When I have a client that is unsure about how many pictures they need of their architectural project, sometimes it can be useful to go on a scouting shoot. Scouting, is the practice of going on location with just the basics and getting some simple shots that the client can pick from. Then, once the client knows which angles they would like, the photographer goes back with all of their gear and makes proper pictures. Scouting can be a great way to insure that costs are kept down and the client gets exactly what they want by directing the client towards a concrete shot list.
I find it best to travel very light, I will bring my full-frame camera and a zoom lens or my 24mm lens but I don’t bother with a tripod or lighting. I save the big camera bag for the day of the big shoot. The idea is not to dazzle your client with perfect shots here but to give a rough idea of what to expect from the final images. I like to give a sense of the depth of field so I will stop down the lens and go with a higher iso. Since the images will never be seen at full resolution, I don’t worry about noise. The idea is to demonstrate the best angles and give the client some options.
Once you have collected the images they should be provided to the client in low-res. I will usually provide the images as part of a proof sheet that they can print and make notes on. If you are only delivering a few images make sure they are watermarked. It is important to make it very clear that these images are proofs and not for use. Scouting shots are the property of the photographer, and since they are not representative our work and professional standards they should never be used publicly.
Another reason to make it very clear that scouting images are proofs, is to keep things organized. Say your client asks for a scout, you shoot 10 pictures, they ask you to go back and make finished images of all 10. If the scouting shots are on your clients hard drive along with the finished pictures, there is the possibility that the wrong image will be used. If they need an image for an award submission or a magazine they won’t remember the scouting shoot and will likely use the first image that looks remotely like the one they are looking for. Accidentally using the scouting shots is a bad outcome for both of you. It also deters the client from using images they haven’t paid for, either accidentally or in some cases it can protect you from theft.
If the location is nearby and the client feels they need it, I will usually provide the scout free of charge. I do this because the scout is usually as helpful for me as it is the client. Getting in the space can allow me to start thinking about what the challenges of the upcoming shoot might be. There might be a room that is impossible to light without extra gear, or if the space is uncommonly easy to light I wont have to bring quite so much equipment on the day of the shoot.
I try to work quickly and creatively on a scouting shoot, I am looking for the best way to tell the story of the space in as few images as possible. But, I also want to try for some more experimental images that the client may not have thought of.
In the end It makes good sense for me to provide a scouting shoot because seeing examples and picking the shots takes the risk out of the equation for the client. And if the client is confident that they are going to like the results they may purchase more images. I also find with scouting that clients are more likely to be happy with the finished product and hopefully more likely to call back for their next project.
Do you have experience with scouting architecture before a shoot, either good or bad? Do you charge for the service? I would love to hear your opinions.