4 keys to successfully scout a location for your shoot


In business, it’s all about the Benjamins.

In a successful creative production, it’s all about the scout.

What do I mean? Let me explain. I just finished an amazing three days at The Swag in Waynesville, North Carolina, one of Travel + Leisuremagazine’s top exclusive resorts in the U.S. And my day of scouting and acquiring locations and light made all the difference in the shoot.

In today’s post, we’ll look through the crucial aspects of a smart scout and why it’s imperative to a great end result for your shoot. There are four keysto keep in mind:

1. Location, location, location

Sounds like a real estate promotion, I know. But the truth is—whether at a resort, golf course, or travel destination—it’s vital to get a comprehensive list of shoot locations the client wants to feature in the final deliverable.

For example, your location might have a new spa, recently renovated golf course, exceptional restaurant, or even more unique amenities like the Swag (with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on their doorstep). Your client must develop a list of locations, which you can then scenario out, visit, and decide on best angles and approaches for the upcoming production.

In the case of my job at The Swag, some of the locations were right at the resort: dining room, croquet yard, and porch where a night-time band was playing. Others meant I had to put on my hiking boots. I walked five miles along beautiful trails adjoining the national park and the resort’s own bald where I would eventually shoot sunrises, a midweek picnic, trails to ponds, waterfalls, and swinging bridges.

Without seeing these locations in person, I wouldn’t have the data to properly plan the next phase of the scout: scenarios.


2. Scenarios

Now that we’re here, what do we do? That’s the core question at the center of scenarios. 

If you’re on a golf course, do you want the golfers teeing off, hitting their approach, putting out on the green, or just walking and enjoying the time between shots?

If you’re in a spa, do you want to scenario out a massage, a facial, steam bath, or people just hanging out in the pool area with friends enjoying margaritas?

Using my example of The Swag again, much of the resort’s appeal is based on its proximity to the national park. Hiking and outdoor nature walks are a huge draw for guests and a natural fit for scenarios. The resort also has a weekly visiting expert who engages guests in the outdoors throughout the day with various programs, making for some perfect interactive shots. I also got beautiful visuals at ponds, bridges along trails, waterfalls, and overlooks. 

Thinking through scenarios while on the scout will help you plan how talent is used and what props are needed. Two essential questions to think through: How many people will be needed for this scene? How long will you be at each location? And finally, be sure to also use your time to think through the next step in the scouting process: lighting.


3. The sun and more (lighting)

Once your locations are set and you have some ideas of what the scenario will be on site, it’s important to decide how the scene will be lighted. Will you go with natural light, strobes, hot lights, etc.?

I’ve already shared more about lighting in another article (“Let there be light: How lighting is the difference maker in your imagery”), so I’m just listing it here as one of the steps to consider on a scout.

That leads into the final step of your scout heading toward the production: the schedule.


4. The Schedule

Finally with your locations in mind, scenarios percolating, and technical aspects running amok, it’s time to get the details down on paper. You’ll need to create an orderly schedule that the client and their staff can review for feasibility. Always list the times, length of shoot, talent, wardrobe, props, food, staff, and anything else that may go into the shoot so there is ample consideration of all of your creative thoughts.

There are aspects to the daily running of a resort, golf course, and travel destination that might escape you as you plan the schedule. For instance, we just produced a new library of golf lifestyle shots at Pinehurst #4, which was closed for a couple of days leading up to the U.S. Amateur Championship. We had the run of a course that’s typically full of golfers and caddies, giving us a rare chance to bring in talent and equipment normally unrealistic when working around play.

In other instances at a spa or in a dining room, you might need to shoot before or after the normal operating hours.


Wrapping up

With a well-developed scout and schedule—and assuming the weather cooperates and the indoors can be facilitated—you’ll end up with a really well produced shoot and final imagery.

Chip Henderson