Location shooting is a crucial aspect of filmmaking that can elevate a film’s authenticity, visual appeal, and emotional impact. When a film is shot on location, it means that the production team has chosen to film in a real-world setting rather than on a studio set. This approach, also known as location filming or filming on location, offers numerous benefits but also comes with its own set of challenges. In this guide, we will explore its appeal, logistical challenges, lighting and timing considerations, the impact of weather on production, ensuring continuity in public spaces, sourcing and securing ideal filming locations, and the role of technology in overcoming challenges.

The Appeal of Location Shots

Filming on location offers a level of realism and authenticity that is difficult to replicate in a studio setting. Real-world environments provide a rich backdrop that can immerse viewers in the story and evoke powerful emotions. Location shots can transport audiences to different eras, cultures, and landscapes, making the narrative more engaging and believable.

Filmmakers choose to shoot on location to capture the unique visual aesthetics of a particular place. Whether it’s the bustling streets of Sydney, the serene beauty of The Great Barrier Reef, or the rugged terrain of the Australian Outback, location filming allows directors to showcase the inherent beauty and character of these settings. The natural lighting, textures, and colors of a real-world environment can add depth and dimension to the film’s visuals, creating a more immersive experience for the audience.

Authenticity and Realism

  1. Realistic Setting: Filming in the actual settings where the story is supposed to take place provides a more believable and genuine atmosphere, truly embodying a real world setting.
  2. Narrative Authenticity: Real-world locations contribute to grounding the story in a believable context, enhancing the credibility of the narrative.

Visual and Emotional Impact

  1. Visual Aesthetics: The choice of location significantly influences the visual appeal of a film. Scenic landscapes and unique settings not only add depth but also serve as a visual treat that captivates the audience, making every exterior shot count.
  2. Emotional Resonance: The right location can evoke specific emotions, setting the tone for the scene and making the narrative more impactful.

Creative and Practical Benefits

  1. Creative Inspiration: Unique or unexpected locations can spark new creative ideas, influencing the direction of the film’s storytelling and cinematography. This is especially true when exploring a remote location that offers a fresh perspective.
  2. Cost Efficiency: Utilizing existing locations can reduce the need for costly set constructions, making it a budget-friendly option for many productions. This approach often contrasts with the traditional studio setup, offering a more authentic and cost-effective alternative.

Strategic Considerations

  1. Location Scouting Importance: Scouting for the perfect location is crucial as it aligns with the film’s vision and narrative needs, enhancing the overall storytelling process. The term ‘location scene’ aptly describes the importance of finding a setting that complements the film’s theme and storyline.
  2. Aligning with Script Essence: Ensuring the location matches the script’s essence is vital for authenticity.
Joker (2019) Director: Todd Phillips and Cinematographer: Lawrence Sher

Logistical Challenges and Solutions

While location shooting offers numerous creative benefits, it also comes with its fair share of logistical challenges. Managing the complex logistics of transporting cast, crew, and equipment to and from the filming location requires careful planning and coordination.

Securing the necessary location permits and permissions is another crucial aspect of location shooting. Filmmakers must obtain approval from property owners, local authorities, and government agencies to film in specific locations.

To address these logistical challenges, it is essential to have a skilled location manager and location scouts on the production team. These professionals are responsible for researching and securing suitable filming locations that meet the creative and logistical requirements of the project.

Meticulous Planning and Communication

  1. Preparation Is Key: Ensure detailed planning and obtain all necessary location permits well in advance. Maintain open lines of communication with the cast, crew, and local authorities, adhering to government regulations.
  2. Backup Plans: Always have alternative plans ready for unexpected circumstances, such as changes in weather or location availability.

Equipment Protection Strategies

  • Weatherproofing Gear: Use camera rain slickers or plastic trash bags to shield cameras from adverse weather.
  • Secure Storage: Employ weatherproof enclosures, KD’s and protective cases to safeguard equipment from unpredictable elements.

Continuity and Script Supervision

  • Script Order Flexibility: Filming sequences are often dictated by logistical rather than narrative order. Employ a script supervisor and continuity person to monitor and ensure narrative consistency throughout the shooting process.

Location Scouting and Management

  • Research and Secure Locations: Thoroughly research and visit potential sites. Utilize online platforms that offer pre-vetted locations to streamline the scouting process, effectively creating a comprehensive location library.
  • Permits and Permissions: Secure necessary permissions from property owners and local authorities, ensuring all fees are paid and insurance is provided.

