at least 2-3 hours in the middle of the day. We use this time to check back through the images we’ve captured in the morning and make a mood-board. This helps us see the direction of our shoot, as well as making sure things are going according to plan.
Use the same team – on larger jobs where 2-3 different shoots are taking place over the course of a few days it’s often easier to use the same team and/or models; especially if you’re in an exotic location where it’s impossible to find local talent. Make-up / hair styling can make a model look entirely different if you’re shooting separate stories!
If you don’t have the facilities to tether your camera (or like me you move a lot when shooting) then have an assistant or digital tech offload your memory cards as you go, so that you (or your client) can have a look through as you progress through the shoot. Be sure to bring many cards with you and be sure your cards are backed up as you go.
Broncolor Equipment Recommendations
I regularly travel from studio to location with the Broncolor Move 1200L kit within the US. The case is compact and portable and fits two MobiLED Flash heads, one softbox and umbrella. I also travel with my 5ft Octabox and a large c-stand with boom arm so I’m able to light from different angles. This is usually my go-to kit if I’m working with a client that requires shots to be lit outside. The battery is long lasting which is ideal if shooting in remote areas such as a beach or park. It’s also a useful kit for low light situations (for example, shooting an editorial at the end of the day past golden hour) - the modeling light runs for 2 hours!
Hello Fashion! Magazine shot on location in Costa Rica
Model – Karolina @ Wilhelmina Direct
Stylist – Jodie Nellist
Make Up – Jose Bass
Hair – Jamie McCormick
Production – Myra Gonzalez
Retouching – Monica Chamorro
Photo Assistance – James Sharpe and Kristie Lee