How to Scout for Great Photography Session Locations

August 13, 2012

in Photography Session Tips

How to Scout for Great Photography Session Locations | Free Photo Tips via

This tutorial is the first in a 3-part series by Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman on finding great locations for photography sessions.  You can follow the rest of this series here:

Part of the fun for me being a 100% on location natural light photographer is that my locations are constantly changing.

Yes, I have my ‘go-to’ locations for those not wanting to do in home indoor/outdoor sessions or who are looking for something a little different for their shoots.  Bottom line? Location is key for what you are trying to capture with a child or family.

Location, location, location!

From urban shoots to ‘forest-like’ gorgeous green backgrounds, to a small space in an apartment to a small field on the side of the road, the world is ripe with location choices.

First up in the location series, scouting for locations.

1| Stop. Look. Picture.

I am notorious for driving  by a small patch of green with interesting foliage and returning to that spot the next day with my daughter to take test shots.  If you are mainly a children’s photographer, remember this when scouting locations:  your subjects are generally ‘little’ people.  So they do not need a sprawling meadow for every shoot.  You can take a small patch of green with some wild flowers and no one would know the difference.  Look at these pull aways of a ‘location’ shoot I did a few months ago with my daughter.  I discovered this bit o’ sunshine on a walk with my dog.  Sure, it’s literally a ‘double line street, side of the road’ spot. Our town pool is right there and a lovely metal fence, but would you ever know it from these images?  The biggest part of scouting and photographing in general is to open your eyes to the light and possibility.  I saw the slight hill and how the sun was coming up over it- the tall grass (unkempt I should say), a gravel road leading literally to nowhere. I knew when I got her there it would be a gorgeous light set up.

I Heart Faces Location Part 1


I Heart Faces Location Part 1

I Heart Faces Location Tutorial Part 1

I Heart Faces Location Tutorial Part 1

I Heart Faces Location Tutorial Part 1

2| The Power of the internet.

Two words: Google Maps. Seriously, if we all had wings and could fly overhead scouting various locations, well that would be simply divine.  Obviously we don’t, but we can however, still look at locations 1/2 hour away from us within mere seconds.  Go to ‘learn’ once you access Google Maps.

Here’s a Google Maps shot of one of my most favorite streets in the West Village in NYC.  Jane Street.  You can literally ‘walk’ up and down the street with the arrows finding great pockets to photograph in.

I Heart Faces Tutorial Location Part 1

I love scouting out the nooks and crannies of Downtown NY on Google Maps to find little location gems to photograph clients.   And you can ‘scout’ when it’s even raining out.. bonus!

3|  Living on the Edge.

As much as I’d love to, I literally do not have time to scout out a client’s home ‘pre-shoot.’  90% of the time, I walk in sight unseen and determine the best locations in and outside of their home by looking for the light (more on that in Part 3 of the series).  For outside, try to not get caught up in having to have the ‘perfect’ set up.  I photographed this image in the middle of the parking lot for their complex.  I adored the way the sun (see there goes that light sensor again!) was filtering through the trees and almost creating a magical forest-like feel.  No one needed to know what lie beyond those trees (parked cars- nothing a little cloning here and there couldn’t fix!)

I Heart Faces Tutorial Location Part 1


As you begin to train your eye to scout locations and use Google Maps, the world becomes a little less intimidating to make any location work for your clients and subjects.

Coming Up Next Week: Determining the best location for your subject and location ideas.


Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman for I Heart FacesJennifer Tonetti-Spellman is a die-hard, natural light, lifestyle photographer in New York who loves to search for the light. Like her on Facebook to continue being inspired by her beautiful work!




{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman August 22, 2012

Glad you guys are finding it helpful and appreciate the pull backs. I think so often we do get caught up in the BIG picture with a location, not realizing, we don’t need BIG for these little folks. And yes, test shots are key..seeing is believing 😉


Mindy August 21, 2012

Pullbacks are so helpful! Really illustrates your point on how you don’t need much space for your frame.


Cindy August 20, 2012

I love this! Thank you for the saying that it is ok to use a “small” location when photographing children. I know this but it so helps to hear it! I have often been afraid that my clients would think I am crazy to send them to such a location. Taking a test shot and emailing them the suggestion is so perfect! Thank you for sharing!


Niki Bradley August 20, 2012

What a great article. Everytime I am out in the car, I am scouting, even though that is not the purpose of the trip. I love the idea of Google Maps! Now why didn’t I think of that. 🙂


angie ray August 15, 2012

Great idea, thank you! And yes, I have a 5-year old who will happily do test shots anytime, so I feel dumb that I’ve never even thought about that. Thanks again!


Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman August 15, 2012

Thanks for the feedback! To address Angie Ray first- Angie, one thing you can do is grab a kid (yours if you have one or a friend’s) and do a few test shots in the area you wish to take clients to. Communication is key: so simply send them a picture and say ‘as an alternative to the traditional park route, how about some of these ideas?’ As with everything in life, if you don’t ‘show’ them they won’t understand your vision. Doesn’t hurt to say ‘hey I’m a photographer that thinks a little differently and believes that everyone has their own style- this may fit yours!’ Amanda, a little research prior to a shoot will get you there. Public place = free game. If you stumble upon a beautiful tree in a neighbor’s yard- simply ask them. I am a firm believer in doing my due diligence to get answers and though it may not always be ‘yes, you are free to shoot here’ it never hurts to ask!


Amanda Peters August 14, 2012

I completely agree! i always find the cutest little nooks, beautiful bold trees and the sort… but am afraid to suggest it as it may not offer the vast area clients are looking for. Also, i may find an area i adore but am concerned about the trespassing, or “is it okay to be here?” thoughts… what do you do in those situations? what is, and isnt ok to take pictures in?!


angie ray August 14, 2012

Great stuff! So often, I find myself subconsciously scouting when out and about yet there’s always this nagging thought in the back of my head “what are my clients going to think if I were to order them HERE of all places?”, know what I mean?

I’ve seen gorgeous driveways, public parking lots, vacant lots etc. but I always end up going the Park route, simply because I’m afraid clients will thumb their nose up at my location suggestion and go find someone else.. Anyone else with that issue?


Heather Rodriguez August 14, 2012



Amy Locurto August 13, 2012

How to Scout for Great Photography Session Locations: This tutorial is the first in a 3-part…


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