In some respects I am more of a perfectionist than in others, but when it comes to locations I turn into a real nerd. I am incredibly meticulous when it comes to finding locations for my shoots. Not only do they need to look cool, they need to match the outfit somehow. Over the years I developed a very good eye for locations that ‘work’, and am equally good at spotting those that don’t. Not every location that looks great in #reallife works in a pic, and vice versa. Some locations don’t reveal their potential to a casual glance, but work amazingly well in photos. I am asked quite often how I find all these locations for my blog, and it seems like my advice and tips for successful shoots is generally appreciated. With that in ming, I compiled a bunch of tips for you guys that should hopefully make it easier for you to find – and shoot in – the perfect location .
1.The right frame Let’s start with the most important point straight away. When does a location actually work? I know in the fraction of a second if a location is suitable or not. What you need to do is the following: narrow your visual frame, be conscious of the fact that a camera never sees everything you see through your eyes. If , for example, a building looks great from the second floor up, but doesn’t really do much visually on the first two levels, you can pretty much scrap the location in most cases. A good spot for a photo needs to look good at the height right behind your body. Everything to high above that line is of very limited interest to you – it won’t be on the photo. Try to assess locations for the visual potential they hold between ground level and 5 meters up. Do you see a nice door, a nice staircase? Does the facade have a nice structure? You won’t see roofs all that often in my pics, usually they’re just way above the top edge of the frame. Scan your locations on eye-level.
2.The right angle Once you found a location that holds potential, you need to find the right angle. More often than not, any given location will look good from a select few angles, and not so much from others. Personally, I like a nice vanishing point which gives the image a certain depth. Such frames have the added advantage that they enable you to play with Bokeh (out-of-focus background effects). Often the angle makes the difference between a location that looks merely good and one that comes across as breathtaking, and the difference between these angles can be a matter of millimeters. If you ever worked with me you know how much of a perfectionist I am in this respect, and you will be ok with the fact that I sometimes take the camera and start wandering around with it, seemingly aimlessly, until I find the right spot in a location and exclaim ‘right here’.
3.A love for details I always keep my eyes open for locations with strong details that make them stand out. Examples include cool shutters, pretty logos or a delicate fence. Such details make a pretty location genuinely special and are often perfect for close-up shots like portraits.
4.The neglected floor We know it from Instagram: beautiful floor tiles are an ultimate #instagoal. It’s true, floors are an often neglected visual feature. This neglect is not justified, given that floor features often round off the entire image. The following are usually perfect: beautiful tiles, cobblestones or dark asphalt with traffic markings. The following are generally less appealing in photos: concrete tiles, flat soil. One way or the other, make sure you pay attention to the floors in your frames – they have a lot to offer.
5.Light and times of the day This is primarily an issue the photographer needs to be aware of, but it doesn’t hurt if you are as well. Many locations look best at a certain time of the day. Personally I am not a huge fan of upfront sunlight that throws hard shadows. I often prefer locations that are completely in the shade. Having said that, sun light can be utilized as a stylistic element as well, when it tinges locations in a golden light or when it sends rays through a row of pillars. These can be nice effects on photos, but you need to be sure to be positioned in the shade yourself, i.e. out of the direct sunlight. Experience shows me that it makes a lot of sense to check out certain locations in at different times of the day and under different weather conditions.
6.The popularity of a location Nothing grates on the nerves as much as people walking into a picture. Retouching photos takes an enormous amount of time and is basically a major hassle (albeit a possibility). I prefer quieter locations that tend to be frequented by fewer people. Ideal are quiet side roads or little elevations where no passers-by tend to walk. It goes without saying that the problem persists, I have people in my pics all the time, and often that leads to unnecessarily drawn out shootings. But I try to minimize the hassle by picking quieter locations. However, if you’ve really fallen in love with a location and feel you need to shoot that one and no other despite the fact that it’s constantly crowded, your best bet is to get up really, really early and do an early morning shoot before the sun rises.
7.The right positioning Personally I have no preference, I’m ok with having my picture taken from the side, from the left, the right, from the top down or from a lower angle. Generally speaking, I do tend to go for lower-angle shots: the body is stretched, plus you get more of your location in the frame and less of the floor. Whenever I opt for a higher angle it tends to be a clear stylistic decision. I like photos best that are taken from around the height of the photographer’s hips. Positioning can also be a helpful tool to cover unsightly details, like for example grimy bins or a pointless sign somewhere. Quite often I end up covering an unwanted detail in the location with my body by positioning myself in front of it.
8.Structure over chaos We alread discussed that crowds can ruin a beautiful location. The same is true for a generally chaotic environment or visual context. I tend to prefer calm locations without much going on close by, i.e. not too many houses, cars, signs, bushes etc. Even a crammed poster wall can look somewhat ‘calm’ when you choose the right frame and don’t overload the image with additional details like cars etc. Remember the golden rule: ‘the more structured’ a location appears, the better it will look in an image and the more harmonic the effect will be on the eye.
9.Visual harmony I often choose my outfits based on the location we’re shooting at, not the other way around. For example, for a very clean look I’d go for concrete walls and few colors in the background. For more casual outfits it could make much more sense to find a location with soft colors and old buildings under historic preservation, stuff like that. For edgy looks I always try to find extravagant locations, and I’m not afraid to experiment with what’s at hand (playgrounds come to mind). If chosen well, a location can really emphasize your outfit, round it off and steer associations in a certain direction. You can make a clean outfit look even cleaner, and enhance the sense of cosiness for that cosy look you’re shooting.
10.Practice makes perfect The last tip is a general one, and it’s always good advice: practice, practice, practice! I often cruise around simply to scan my surroundings a little. Whenever I find a potentially good location I take a picture straight away to double check whether the spot works in a photo. This is called ‘location scouting’ in the industry, and it’s actually a real profession. I also scout Pinterest and visit locations that I saw elsewhere. If you do that for a while you will find yourself building a sizable repertoire of locations, and on top of it you will train your eye and get to know your immediate surroundings better :)