Even when I had a studio for 20 years, I still shot on location a lot locally, and many times in other states. Some months I shot more on location than in my own studio. It can get very stressful and overwhelming very fast when you have to pack up all your stuff to shoot somewhere you are unfamiliar with.
The fear of leaving something behind that you must have – (like power cords for your strobe packs!) is very real. In this post, I am going to cover shooting on location that is close enough for you to drive to. In another post, I will cover shooting on location that you are flying to.
The absolute most important thing for any photoshoot, especially one that you have to pack up the car for, is to be organized. I know, I know – I hear the groans, but hear me out.
If you are not an organized person, please don’t worry, I got you. I’m going to tell you my process, AND I have a free resource for you to help you organize your next location shoot.
Table of Contents
How to organize your shoot – make a shot list
Your shoot is going to start with your shot list. The shot list is a detailed list of the images that you have to shoot. How much detail you can get about each shot you are taking, depends on your client.
Some clients know exactly what images they want to shoot, and others don’t. Try to make this as detailed as you can. If your client isn’t giving you many details about your shoot, make your own shot list.
So say a restaurant is hiring you and says they want 5 food shots, and 3 interior shots. Find out what those food items are. Is each shot of one food item, or do they want multiple dishes in one shot? Are they to be overhead shots, or ¾ tabletop view shots? This is the info we need in order to be prepared for what gear we need to bring.
Do you have natural light available?
Does the space you are shooting in have a lot of natural light, or do you have to bring lights? And no, dragging a table outside to take photos if it’s a dark restaurant shouldn’t be an option! This is completely amateur, and won’t represent how the food will look in that space. Please don’t do that. That is not what your client is paying you for!
If your space does have natural light that you think you can use, then that’s great – but always have a backup plan just in case, with artificial lights. Many times I had planned on shooting in a certain room or area of a restaurant, then on my shoot day they had a private party that took that space and I had to move into a room with no windows.
All was fine because I brought a minimal strobe pack set up.
SCOUT YOUR LOCATION IF POSSIBLE
Here is what I do. I absolutely need to see the space I’m shooting in. If I can, I will go and scout the location first before my shoot day. I take pictures with my camera phone and videos sometimes as I start planning for my shoot. No one is going to see these, so they are just quick snaps.
If I can’t get into the space before my shoot, I tell my client to send me their phone pics of the space and I ask them to take a snap from each corner of the space, or restaurant. If it is a restaurant, I will also look on Yelp to see if there are any pics of the space there too.
I will really study these pics to come up with a plan of where I’m going to set up my little food shooting studio in that space.
I will also scout the location to see where all their electrical outlets are. The older the building, the less outlets you’ll have, and the less power you will have as well. Meaning, those outlets might not be able to handle bigger strobe packs, so you might have to bring battery operated strobes.
DO YOU NEED ANY PROPS, SURFACES, OR BACKGROUNDS?
So, you have your shot list and have an idea of the space you are going to shoot in, what props will you need? If your client claims they are handling the props, this is where I will definitely bring in my own props as backups, and that has saved me many times on jobs.
Clients THINK they know how to prop jobs, but often they don’t. They usually buy dishes and bowls that are way too big. So, along with some dishes, I will usually bring some surface options, fabrics, napkins, and flatware too – just in case.
Even when I have a prop stylist, I will still bring some items, just not as much, again, just in case.
WILL YOU HAVE A FOOD STYLIST?
If you will not have a food stylist, you will also need to plan on bringing a mini food styling kit. If shooting at a restaurant, don’t assume the restaurant has anything you can use. See this post for my food styling kit I bring on location.
You will not need a big kit if you are shooting at a restaurant. If you are on location where you may or may not have a full kitchen, you will have to plan accordingly to see what will be required for that food, and plan it out for what you will need to bring. In that situation, you probably will need a food stylist.
Do you have to feed your clients and crew on the shoot day(s)?
If you are not shooting at a restaurant, and let’s say you are shooting at a studio, or at your client’s test kitchen, you have to feed your clients and crew. This category is called “Meals and Craft Services” on your estimate form, btw. Meals will typically be your lunch for everyone, and dinner if your shoot goes late. Craft Services are beverages and snacks needed throughout the day.
You must bring water. I bring cases of bottled water and then I’ll also have my assistant go out and get various soft drinks, coffees, teas, etc. For the afternoon lull, after lunch settles in and everyone gets a little sleepy, we’ll do a coffee run somewhere close by.
I also have a Keurig coffee maker, and I also have an electric tea kettle (don’t make people get tea out of a Keurig, it’s awful that way). You have to bring creamers, milk, sugar, and all that stuff for your craft services table.
Depending on the location, I might even have to bring paper plates, plastic utensils, paper cups, napkins, paper towels. Think of what you will need for a picnic. I have a box with all this stuff in it that I bring on all my location shoots.
You will be charging your client for the food that you are buying for craft services, and for meals. This is standard and customary. For all the disposable stuff I bring (paper products), I charge them a small fee for expendables, if we use it. If we don’t use it, I don’t charge them.
Use Clear Containers and Pouches To Help Keep Bits Organized!
I’ve always had a thing for little bags, boxes, pouches, and containers. Seriously, I have all kinds of empty containers laying around because I just keep buying more.
I LOVE putting all my cables, adapters, accessories, and any other little bits in clear pouches to keep it all organized.
I have at least 20 of these, no joke. They are all clear and labeled. I get them from the Container Store, travel stores, and also from Amazon. They MUST be clear.
So I put my collections of pouches of the same type of items into larger clear boxes. Each box is a category. Each pouch is a different item in that category.
Sorry, zip lock bags don’t work. After a few location jobs, they become torn and no longer clear, so that doesn’t help. Also, when anyone sees an empty zip lock back laying around on set, they throw it out. When you are on a job, and you or your assistant has to find something fast, the pouch has to be clear to make it easy to find.
YOUR FREE EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST
I’m going to give you my location equipment list that you can customize for your shoot. Just click on the image to the left. I break my list down into categories so that it’s easy for me to wrap my head around what I need to bring with me, and not get overwhelmed.
People, every single time I don’t print out my list and check stuff off, I forget something, or several things! The last time I forgot something, it was the power cords to my strobe packs! Seriously. I had to go to Staples, and buy new cords because they are special cords. It is not physically possible to remember what to bring to a location shoot without a list like this.
Every time I try it, I forgot things, even after 25+ years of shooting.
Here are my categories for my list:
- Camera Gear (Includes Lenses)
- Computer Gear
- Digital Gear
- Grip Gear & Set Stuff
- Backgrounds / Surfaces
- Lighting Gear
- Craft Services
- Music (yep, gotta have music on my sets)
I prep my gear the day, or night before my shoot. I lay it all out, charge all my rechargeable batteries, make sure I have everything on my list that I need. It takes a good hour to prep my gear for my location jobs.
We all have our own favorite gear, so simply customize this list for your shoots. This is a Word doc. The little box before each item is actually from the “Widgets” font so this is fully editable. Simply change the headings to what you want, and put in the gear that you have.
Hopefully this list will help you remember important things to bring on your next shoot.
Please share the image below on Pinterest to help others with their location photo shoots.
Thanks for reading!