Transportation and Accessibility

  • Efficient Transport Plans: Arrange suitable transportation for crew, equipment, and talent from Unit Base considering distance, traffic, and parking. Utilize navigation apps to aid in finding optimal routes and parking areas.

Safety and Risk Management

  • Emergency Preparedness: Conduct risk assessments and prepare for potential hazards. Equip the set with first aid kits and train security personnel to handle emergencies.
  • Weather and Location Monitoring: Use apps to stay updated on weather conditions and potential security concerns in the filming area.

Creative Problem Solving

  • Resourcefulness: Be adaptable and creative in finding solutions to unexpected problems. Maintain a positive attitude and a contingency budget to handle unforeseen expenses.

Feedback and Performance Analysis

  • Post-Shooting Reflection: After the shoot, collect feedback to measure performance and crew satisfaction.
Large Location Shoot: Lighting equipment must be stored between shoots. For The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the storage spot was lower Broadway in Manhattan

Lighting and Timing Considerations

Lighting is a critical aspect of location shooting that can greatly impact the visual quality and mood of a film. Unlike studio shoots, where lighting can be fully controlled, location filming often relies on natural light sources, which can be unpredictable and challenging to work with.

One of the key considerations when shooting on location is the time of day and the position of the sun. The golden hour, which occurs shortly after sunrise or before sunset, is often favored by cinematographers for its soft, warm light that can create a beautiful, natural-looking scene.

Overcast days can also be advantageous for location shooting, as the diffused light can create a soft, even illumination that provides consistent ambient lighting, whilst minimizing harsh shadows. However, filmmakers must be prepared to adjust their lighting and color grading accordingly to add contrast and saturation back into the image.

Essential Lighting Equipment and Techniques

  1. Golden Hour Utilization: Film during the ‘golden hour’—the period shortly after sunrise or just before sunset—to capture soft, golden light that enhances outdoor scenes naturally.
  2. Reflectors, Diffusers and Negative Fill: Use reflectors to bounce light onto subjects, softening harsh sunlight. Diffusers can also help to spread light evenly, reducing glare and shadows. Use Negative fill to increase the contrast by cutting light and negating reflected light to a side of the set.
  3. Artificial Lighting: Use Artificial lighting during day exteriors for maintaining a lighting direction, greater control when the weather is changing, or at night to enhance the existing practical fixtures.

Timing and Weather Considerations

  • Weather Integration: Plan shooting schedules around weather conditions to maximize visual impact. For instance, overcast days can provide natural diffusion of sunlight, ideal for shooting without harsh shadows.
  • Night Shoots: Schedule night scenes considering crew efficiency and safety, ensuring that lighting is adequate for both performance and technical needs. Scheduling night shoots towards the end the week allows the weekends to reset the 10 hour turnaround.
  • Real-Time Weather Updates: Keep a close eye on weather forecasts to adjust plans dynamically, ensuring that sudden changes do not disrupt the shooting schedule.
  • Knock Downs (KDs) and Shelter: Ensure there is shelter available for cast, crew and equipment. This can be vehicles, large marquees or pop-up gazebo.

Strategic Equipment Choices

  • For Studio Shoots: Ensure you have high-quality lighting equipment, sturdy tripods, and various lenses to adapt to different shooting needs.
  • For Location Shoots: Opt for lightweight tripods and portable lighting kits that can be easily adjusted as you move across different settings.

Practical Tips for Location Scouting

  • Visit Locations in Advance: Assess potential shooting locations at the same time of day you plan to shoot to understand natural light conditions.
  • Power and Accessibility: Ensure that each location has access to reliable power sources and is accessible for setting up necessary lighting equipment.

The Impact of Weather on Production

Weather is one of the most unpredictable and challenging aspects of location shooting, and it can have a significant impact on the production schedule, budget, and overall quality of the film.

Filmmakers must carefully research the climate and weather history of the location to determine the best time to shoot and to anticipate any potential weather-related challenges. In some cases, filmmakers may need to adjust the shooting schedule to accommodate weather conditions or postpone a shoot altogether if severe weather is forecasted.

Another important consideration when shooting in challenging weather conditions is the safety and comfort of the cast and crew. Providing adequate shade, hydration, and breaks is essential to prevent heat exhaustion or hypothermia.

