Cinematography Pre-production Working on a Film Set

The Tools of Location Scouting

Depending on the budget and schedule, location scouting can begin far in advance of the shoot, or just as the shoot is about to begin. Obviously the more time one has to react to the circumstances dictated by the locations, the better, but any lead time is better than none.

The Tools of Location Scouting

Whenever I go out on a location scout, I bring a defined set of tools:

  1. A good still camera with some video capability and a tripod with a small lateral slider under the camera for taking 3D pairs .
  2. An iPhone or iPad with the Sun Surveyor app by Adam Ratana, the Clinometer app by Plaincode, the Maps app from Apple, the pCam app by David Eubank, and the Sensor and Lens and SD 3D apps by Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC.
  3. A Mac laptop loaded with the full Adobe Creative Suite of applications with the “Photomerge” automated photo stitching utility.
  4. A 50-foot Rabone cloth measuring tape (a good Rabone is hard to find, but classy—any model will do) and a goniometer for measurement of angles, such as the pan angle looking across two actors in a car when doing background plates for driving shots .

I also recommend having on hand a number of other useful apps: Helios, a powerful sun tracker; Artemis, a director’s viewfinder; and Toland, an ASC digital assistant app from Chemical Wedding; CineMeter by Adam Wilt; Pocket LD for the photometrics of many lamps; iSee4K, a data calculator for Red; SkyView, a free, very simple, and powerful sun tracker; PhotoMoon, a great moon tracker; and KataData, a great all-around data calculator.

A good still camera helps me to visually record the proposed location specifically for shoot planning. In addition to lots of photos of details in the location, I always do numerous 360-degree panoramic panels to be stitched together later, in order to fully establish the geography of the location.

With the camera on a tripod, take well-framed sequential panels of the location that overlap by at least 10% at the edges. Do not change the tilt angle substantially through the panels; if you have to, take a panel at the same tilt angle as the rest of the panels, and then take another panel tilted up or down as needed. Do not change focal length during the process or the panels will be impossible to stitch together. If it is a wide, fl at area, take the panels on a longer lens and take more of them, if the location is crowded with close in detail use a wider lens to be sure to get good detail in any potential areas of interest. A full 360-degree panoramic can come in very handy for discussing which direction to shoot with your director, or even for discussing where to park production vehicles with your transportation captain.

A panoramic photo of the Merderet River and the La Fiere Causeway, St. Mere Eglise, France.

Another panoramic photo of the same location.

The Sun Surveyor app helps plot the track of sunlight across a location, including time of sunrise and time of sunset. This will tell you how long your day will be on that location, how long you have to make all of your shots for the day, and how long “magic hour” will be.

The Clinometer app by Plaincode is very useful for a variety of measurements including measuring the tilt angle of a camera for a visual effects shot, or for determining whether the camera or set is level.

Clinometer app screen .

Bubble level feature in Clinometer app .

Apple’s Maps app is useful for specifying the exact spot of the location scouted, especially if you are scouting in the middle of nowhere, and it is additionally useful for finding that spot on Google Maps in order to generate aerial views of the location.

iPad map screen.

pCam by David Eubanks is a powerful camera application that calculates many factors including depth of field, hyperfocal distance and image circle, focus splits and apertures, field of view (image size) with preview illustrations and angle of view, focal length matching, and relative size for comparison of digital sensors to film apertures.

Left to Right: pCam field of view screen, pCam exposure screen, pCam frame size screen, pCam macro screen.

The Sensor and Lens app by Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC, is very useful for calculating the field of view and crop factor for a selected lens and camera.

Sensor and Lens app screen .

The SD 3D App by Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC, is very useful for calculating proper 3D interaxial and convergence settings for a selected lens pair and camera pair when working in 3D.

SD 3D app parameters screen .

SD 3D app scene screen.

My trusted Mac laptop equipped with Adobe Creative Suite allows me to previsualize looks and to stitch and doctor photos right on the spot, which is always useful for making a visual point to your director or to the rest of the production team.

Adobe Creative Suite software.

Adobe Photomerge can help you to assemble your panoramic photos before you leave the location for the next location 30 miles away! During scouting, a picture is worth a billion words.

I just bought another 50-foot Rabone cloth measuring tape to replace my old one. Rabone tapes are hard to find now because the company went out of business years ago, but Rabone cloth tapes are an industry tradition. A goniometer is an invaluable tool for measuring camera pan angles across a car for background plates for a green-screen driving shot.

Rabone 50-foot cloth measuring tape.


Excerpt from Digital Cinematography: Fundamentals, Tools, Techniques, and Workflows by David Stump © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

Related posts:

Tell us what you think!

Latest Tweets

Stay Informed

Click here to register with Focal Press to receive updates.

about MasteringFilm

MasteringFilm, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers. No matter what your filmmaking interest is, including directing, screenwriting, postproduction, cinematography, producing, or the film business, MasteringFilm has you covered. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of filmmaking, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.