Scouting a Location for Your Video

January 20, 2014

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Sean Couch


Have you ever found yourself drawing a blank when trying to think of a great location for an upcoming photo or video shoot? Maybe you’re searching for terrain that will make people believe you’re somewhere abroad, or maybe you just want a location that will bring your storyboards to life as you prepare to film your next great production.

When your conference room isn’t quite cutting it, scouting a location can be a great way to make your video or photos stand out from the crowd. Depending on what kind of shoot you’re doing, you may need to answer several questions, such as:

  • Does the location match the theme or purpose of the shoot?
  • How many different settings (backgrounds) does the location provide?
  • Is the location already booked for another event?
  • Is the location close to other locations that I might want to use?
  • Can my whole crew get to the shoot location easily?

When done right, location scouting can create an experience and look that will fool almost anyone. There are great hidden gems spread across the globe that can help bring any shoot to life and help save money or travel hassle when dealing with larger crews and equipment.

For example, in a recent episode of Showtime’s popular series Homeland (Season 3), viewers were immersed in a CIA operation that took place on the borders of Iran and Iraq. Interestingly enough, the entire scene was filmed in North Carolina in a quarry that created a rugged landscape passing as a setting for the Middle East:

So, how can you start being a location scout master? Here are a few tips.

Set and understand the goals of your shoot.

Talk with your team and make sure you understand the intention of the video or photos you’re about to shoot. There is always a message or theme that needs to be communicated, and every detail counts. Reference your storyboards and scripts so that your locations align with the story’s theme, which can be set in a exotic location, a different time or era, across multiple galaxies and planets, a small town in Kansas, or maybe you just need a simple urban backdrop and environment to help add more character to an interview.

Star Wars was partially filmed in Tunisia to replicate the planet Tatooine and still stands in the Sahara desert.

Build a solid game plan.

Okay, now you understand the story you’re trying to tell, and you’re ready to start finding possible locations. What now? Well, it all depends on the scope of your project. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where there are a few general solutions like Google Maps, which is a great place to start. Thanks to the amazing efforts of the Google Maps team, you can just about search any location in the world and get street views along with other detailed information.

Unfortunately, you will likely need to do more background checks than even Google can provide. You will want to know or see things such as:

  • Various inside and outside photos of the venue
  • Lighting possibilities
  • Pricing and availability
  • Capacity limits
  • Access to amenities
  • Parking
  • Safety
  • Contact information

Scenes from Spy Kids 4 were filmed across different Downtown Austin, Texas locations.

Log your scouting information.

Don’t ever let all of your hard work go to waste! Make sure to have all of your scouted information logged somewhere. You never know when you may want to revisit a location for a shoot. Most of us have the best possible scouting tool on us at all times, and that is your handy dandy smartphone, which has almost everything you would need to start scouting and logging locations today.

Next time you are out on the town, pay attention to your surroundings and snap some pictures of locations you may want to revisit for a shoot. Take notes and pay attention to the details so that you have all the angles covered and can answer all of the tough questions that may come up later.

If you can stay ahead of the curve, you will impress your team and even prospective clients with a location portfolio ready to choose from. It’s great when you can make key decisions more quickly so that you can start shooting and let the real fun begin.

We designed SceneScout to help you scout, plan, and share your work with ease at any time. Learn more on our site, in the App Store, on Google Play, or on Twitter/Facebook.

Have you ever had to scout locations for a shoot? Share your experience and advice in the comments!

Sean Couch


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