Keeping it Novel: Finding the Right Shoot Location

By: Abby DivDate: July 11, 2019

If you started shooting in a studio setting it’s an all too familiar scenario to find the repetition in shoot backdrops and studio sets. Without the proper level of preparation for styling, set design and wardrobe a shoot can either look like a catalog ad or a half baked idea where parties are ‘winging it’, crossing fingers for the best results without the forethought on how to frame, pose and highlight the shots. It’s also one of the top reasons photographers make an active effort to find alternative spaces with different environments. When looking for a new space to mix it up there are a few considerations to keep in mind before committing to the location:

Environment: Inside vs Outside

The decision of indoors versus outdoors can entirely change the set up and expectation for a shoot. Not only does it requires different lights, reflectors and backdrops but it’s essentially using a different source of main light. Hard midday light from overhead sun can create unbecoming shadows under the eyes and neck, requiring reflectors to bounce back light or a full light to ‘overpower’ the sun. In a studio, light is more easily manipulated to follow the directions it’s been directed and there are fewer unknown variables to counteract.

Temperature: Hot vs Cold

The less you have on the more important this one will become. Whether in Texas midsummer or the Midwest in the deep cold of winter, temperature plays directly into how comfortable it is to shoot. This is not just for outdoor location shoots but also indoors when studios or creative spaces don’t have air conditioning or heating.

This may sound counterintuitive but for places that don’t reach extreme temperatures save a few days or weeks of the year they may not see a need for them. For example, a studio in Minneapolis may not have air conditioning or a space in Orlando may not have heating. Better not to assume the environment and ask about the amenities before entering the space. After all very few photographers want a frigid model or that sweating off your makeup look.

Design: Natural Environment vs Designed Set

The backdrop for a photo shoot is almost as important as the person or object that you’re putting in the foreground. It should complement the scenario or narrative you’ve conceptualized and bringing to life. When considering design then the question becomes, is it a natural environment or a hypothetically plausible environment made from a set.

Both come with positives and negatives depending on the level of control you want over the environment. Natural may appear more organic and convincing as a potential shoot scenario. However, it also may have less predictable factors like spectators or less than pristine conditions. Conversely, a designed set may be more under the control of the director but has the potential of looking fabricated.

Online Resources

Some go-to resources when looking for spaces online can help to narrow the pool of potential candidates:

Peerspace: The AirBnB equivalent for hourly studio rentals. In large cities like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles (unfortunately they're not ubiquitous yet like their BnB contemporary) there are hundreds of listings for unique and eclectic spaces. Options range from airstream trailers to

Breather: This is more geared towards office and meeting spaces, but can be used for rentals as well. Note: because they are not conventional shoot spaces you'll have to bring your own lights and other equipment. Anticipate also having to move furniture around to make space if you don't like the office look.

AirBnB: Tread lightly when it comes to this resource. AirBnB has great options when it comes to booking an overnight stay. It can be trickier though when it comes to shoot space. Not all hosts welcome shoots, commercial or non-commercial alike, and will specific in their rental terms so read carefully. If they do though it opens the opportunity to create multiple vignettes within the shoot and a number of distinctive looks that may add to creating different scenes.