11 Tips for Finding Secret Shoot Locations in Your Hometown

Eight photographers share their secrets for scouting new, amazing locations in their local community and hometown backyards.

Amid ongoing travel restrictions, local travel is trending. In fact, a recent survey from Morning Consult revealed that forty percent of U.S. adults say they’d feel more comfortable taking a vacation without leaving their state. At-home “staycations” are the new norm, with forty percent planning to take one during the pandemic, and fifty-eight percent planning to take one following the pandemic.

Explore Hometown Locations
Explore exotic locations in your hometown. Image by Nastya Dubrovina.

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For photographers, 2020 has been limiting, but it’s also given many the opportunity to explore nearby locations they might otherwise have overlooked. “I love this trend of exploring your own country,” Russian-based photographer Nastya Dubrovina, who usually travels the world covering weddings, tells us. “It feels like this is something we never had time for before, but simple trips and slow travel can be very healing.”

From lifestyle to travel photography, these eight photographers from across the globe each offer a unique perspective on making the most of a local photo shoot. Read on for their top tips.

1. Check the Local Paper

Locate Outside EventsLocate Outside Events
Plan a photo shoot around an outside event. Image by Ashley Kamara.

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“Grab the local newspaper, or even better, a quarterly lifestyle and culture magazine, if your community has one,” Arkansas-based photographer Ashley Kamara suggests. “Read page-by-page and take in all your zip code has to offer. I always explore with my family while letting them walk ahead of me, and I’m constantly framing them in my mind, taking mental pictures of backdrops for potential client work.’

“Look for upcoming events, too. Particularly if your client is a family with little kids, you can always plan the shoot around an outside event—like the farmers’ market. It allows for the kids to have a break and walk around, and oftentimes, those are the best captured moments.”

2. Browse Google Street View

Use Satellite ImagesUse Satellite Images
Use satellite images to find interesting shoot locations. Image by Leonid Andronov.

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“Most often, I use satellite imagery and ‘Street View’ from Google or similar resources,” Ukrainian photographer Leonid Andronov tells us. “By looking at satellite images, I can determine if the location could be interesting, and then I try to refine my choices with photos from the location, if they’re available. I always check the sun’s direction and determine the time of the day when I can get the best light at any given location.”

3. Peruse Social Media

Authentic Lifestyle ImagesAuthentic Lifestyle Images
For authentic lifestyle images, check out local cafes and parks. Image by Nastya Dubrovina.

“When planning trips, I always look for interesting local spots on Instagram and Pinterest—and this works for your hometown also!” Nastya Dubrovina advises. “It may also be useful to track the openings of new places of interest in local lifestyle blogs. I try to check out all the unique spots opening up in my area: cafes, parks, etc. When browsing, look just outside your city, as well. Little towns and suburbs are great for authentic lifestyle images.”

Beyond Instagram and Pinterest, Facebook also has local photography groups around the world that you can join. Your fellow photographers can be your most valuable resource. “Follow photographers from your region on Instagram,” Leonid Andronov advises. “They’ll help you find a lot of interesting locations.”

4. Ask Your Clients and Colleagues for Recommendations

Collaborate with Your ClientCollaborate with Your Client
Collaborate with your client for local hot spots. Image by Ashley Kamara.

“I always like to ask my clients, before I begin to scout locations for our shoot, if they have a particular place that always stands out to them as they’re driving around town,” Ashley Kamara adds. “Collaborating with local businesses is also a perfect way to network while helping each other out. I never walk away from a session without learning something new from my subject, and oftentimes, that knowledge lands me more work and/or shooting locations.”

5. Walk Everywhere

Take a WalkTake a Walk
Scout locations on foot. Image by Xavier Lorenzo / Westend61.

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“I often take the opportunity to go for a walk or run around the city, and I try to pass by unknown places to see if I can find new and interesting locations for my photo shoots,” Barcelona-based photographer Xavier Lorenzo tells us. “I will find a place, analyze it, and keep it in mind for the future.’

“I currently specialize in lifestyle photography, so I always want spacious, modern locations without any visual noise or distractions. If it’s a place that’s going to be busy, I try to plan my shoot for the morning. That way, I make sure that there are few people around, while also taking advantage of the soft light.”

6. Plan a Road Trip

Take a Road TripTake a Road Trip
Take a road trip in your own home country. Image by Leonid Andronov.

“Since traveling by plane is not easy nowadays, an obvious trend has been traveling by car within your home country,” Leonid Andronov says. “This has many advantages. You can go to lesser-known places, and you can save money. This summer, I have already done several road trips within my country, and I even slept a few times in my (rather small) car in order to access some locations at sunrise. This was a new experience for me!”

