When I tell people I’m a photographer the most common reaction I get is ‘Really…that’s so cool’

Obviously I think my job is pretty fantastic and I absolutely love what I do but I think ‘photographer’ conjures up images of all sorts of glamourous shoots and locations.  As a family photographer my job involves a lot more of this:


and not much champagne, super models, or jet setting around the world.

Locating scouting sounds glamourous.  I envision a hoard of assistants scurrying after me with light meters and notebooks.  Jumping in and out of cabs and getting to see exclusive and secret locations in some of the most famous cities in the world.

As a family photographer in Ottawa my location scouting looks more like this:


“Hey buddy what’s that in the grass…”

I try to include my kids in location scouting whenever I can because it can be a lot of fun adventuring through the forest or downtown to find new places for sessions.  In lieu of champagne and glamour my location scouting involves scouring google earth, driving around in my mini van, and trekking down trails trying to find the perfect spot for a session.  There are A LOT of bugs. Frequently rain and wind.  The occasional sunburn.  Four legged and slithering creatures.  And a lot of dead ends.


But what does location scouting really involve?

  • Safety: As a family photographer my first concern is safety.  My locations aren’t near roads, dog parks, fast moving water, or deep water.
  • Bugs: Kids are terrible at pretending to be happy and to it’s important to me that I check my locations at the same time of day that I’ll be shooting to see what the mosquito, deer fly, and horse fly population is like.  Bug spray will only do so much to keep away the biters!  I also have an anaphylactic reaction to wasps and need to be mindful, especially in Fall, about where I’m shooting.  Recently I’ve had to eliminate two sandy locations because of sand wasps.
  • Sun: Bright sunny days are actually the worst for photos, unless you’re shooting at sun rise or sun set, because the light is harsh and people squint and scrunch up their faces.  If it’s not a cloudy day I need to find a location that has open shade (not deep in the forest where it’s too dark but shade that is facing open and bright areas).
  • Crowds:  Not only do crowds take away from the background of the photo but when there’s a lot of people around both kids and adults have trouble focusing on the photographer.    There have also been many times where I’ve had to repeatedly stop a session to ask tourists to stop photographing my clients and for that reason I typically avoid locations that have a lot of tourist traffic or choose a time of day when it’s quietest.
  • Parking:  This is especially important so families aren’t walking 20-30 minutes to get to their session and ending up with tired and grumpy kids.  I look for location where there is plentiful and nearby parking for families.
  • Accessibility: For my clients who are bringing strollers or have mobility issues, the walk to the session location needs to be easy to navigate.
  • Permission: There are several locations around Ottawa (e.g., museums) that require prior permission and/or a fee if you plan photograph a session on their property.  My sessions take place on public property and I research beforehand if permission is required before I plan my sessions there.
  • Time of day: I choose locations based on the time of day that I’ll be shooting as some spots work great with morning light while others are best suited to afternoon or evening light.
  • Time of year:  Depending on the time of year a session is scheduled there are areas I avoid because of bugs, flooding, and unsightly backgrounds.  This is especially tricky in Fall where the majority of foliage is 10-40 feet above the ground.  When I choose locations in Fall I need foliage that is at ground level to ensure we get that beautiful yellow, orange and red backdrop.
  • Distractions:  My preference is for session locations where there isn’t a lot of foot traffic or people nearby.   This is important for clients who are shy or uncomfortable in front of the camera and don’t want an audience.  It’s especially important for my littlest clients who struggle with anxiety or other behavioural challenges and need a quiet environment to feel calmest.
  • Timing: I notify my clients 24 hours before our session (sometimes 12) where the exact location for our session will be.  I always check my location the day before our session to ensure that there is no construction, changes to the location (I once turned up and found the entire gardens had been dug up and were surrounded by caution tape) or that there are any events being set-up.  The last minute check is especially important in Spring and Fall when leaves and flowers bloom or wilt in a very short span of time.