The Importance of Scouting your Locations

When it comes to photography sometimes you get lucky and you find a location and it just simply works. You set up and everything is there. What about those shots where you don’t have so much luck?

One of the biggest obstacles that I have in getting the shot that I want is location. It could be anything from locked doors to elevation or distance. You have to take some time and scout your location if you want to get the photos that really work.

I am not one of those photographers that walks around with a camera taking pictures of street signs. I try to be a little more methodical in my approach, especially when it comes to landscape and skyline shots. At times I love it, it is like hunting but other times it is frustrating. Take tonight for example.

In Ulsan, it is colder than a well-digger’s arse (to be a little crass). Tonight, I snuck out to get some night shots of Ulsan’s petrochemical complex. The lights, the steam, the flames, and the colors really attract me to this location but I have never found a great location to shoot from. So year after year I drive around in the dark, trying to find I high point that is close enough to get a shot from.

The obstacles are numerous. First you have the temperature. In order to get good shots of the steam, you have to go out when it is cold. Next, is the traffic. This is a working area full of huge trucks and crazy drivers. Each person driving wants to get home as fast as they can, so the drivers are super aggressive. Finally, you have the site itself. Onsan (that is what the area is called) is huge. It is a labyrinth of roads and factories. Most factories are gated and guarded. So, you are left trying to find a high viewpoint to shoot over the fences and other obstructions.

So, how do you get around this? First, give yourself some time to get set up. Don’t leave with only a short amount of time before the “Blue Hour “or the time that you want to shoot from. Give yourself a lot of time to scout your location. Look around for buildings that you can access or whatnot. Once you find your location, you can calmly set up your gear and wait for the right time or find a better location.

Places the work great are buildings with businesses in them (not office buildings), like the building that I shot the above shots from. I simply took the elevator to the 13th floor, which was empty and took the stairs to the roof. It gave me a perfect 3 points of view; across the river, towards mugeo-dong, and downtown. However, I was originally going to try and get into the lotte castle apartment building but you needed a code to get in and the security guard was not about to let me onto the roof. With a little bit of scouting, I found the perfect spot.

Another thing to consider is asking people and or calling around. Professional photographers have “fixers” that call people and set up locations for them. In Korea, your “fixer” could be your Korean friends, girlfriend/boyfriend, or co-worker. Getting permission is always better than sneaking into places especially like industrial sites where they may not want shots of their factory as it might give away company secrets. Places like Hyundai shipyards are off limits to photographers, for example.

The important thing to remember is to scout out and have a plan. By having a plan you can get the shots that you want. By scouting your location and getting there early you can get the timing and composition just right before the light goes down.

Comments

  1. SEan Reply

    Found your blog from your flickr post. Couldn’t agree more about scouting. I scouted out what I wanted for my time lapse video i did last month and then just last week I also scouted out the bridge I shot my early morning shots from. Haven’t yet tried going to the roof of buildings where I don’t work, but that’s a good idea.

    • jt Reply

      Actually, I have found even just recently that most people are pretty cool with it. The other day I needed some shots of the Busan Skyline, so we just asked the security guard and he called up to the 13th floor and viola! we had the run of the place. Sometimes it is not that easy but generally I found that if you are quiet and don’t disturb anyone, no one really cares.

  2. Jason Reply

    Where exactly did you go? A couple of months ago, I took all my gear, and hopped on a bus to Jangsangpo to try to get some night shots of the harbor and the industrial area. I don’t have a bike or a car, so I got off the bus when I got close, and I ended up walking all the way back to Samsandong with about 6 photos…

    p.s. I also totally agree with what both you and Paul had to say in your post about transforming perceptions about your city with photography. I don’t at all mind the industrial area in Ulsan, and like Paul said, I enjoy the way it is juxtaposed with the natural landscape.

    • jt Reply

      I went around to the other side around that train stop just outside of town. The place is called Deokha but it didn’t prove to be much. I drove a ways down the road to Ganjelgot and there were some better views but nothing great and a lot of obstructions. I was thinking about Jangsangpo… but maybe not now.

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