The importance of scouting for the right place before shooting a commercial or magazine assignment on location.

Today is a scouting day.  I have been walking around Paris looking for places to shoot a luxury car that is clearly in the most exclusive and beautiful parts of the city.  Unfortunately, we are in the middle of typical spring weather and I was caught in 2 torrential downpours as I ran across the Place de la Concorde towards the arches of the rue de Rivoli to end up diving for cover under the first awning at Place Vendome where I am hoping to take one of the shots that will take place early on Sunday morning.

As a professional photographer I often get asked to take environmental photos of people and goods, such as cars, telephones, bicycles, prams and other such items in situ.  Sometimes the photo has to evoke the city where they are, or something neutral that does just the opposite.

Scouting for the right place before the shoot is absolutely essential and often the most difficult part of it as there are so many things to consider.  We don’t want any posts, fencing, waste bins, road works, building etc. etc.  Then you have to see which direction the place faces for the impact of the sun, then there are the shadows and reflections that could appear which could enhance or ruin your shot.

I really like using the city of Paris for a backdrop, it’s beautiful and offers a great variety of locations within a fairly small area as Paris intra-muros is not that big at all.  For the size of it, the diversity is quite amazing.  Some parts are hilly and others resemble a small village in the country in addition to the landmarks that we know so well.  There’s always work going on somewhere so finding a building site which I had to do a while ago was easy, and I managed to find one with a typical Parisian building behind which placed where we werePeople I take on photography tours are often surprised to discover several different cities in one.

For my car shoot we are looking at the Paris that everyone knows.  It will be difficult as I don’t want any other car in my way, which is really difficult in a city which has cars parked all over the place including where they shouldn’t be.  The client offers a prestige chauffeur/concierge service so he wants some pictures of his car in landmark places with no other car in site. His services are destined for wealthy business people or tourists. He wants the wow factor.  We have a couple of models to liven up some of the shots so I need to bear that in mind.

When you are working on big productions such as I have done in the past all this is done for you and you show up at the shoot, and just like on a film set, the area is cordoned off and you do whatever you like.  These days with much restrained budgets this type of assignment is rarer.  I once shot one in Prague for Opel in some gorgeous locations and with every kind of passenger one could imagine from families, to pop stars and musicians all piling out of a different one of its current models.

Over the years I have combed London, Paris, Rome and New York to take such pictures.  I have climbed over roof tops, brought chairs and sofas out on the pavement and discovered tiny streets, beautiful squares, business districts, industrial areas and disused places. Sometimes although a commercial is for example, shot in Paris, it has to look neutral so that it could be anywhere.

It’s no wonder really that I do organise Photography Tours in Paris and elsewhere as I have always loved discovering places, although when the heat is on and you have a limited time to find somewhere it isn’t always so pleasurable.  I really enjoy location shooting, although often I find it harder than in a studio. The weather always plays a big part of it too.  Sure you can bring a reflector and arrange to set up lights if you have permission from the police but ultimately it is more stressful and rain can put an end to it.

Back to my luxury car service shoot, natural light plays a great deal in this sort of assignment. We are choosing early on a Sunday morning for two reasons, both for the light and for the fact that the streets should be fairly empty.  The peace and quiet won’t last long which is why doing a reconnaissance is important.  I take a camera and snap some pictures to give me an idea of the frames I could take.  On another day we will also shoot the car in the middle of the vineyards with a champagne breakfast set up to entice people who can afford luxury.  Finding locations in the country is an easier task.

I did a series of photos for Toys R Us  and had to find a typical high street, a park, a car park and a school to promote their prams and pushchairs.  In this case I accompanied someone from the company and the agency so that we were all in agreement. Finding the location was easy.  Working with two young children was not!

Now it’s Monday and the first part of the shoot is over. The sun shone for the first part of the morning then we had to stop as it started raining and took up again in the late afternoon.  It all worked out pretty well thanks to the legwork that rainy day. We had to dance around some new road works and shoo some people out of the way but the chosen places worked fine.