Choosing the right location to shoot your video

How to plan a shoot location

To make a great photographs, video or film the first thing you need is somewhere to shoot. Choosing that location is harder than it sounds. There are many factors that you need to take into account to ensure the shoot in that location goes smoothly.

Location, location, location is not just for real estate, it also vital to making great images and videos. In a way where you film is almost as important as what you film. A great location will provide you with photographic / cinematic opportunities to sets the tone and tells a story of its own.

So where do you start to choosing the right shoot location?

This is maybe the easiest step to choosing the right shoot location, you start with the script. Read the script and storyboard and work out what the type of scenery or atmosphere that is needed for the shoot. Depending on your roll on the production, talk with the producer or director or DP about their vision for each scene of the shoot.

Once you have an idea of what is needed you start your hunt. A good place to start is using the internet, Google maps, Google streetview and Google Satellite. Then drive to those locations to check them out in person. Remember to try to check out the location at the time you want to use if for the shoot. Also a location you choose during Winter may look dramatically different during summer. So this all sounds easy doesn’t it, but this is only the start.

So when you have a promising location to shoot you need to look into a lot more things to decide if it will be suitable for the shoot. First up take photos of the location and notes. Lots of photos. When I am scouting for a location (also known as a location Recce here in Australia or “site survey” or “tech scout”), I always start out taking shots of the location with the background as I am hoping to shoot. I shoot both wide and tight shots of the location so I can clearly show anyone what the desired shots will end up like. Then after I have enough of these I take shots of the complete area, as in I turn around and take shots in all directions. This then shows

  • all sources of light – windows and others sources of light as in existing lighting (fluorescent, incandescent, mercury vapor, sodium, neon or other lighting) and practical lights already in the location like desk lamps etc
  • the surrounding geography— access, adjacent buildings, surrounding streets, general neighborhood, streetlights, overhead electrical wires—anything that could be an asset or a problem. You should note the compass direction of the location.

how to do a location scout survey

What else do I need for a great shoot location?

  • Logistics. This is one of the biggest areas of concern when selecting a shoot location. How easy will it be to get all the cast crew and gear on location? Is there enough parking space? How close the location is to means of transport, catering facilities or other shoot locations? You don’t want to use half of the day just getting there or moving people and equipment between places. Make sure that there’s adequate space for you to set up all of your gear, so that you’re able to get the shots you need. A small shed may seem like the perfect location for a shoot, until you realize that there isn’t enough room to position your gear. How close to the site can you park the equipment trucks. What is the access like with narrow doorways, hallways, elevators and stairs? Is there enough space available for camera, lighting, video assist. Don’t forget somewhere for hair and makeup. And on a TV commercial shoot you’ll need room for the clients too. One more thing of note is On what floor of the building is your location situated? If it’s not the ground floor it is probably best to get a new location.
  • Power. Check out the power available, thew power outlets and the number of circuits. Not all locations can handle powerful lights’ power needs. How long a cable run from a generator and where to put the generator to shield the sound? Take a picture of the circuit breaker box for the building and note where the box is located
  • Toilet facilities. Are they close by? A shoot can come to a grinding halt if cast or crew is off set for any length of time, so nearby toilets can keep the shoot going. You’ll also need a quiet room where actors can get made up and get ready. And if you have a large cast and crew yet another area  apart from the set where people can eat and chill during break
  • Sound. Listen – traffic noise, humming of the ventilation, echo in a room. path of an airport? Are there freight trains that rumble by?
  • Weather. Even an interior location may be impacted by bad weather. Getting cast crew and equipment into a location during bad weather will always be a harder and slower process. An interior shoot may require lighting positioned outside windows.

Now what do I need to do?

  • Get permission. Be aware that you’ll need to secure permits and other legal permissions to shoot at certain locations. You’ll need to get permission from and cooperation of location owner and neighbors, local government and possibly even law enforcement. If you have chosen a street or sidewalk location that will impede traffic? Cemeteries, shopping centers and malls, grocery stores, corporations and businesses are all private property. Many owners will be happy to accommodate you if you ask, but without the correct permissions, you’ll need to choose another location. It’s better to get permission in advance than to have a shoot interrupted by the authorities.

Lastly remember it is better to get a large location than small location because a large spacious room can be made to look smaller or cramped, but it is almost impossible to make a small location seem large. A large location allows you more room to fit your cast and crew as well as all the equipment.

Finding the right shoot location can be time-consuming and even frustrating at times, but it really pays off when you nail it. Good shooting!

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