How to Scout Locations on a Limited Budget


So you’ve finished your goals, script, and storyboard for your video, but still don’t know where to shoot certain scenes.

Enter the world of Location Scouting.

Location scouting requires you to get out from behind your computer and pound pavement. When done right, it will save you time and cause less stress on shoot day.

After reading this article, you’ll be able to effectively scout locations on a limited budget. We’re talking: where to shoot, when to shoot, and if you should ask permission.

 How to scout locations for your marketing videos.

Alright, let's get on with it!

Where to shoot the interview?

If you’re interviewing your Founder, simply shoot at your office before or after work hours. Just make sure to clean the place up a bit. Yes, please move that old box of chow mein.

If you’re not able to shoot at your office, renting a studio may be the best option. Studios typically run anywhere from $1000-$2000 for a full day.

You can also try to rent a corporate office for a few hours using sites like evenues.

Think about the story you’re trying to tell. What type of location would help tell that story.

Where to shoot B-Roll?

Webster defined B-roll as: supplemental footage inserted as a cutaway to help tell the story. But don’t let that definition fool you, it’s just as important as the interview. And if you go the voice-over route, it will be the only footage you capture.

The nice thing about B-Roll is you probably won’t have to capture audio. So it wouldn’t matter if that airplane just flew overhead. One less thing to worry about right?!?

If you need ideas for b-roll and want to find cool locations, try using map search on the Flickr APP. You can see pictures of awesome places near you.

Time of Day

Ever been on a BART train at 2 am on New Year’s Eve? What would that same BART train look like a few days later at 12 noon?

The difference is drastic!

So make sure to scout your locations at the same time you plan to shoot. If you’re shooting the park scene at 2 pm on a Saturday, check out the park at 2 pm the prior Saturday. Also do research to make sure there are no events.

Here are some questions to ask while scouting:

  • Where is the sun and are we getting enough natural light? The more natural light, the better. If you’re inside, find rooms with windows. If you’re outside, avoid direct sunlight unless it’s low on the horizon (otherwise will cause harsh shadows on the face)- use the shade from buildings or shoot during sunrise/sunset. Overcast days are perfect but partially cloudy days can be challenging (constant changing of scenery).
  • How crowded is this place right now? Unless your vision is a crowded place, avoid rush hour. If it’s a restaurant, don’t go at lunch time.
  • If we need to capture audio, what sounds are we hearing? Close your eyes and listen. Consistent noise is easy to cut during editing, but inconsistent noise like traffic is not easy.
  • Is this what we had envisioned in the storyboard? If the location looks like what’s pictured in the storyboard, perfect. If it doesn’t, you may have to edit the storyboard to match your location.

Asking Permission

Most of the time you can shoot locations “guerrilla style”- without permission. If it’s a Starbucks, I won’t ask permission. If it’s a small local coffee shop, I’ll ask permission before we start shooting. I don’t suggest asking for permission too far in advance, because the more they think about it the less likely it’s gonna happen.  

If you have your heart set on a place that requires permission, say it’s for Film School, not a video for your business. I suggest asking one week in advance and have a few backups just in case.

Quick tip: make sure there are no logos or other identifying marks in your shots (for legal purposes).

And that’s a wrap!

Planning is the most important part of making engaging videos. Sure you can wing it, but you’ll waste everyone’s time because the results will be…”meh”.

So take the time to scout your locations and keep these points in mind:

  • Think about the story you’re trying to tell.
  • Look for locations with natural light.
  • Think time of day.
  • Don’t ask for permission, but if you do, ask right before you shoot.

Now get out there and scout them locations!

What challenges have you had with locations? Would love to hear your stories in the comments below.


Lance Miller

Level Set Films, San Francisco Bay Area

Lance Miller is a filmmaker and owner of Level Set Films, a video production company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also teaches what he's learned about business on his site Freedom Everything.