Shooting In New Locations - Ben Connolly

5 April 2018

Shooting In New Or Difficult Locations And How To Do It Well

Throughout my career as a wedding & portrait photographer I’ve had to shoot in hundreds of new locations and locations where the lighting is terrible, so what do you do?

Well, the answer is much easier than most people think and it's simply “Do the best you can under the circumstances you have”.

With that said I want to share with you a few tips that will actually help you do your best in the real world. I personally find it exciting when shooting in a new location because I have no preconceived ideas of what I’m actually going to shoot which means that most of what I shoot will be somewhat unique. 

In many portrait cases shooting in the studio makes the most sense and will offer you comforts that many locations won’t, however, creating great lighting in a great location can add that final touch to your already cool photo.
Over the years I've shot in some really awesome locations where the lighting just gives you brain damage. So before you find yourself in that location wondering “How am I going to do this”? Read these tips and just remember to look for the light first, it will normally guide you on what to do.

Tip 1. Check out that location
Prior to the shoot, try to physically check out the location. If you can’t or it's in another state or country, just ask Mr Google! Google Maps, Earth, image searches and apps like Sun Seeker will really help you in preparing and what you might encounter.

Tip 2. Bring the gear you think you’ll need and a little bit more
After checking out your location you’ll have a better idea of what you’ll need to take. My
advice is if it’s an easily accessible location take the gear you think you’ll need and maybe a few extra creative props. If your location is Everest Base Camp or a snow-capped mountain in Queenstown… Pack light, just the essentials. Just remember lighting is your priority so don’t skimp on it. Teds sell a huge range of awesome lighting products from small softboxes to LED lights to strobes and even bags to put it all in.

Shooting In New Locations - Ben ConnollyShooting In New Locations - Ben Connolly

My wedding day bag consists of 2 Camera bodies, 2 speed lights with a small softbox or some kind of diffusers, 5 lenses, remote flash triggers, an LED constant light and lots of batteries. Batteries always help!

Shooting In New Locations - Ben ConnollyShooting In New Locations - Ben Connolly

Tip 3. Check out the Weather for the past few days in your location
Yes, that sounds pretty simple but you’ll be surprised how often that little check gets forgotten. In some places like Bali, you can almost set your watch to an afternoon downpour. In places like Melbourne, it can go from warm and sunny to freezing cold and snow in a matter of hours.


Tip 4. Take Water & Food
Are you familiar with the term “HANGRY” I certainly am cause it happens to me! Again, this one sounds like another no-brainer, but the last thing you want is to get dehydrated or hungry with no food or water and if your working with a model or models you won't get your best results. I stop at a convenience store on the way to almost every wedding as well as packing an esky or chilly bin with snacks and cold water.

Tip 5. Have an open mind
As I mentioned above, for me a new location isn’t scary, it's exciting because I have no preconceived ideas of what I’m actually going to shoot. I always have a shoot plan to follow but I’m always open to what the location might offer me and I challenge you to do the same.

Tip 6. You’ll be needing a shoot plan
If you're like me, you’ll get all excited about a new shoot and a cool new location and you’ll turn into a goldfish and be carried off by every bright, shiny, new thing you see! Do yourself, your model/s and hair and make up artists a huge favour and have a very clear and definitive shoot plan ready. I like to gather ideas from Mr Google, my clients and from my pre goldfish brain and storyboard them long before the shoot. This will really help if your working with models to get costumes/wardrobe prepared and will give you a much clearer idea of timing also because you’ll have the ideas of all your images ready to go.
Just remember Tip 5 though, this shoot plan is a guide, the lighting, the location or the location itself will always give you ideas.

Shooting In New Locations - Ben ConnollyShooting In New Locations - Ben Connolly

Tip 7. Be careful and stay safe
I’ve encountered all sorts of challenging things when shooting on location. Wild animals, unsafe old buildings, loose waterfalls and cliffs even the odd heckler. My advice, If a situation seems sketchy, go with your gut and don’t chance it. I've taken my share of risks to get “the shot", I used to shoot skydiving photos so I’ve jumped out of planes almost 3000 times, I've held onto the wrong side of a handrail 700 ft in the air with one hand while holding the camera in the other and while the shots look stunning the risks were pretty high. If you feel you have the skills and the right gear to be safe while getting “the shot” then do it, just make sure you don’t put anyone else in an unsafe situation where they may be fearful for their safety. Finally, let people know where you’re going and when you’re planning on coming back.

Tip 8. Insurances, permissions and licences

Not all locations were meant to be photoshoot locations so if you want to shoot in a building or on a property make sure you get permission first, the last thing you want is to feel stupid because the owner or manager comes to tell you to clear out.
If your working with models you NEED Model Releases and some figure of Liability insurance, it's not expensive to get and may just save you if something bad happens, which it won't because you’re super clear on Tip 7 right!
Using drones for your shoot also requires planning. While checking out the location in Tip 1 make sure you’re allowed to fly there and you’re appropriately licensed to do so. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia will have all these details and information for you. The fines for flying a drone in “No Fly Zones” are pretty hefty so do your homework. In shooting at a new location there have been times for me when it's been easier to ask forgiveness than for permission but I don’t advocate this. Just be polite and respectful should someone question what you’re doing. Most importantly, have fun, shoot like crazy, be creative and leave the location a little better than when you found it. By simply respecting the location, its owners and leaving it better than when I found it has allowed me access to locations off-limits to everyone else.
I really hope you use these tips for your next shoot and make them a permanent part of your business or hobby workflow and remember practice makes permanent!

Bonus Tip. Snap some pictures of the adventure along the way, everyone loves a good behind the scenes video or bloopers reel, you might even spot something you can do differently next shoot.

If you'd like to see more of Ben's work, check out his galleries and website in the links below!

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