7. Download a Map (and Look for the Green Spots)

Go for a DriveGo for a Drive
Go for a drive to scout open spaces and parks. Image by KC Lostetter.

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“I scout for great locations by going for drives,” Hawaii-based photographer KC Lostetter explains. “While driving, I am constantly taking in what is around me and looking for great places. I also will keep my map open on my phone and look for green, open spaces and parks and scout those places specifically.’

Lighting Your Outdoor SubjectLighting Your Outdoor Subject
Choosing the right time of day for your photo shoot is crucial. Image by KC Lostetter.

“One of my favorite things to do is chase the sunrise with a camera. Scouting locations at different times of day is important to understand how light is hitting in different locations at ideal times for your photo session. I even make sure to scout those locations at different times of the year, knowing that the light will change in different seasons.”

8. Reconnect with Nature

Photograph Outdoor ActivitiesPhotograph Outdoor Activities
Photograph outdoor activities like walking and hiking. Image by Dusan Petkovic.

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Speaking of green spots, many of the photographers we interviewed have been getting back to nature this year. “In a few days, I have a session planned in the forest, where I plan to photograph a couple hiking, walking, running, etc.” Serbian-based photographer Dusan Petkovic tells us.

“I see it as an opportunity to be different and shoot people getting back to basics, slowing down, and reconnecting with nature. Recently, I’ve enjoyed shooting outdoor activities: hiking, walking, street fitness, etc. I brainstorm, imagine color compositions, and go looking for a place that fits my idea. It can be a new city, or it can be on my own street.”

Utilize Your Personal SurroundingsUtilize Your Personal Surroundings
Set up a shoot in your own backyard. Image by Dusan Petkovic.

If you don’t have a park in your area, get creative in the backyard. “I have loved seeing how creative people are getting with making great images at home or in their backyards,” KC Lostetter says. “I even shot a senior portrait session next to a small bush near my mailbox. With the beautiful lighting and nice framing, the images look like they could have been taken at a botanical garden.”

9. Capture a New Perspective

Invest in a DroneInvest in a Drone
For more dramatic images, invest in a drone. Image by Grisha Bruev.

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“Travel abroad restrictions can be viewed as an opportunity to explore places near your home in a new way,” Belarusian photographer Grisha Bruev tells us. “Look for unusual angles. Last year, I bought a drone, and I got amazing new pictures of places that I have photographed many times. Just make sure to observe aerial photography laws!’

Shoot at NightShoot at Night
Simple settings can be transformed when shot at night. Image by Grisha Bruev.

“Another way to capture a fresh perspective is to take pictures of places you already know at unusual times or in different weather. Plus, even the simplest places are transformed at nighttime. If the stars are visible over your city, and there is a local landmark, then you can take a photo of the Milky Way running over an interesting building or above a familiar landscape. Finally, focus on details, whether it’s your cat’s whiskers or local plants or flowers.”

10. Use Your Home

Shoot in Your Own HomeShoot in Your Own Home
Shooting in your own home can be a tremendous source for inspiration. Image by Natalia Lebedinskaia.

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Of course, your own house can also serve as the backdrop for an upcoming shoot. “I love at-home photography, and these images are always in demand,” Russian-based photographer Natalia Lebedinskaia says. “Especially now, our homes have become our refuge in an unstable world. I mainly take pictures of children and families, and I find that people are more comfortable at home anyway, resulting in natural images.’

Explore Simple LocationsExplore Simple Locations
Explore close, simple locations for a unique perspective. Image by Natalia Lebedinskaia.

“Instead of looking for the ‘perfect’ location, use whatever you have available. Explore the closest and simplest spots with a camera before looking for faraway options. Take a closer look at the nooks and crannies in and around your home. Recently, I’ve found beautiful doors and walls, fences, and corners close to my house. Beyond your own home, you can take a closer look at local apartments that are available for rental on an hourly or daily basis.”

11. Keep a List

Keep Track of Shoot LocationsKeep Track of Shoot Locations
Keep track of potential shoot locations you’d like to visit someday. Image by Xavier Lorenzo / Westend61.

Finally, remember to keep track of all your potential shoot locations. “Nowadays, we can find new locations everywhere—social media, newspapers, travel books, blogs/vlogs, etc.,” Leonid Andronov says. “Whenever I see a beautiful photo from a location that’s unfamiliar to me, I try to figure out where it is. Finally, I pin it on a map so that next time I am nearby, I remember to visit.”

Cover image by Leonid Andronov.

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