11 Tips for Location Scouting

Posted on August 12, 2014

All filmmakers will have experienced that horrific shoot where the SD card fills up or the battery dies at the wrong moment during filming, and you hope it never happens again. But there’s one important factor which you may not have thought of, and it’s as vital as spare SD cards and batteries. We’re on about scouting locations, a vital pre-production step that will help you meet almost any challenge when you shoot video in the location. Here’s numerous tips that will help you as you reach out for possible video shooting locations.

1. Knowing your script. When choosing your location make sure it fits perfect with the script/story which is one of the first rules of location finding. As you set out to assess locations, you’ll most probably face endless possibilities; natural areas, historic sites, unique buildings, urban landscapes and waterfront settings and so on. It’s important to remember you have a story to tell. When choosing the location make sure it lends itself to the story you want to create. You should never be bound by your locations. Locations are simply raw materials. Remember what the script demands before you can select an ideal location.

2. Scout Timing. Be aware as locations can change. Remember the time and day of the week you choose to film on as these can drastically change. Road vehicle and traffic noise, visitors to leisure or entertainment spots, and tourists that visit historic areas (as a few examples) These can all vary and just depends on the time of the day, the day of the week and season.

3. Look at lighting. Ballrooms, churches, auditoriums, restaurants, and houses usually feature limited availability of lighting. To test your lighting levels, shoot a small amount of test footage with your camcorder.

There are lots of solutions to eliminate lighting issues, for example investing in window curtains & blinds. Some locations you choose may allow you to adjust their lighting with brighter-burning units or even light fixtures if you’re lucky enough!

4. Follow the sun. It’s not just indoor lighting issues, you will also come across outdoor lighting issues too as it changes all day long. Pay attention to your spot of location and make sure its full sun, partial sun or full shade. When the sun is bright it can be too much for people’s faces, also light-colored surfaces can blow out in full sunlight, which can make automatic camcorder lenses to underexpose your shots. Today’s camcorders can also struggle in partial sun too as they can have trouble handling the high contrast even though the camcorders are complex. Overcast or Fully shaded locations will give you the consistent result you want.

5. Checking for power supplies. Outdoor locations are far from power sources and even some indoor locations can cause AC challenges. A good idea will be to carry multiple batteries with you. But it’s still best to evaluate your power options at all locations.

Drained all batteries? How will you be able to power lights? Is there plugs for your chargers? Is the spot secluded enough to make a car-lighter AC adapter a good idea? In a location with power, you may be able to plug in, there’s still the systems pre-existing load to think of, also if you can get the fuse/breaker box in in case it blows

6. Listen. High-quality sound is crucial in making a video that rises above the rest, it’s silence that ensures you get the location sound that you came for.

The passing by of traffic, the noise of moving water, and the echoes of movements and voices can all get in the way of high-quality audio. When choosing your location, check for any of these conditions by listening to your camcorder’s microphone pickup through headphones. Testing your wireless microphone at the site can help as well, also listening closely for interference.

7. Examining the elements. All weather conditions can help or hurt, depending on what you’re hoping to capture on film. So, it’s crucial to check the weather forecast as you’re scouting.

Camcorders don’t like rain, salty beach air or moisture from waterfalls. Smeared lenses and water or salt inside the card reader can end up a disaster. Hot locations with lots of sunlight can also be a problem: black and grey camcorder bodies absorb the sun’s rays and can cause the camcorder to overheat when exposed. Any sort of umbrella can help protect your equipment from the elements in both sun and rain.

When the temperature is cold, it can cause your batteries to drain quicker and also you and your co-workers can feel uncomfortable. Keep your equipment in a bag or in a car to keep it warm. Also wrap it in a spare scarf or jacket while filming. Make sure you watch out when bringing cameras back into warm interiors from cold temperatures as this can cause huge amounts of moisture to condense inside both optics and electronics.

8. Deciding where to set up. Space is important so make sure there’s plenty of it to set all of your gear up, so that you’re able to get the shots you have in mind. You may see small shed that seems suitable enough, until you realise you don’t have enough room to set your gear up. Churches or auditoriums will have more room, but you may not be able to roam freely. Verify where your allowed to use when scouting locations to ensure you have the area you would like to shoot in.

9. Get permission. Permits are essential when shooting. Other legal permissions also, to shoot at certain locations. Do a legal reality check as you’re looking at a location.

Have you chose a sidewalk location that will prevent traffic? Are you planning to shoot on someone else’s property? Supermarkets, Cemetaries and Shopping centre corporations and businesses are all private property. Many owners will be happy to let you use the location, but it’s better to get permission in advance than to have a shoot interrupted by the authorities.

10. Evaluate the area. Communication and Mobile phone signal is a must have. Is there a nearby public phone? If the location is far away make sure you have a route to follow incase you breakdown.

Check for local shops in case any of your film crew need lunch or drinks on the go. Also its handy to have an electric store nearby too incase you need to buy an adaptor or cable.

Nothing always goes smoothly when filming, so evaluating your area and having backup will really help out incase anything does happen while filming.

11. Last but not least, take notes! When sitting down to evaluate a location after a day of exploring, you’ll be glad you have scouting reports to refer to. In your scouting expeditions for a shoot, in your daily travels, on your family holidays, and in your mind’s eye, you’ll come across countless locations and changing conditions, each of which will be unique and possibly important to you.

Think about recording a video commentary take notes of the time of day, the quality of the light, the sounds in the air, and the things you felt. One day you might just return.


(Sidebar: Top Locations & Their Quirks) You’re basically guaranteed to visit one of these locations again sooner or later. Here is a list of things to look out for.

* Churches: low lighting, echoing sound

* School Auditoriums: poor audio, large space, hard to get close to action

* Urban Centers: background noise, high traffic and pedestrian presence

* Beaches: wind noise, salt air, sand contamination, direct sun

* Parks and Natural Areas: changing weather, difficult gear transport

* Outdoor Events: competition for space, poor audio, crowd noise


(Sidebar: Location Scouting Kit]) Remember the priceless places you’ve found with this list for a location scouting kit:

* Still camera for creating location archive photos

* Notebook with writing implement for field notes

* Camcorder with headphones for recording test video and audio

* Watch for time-sensitive observations

* Maps especially for remote locations

* Mobile phone

* Compass for checking sunrise/sunset, wind direction, etc.