On-location shoots: why a photographer must be flexible and prepared

With a little proof from a recent location shoot in Boston, MA!

Location photography shoots are many things: exciting, fun, interactive, logistically simpler for the client, and sometimes – full of mystery for the photographer. In my experience, when I arrive on-location for a shoot, I don’t always know the exact kind of environment I’m about to walk into. 

Which means, as a photographer, you need to be two things in order to ensure a successful location shoot: 

  1. Be flexible – it is crucial to, not only be adaptable to any situation that comes your way, but to have the skill-set and knowledge-base to switch gears on the fly. To know what kind of lighting works with, say, harsh direct sunlight vs. dark interior lighting. 
  2. Be prepared – this means the photographer must do a little research on the area before the shoot. And then? Pack – or overpack, rather – a range of appropriate equipment that may or may not be used. Just in case.  

An example from a fish-packing shoot in Boston, MA.

For instance, I recently had a client who was looking to shoot their machinery in-action at a fish-packing plant in Boston, along with some final product shots of the fish. From some initial research, I knew it would be a bit cold, dark, and busy in the location I was about to photograph. What I didn’t know, was just how much colder, darker, and busier it would be during the session than I had anticipated.

In order to shoot the equipment in-action, the session had to take place on a regular workday. Which meant it was business as usual for the workers at the fish-packing plant, and therefore, I had to make sure to stay out of their way. So, between all of the people working that day and the narrow configuration of the room, I simply had to adapt my original strategy. 


In order to maintain a small footprint, I ended up bringing fewer pieces of equipment into the room with me. In fact, as far as lighting goes, I chose to bring in just two. The first was a softbox which allowed me to properly light up the faces of the people working on the line. And the second was a strobe light I used to bounce light off of the ceilings and walls. 

For the product shots, I then took the fish to another room in the building where it was far less crowded, staged the area, and shot from there.

I’ve also come across the other extreme on a location session.

The opposite extreme – shooting in a gas field in severe heat.

This session took place outside at a natural gas plant in Colorado. The challenges here were quite different than those at the fish-packing plant. Namely, the 100+ degree temperatures and the distance we had to walk from the car to the actual site. 

Typically, when you’re outside in a wide-open space like this, you can bring as much equipment as you want. But between the heat and the distance to the actual site, I needed to be a little choosier than normal. In a situation like this, it’s critical for a photographer to know exactly what kind of equipment he or she will need in order to shoot in direct mid-day sunlight. For instance, I knew I could leave my softbox behind, while the strobe lights were an absolute must. 

Additionally, it’s important to know what temperatures the equipment can safely stand – and ensure you have some sort of shade for those electronics that don’t do so well in intense heat or sunlight. 

So whether a location shoot is taking place in extreme heat with wide-open spaces – or the opposite extreme – a dark and narrow interior, it’s crucial for location photographers to have the experience, knowledge-base, and equipment that allows them to be flexible and prepared for any situation they might walk into on set. 

Want to learn more about what to expect from an on-location photography session? Contact me here!

Tags: professional photographer

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