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The Scouting Shoot

I've been talking with several new clients lately, and one thing I tend to stress with those who haven't worked with a professional photographer before is the importance of the scouting shoot.  

What is a scouting shoot exactly, and why is it beneficial?

The process is simple.  My client and I show up to the site and have a look around.  I'll bring my camera and a zoom lens (no tripod, no lights) and start shooting different angles that I think would work well, and that the client thinks would work well.  If my client has very specific angles in mind, I'm happy to photograph those and include them in the proof sheet.  But I'll also pick out compositions that I like, because oftentimes what looks great in person doesn't quite translate to the 2D photograph.

In addition to finding the best compositions, I'll be checking out the ambient light situation for each space.  At what time of day does the natural light look best in this kitchen?  Are we shooting any spaces that have no sunlight and therefore can be photographed whenever we're done shooting the more critical spaces?  How many studio lights (if any) will I need for the shot?

Finally, I use the scouting shoot to figure out staging & styling needs for each composition.  Maybe a couch needs to move back a couple feet to open up the visual space.  Maybe that kitchen counter could use a few lemons & limes for a pop of color.  It's all about planning ahead!

After the scouting shoot, I'll put the images on a proof sheet and send them over to the client.  We'll usually discuss them over the phone with the pros & cons of each, then narrow them down to a set shot list.  This gives the client a definitive list so we can have a firm plan of action on the day of the shoot, use our time as efficiently as possible, and be on the same page creatively and stylistically.

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If I were only interested in making a quick buck, I'd actually advise AGAINST a scouting shoot.  After all, you'll spend more time at the shoot ($$$), end up making more images than the client really wants due to trial & error ($$$), and spend more time in post production because you didn't plan ahead ($$$).  

But I'm interested in making the best finished image possible, and to do that requires planning and preparedness.  That means knowing ahead of time what tools I need to bring to the shoot (lenses, lighting, grip, staging items), how I'll want furniture & accessories arranged, what time of day I want to photograph the space, all in order bring a vision to fruition.  

NOW... with all that said, sometimes a scouting trip just isn't possible for various reasons.  In that case, I still like to be as prepared as humanly possible.  That means requesting any cell phone pictures that the client can send me (the more the merrier), getting the address so I can Street View it online and find out what position the sun will be at any given time of day, and asking my client what angles they'd like to use.