scouting photos – lesson #1

The more I’m in this business, the more I realize that all assignments teach me valuable lessons. I get a lot of emails from assistants asking for all sorts of advice,  so I thought I’d try to begin writing from time to time about lessons I’ve learned.

Last month I received an assignment from Money magazine to photograph a family of four in Camas, WA (3 hrs South of Seattle).  The concept was to create a lifestyle image with some energy – basically to keep the subjects moving and engaging.  The location was a park on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River (which would be my background). I had been sent an image by the subject of the view the park offered and didn’t think much of it other than, “ok, I can make this happen” and “I’m sure there’s plenty of grass and trees that this will be fairly easy to get a proper frame.”

Day of the shoot  – myself, assistant, and wardrobe stylist show up at the family’s home.  I got directions to the location where I’d meet them when they’d be ready,  and my assistant and I would have lights and gear ready to go.  The park is only accessible by walking about 1/4 mile.  So we hauled gear to the park only to find this:

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This was the park.  A concrete ADA accessible platform with a distant view of the river – the river was a good mile or so from the park and separated by a railing, construction, and road.  I snapped this photo to relay my findings to the PE. Right away I knew this wouldn’t work and the family had arrived at the park’s lot.  I called them up and asked if we could go down to the shore (which was our plan B).

So we lost some time,  and I wasn’t as ready as I would have liked.  In the end it worked out fine.

The lesson is not to trust other people’s scouting pictures and to either hire an experienced scout or request to arrive the day before to do the scout yourself. I don’t have the image I was shown,  but it was obviously shot with some crazy digital zoom as it made it look like the park overlooked just the river and that the river was only a stone’s throw away.

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This is the image that ran in this month’s Money. Next time I’ll ask more questions when I’m given a suspect scouting photo by a subject. Because in the end it’s the photographer’s responsibility to cover all bases or to delegate them appropriately.

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