Tips for Scouting Locations for Your Video Shoot

Funding, hiring a crew, visualizing, scripting, storyboarding, casting talent, lighting, audio—you’ve covered all your bases, right? Well, here’s a step you may not’ve thought of: scouting your location.

If you don’t scout, you run the risk of being unprepared for challenges in the middle of a shoot. If you do scout, you’ll know what the potential roadblocks might be and you can clear those obstacles out of the way beforehand.

In his 2002 article for the ezine Videomaker.com, Bill Fisher offers some tips for location scouting.2 Here’s a summary and paraphrase of Fisher’s eleven points:

  • Know your script. Your site should match the setting of your story. If you’re intimately knowledgeable about that story, you can choose a site that fits the mood and doesn’t limit your possibilities.
  • Scout at the right time. Go to inspect the site at the same time of day and day of the week when you’re planning to shoot the scene.
  • Look at the light. Shoot a few seconds of test footage so you can check levels of available light.
  • Follow the sun. When you scout, pay attention to the amount of sunlight and shading in the area.
  • Check for power supplies. How will you power your lights and how many spare camcorder batteries do you need to bring?
  • Listen. Be aware of the ambient noise in each location you scout.
  • Examine the elements. Check out the weather forecast when you scout, and pay attention to sun, rain, wind, snow, heat, cold—any of these will affect your shoot.
  • Decide where to set up. Look for adequate setup space for all your gear; how will you stage and set up each shot?
  • Get permission. You may need permits or other legal permission to shoot in some locations. Make sure you won’t be impeding traffic or intruding on private property without permission.
  • Evaluate the area. Check for cell phone reception, food and bathroom stops, electronics stores in case you need an emergency adapter.
  • Take notes. Write a scouting report and/or shoot a few minutes of footage with a brief audio commentary.

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