Weather Forecasting and Preparation

  1. Regular Updates: Check weather forecasts regularly to stay informed about potential weather changes. This helps in making timely decisions.
  2. Protective Gear for Equipment: Use plastic ponchos or bags to shield cameras from rain or snow. Silica gel packets are useful for absorbing moisture, protecting sensitive equipment.
  3. Pre-Production Planning: Engage in thorough planning before production begins to anticipate and prepare for weather-related challenges.

Flexibility and Contingency Planning

  • Schedule Adaptability: Maintain flexible shooting schedules to accommodate unexpected weather changes. This may involve shifting shoot dates or times based on weather conditions.
  • Backup Plans: Develop comprehensive contingency plans for severe weather. This includes identifying alternative indoor locations or adjusting the shooting script to fit the new conditions.

Communication and Time Management

  • Effective Communication: Keep all crew members informed about weather-related updates and schedule changes. Clear communication is crucial for managing expectations and maintaining workflow.
  • Efficient Use of Time: Plan the shooting schedule to maximize productivity during favorable weather conditions. This involves prioritizing outdoor scenes when the weather is clear.

Safety Measures

  • Crew Protection: Ensure the safety of the crew by implementing safety protocols for adverse weather. Provide adequate shelter, hydration, and protective clothing to cope with harsh conditions.
  • Equipment Safety: Use protective cases and covers to safeguard equipment from extreme weather. Having backup equipment on hand is also advisable.
The Invisible Man (2020) Director: Leigh Whannell and Cinematographer: Stefan Duscio

Ensuring Continuity in Public Spaces

Maintaining continuity is a critical aspect of location shooting, particularly when filming in public spaces where the environment can change rapidly and unpredictably.

To minimize disruptions from bystanders or onlookers, filmmakers may need to work with local authorities to secure the location and control access to the area. Visual references and documentation, such as detailed notes and photographs of the location, props, and wardrobe, can help ensure consistency from one shot to the next.

Administration and Documentation

  1. Detailed Script and Schedules: The foundation of continuity is a well-maintained script and precise shooting schedules, often detailed in a call sheet. These documents should be accessible to everyone involved in the production to keep track of scene requirements.
  2. Role of Script Supervisor and Continuity Person: These professionals are crucial for monitoring the consistency of visual elements, actions, and dialogues throughout the filming process.

Visual and Physical Continuity

  • Photographic Documentation: Digital cameras or Polaroids are used to capture the setup of each scene. These images serve as a reference to ensure that everything is returned to its correct place after a break or when shooting resumes.
  • Video Playback: Immediate playback of scenes helps the crew identify and rectify any continuity errors before moving on to the next scene.

Actor Continuity

  • Consistent Performance: Actors are responsible for remembering the emotional and physical state of their characters from scene to scene. This consistency is vital for maintaining the illusion of a continuous storyline.

Costume, Makeup, and Props

  • Costume and Makeup Checks: Continuity in appearance is maintained by costume assistants and makeup artists who ensure that the actors look the same throughout all scenes, regardless of the shooting schedule.
  • Prop Consistency: Props play a significant role in continuity. For example, the amount of liquid in a glass or the position of items on a table must remain consistent between shots.

Set Design and Art Direction

  • Art Department’s Role: The art department ensures that every element on set, from furniture to background decorations, is consistently positioned as per the scene requirements, meticulously setting up each detail to perfection.

Common Continuity Errors to Avoid

  • Eyeline Mismatch and Emotional Inconsistency: These are common errors that can distract the audience. Ensuring that actors’ eye lines match and their emotional delivery is consistent across takes is crucial.
  • Wardrobe and Makeup Discrepancies: Changes in an actor’s appearance within the same scene can break continuity. Regular checks are necessary to avoid these issues.

Managing External Factors

  • Onlookers and Crowd Control: Filming in public spaces often attracts crowds. Managing these onlookers is essential to prevent disruptions and maintain the integrity of the scene.
  • Dynamic Shooting Environments: Shooting over several days in the same public location requires a flexible approach to deal with changes in the environment, such as weather or other variables.

Sourcing and Securing the Ideal Filming

Finding the perfect location for filming is one of the most critical aspects of pre-production, and it can have a significant impact on the overall quality and success of the film. From scouting potential locations to securing permits and negotiating with property owners, the process of sourcing and securing the ideal filming location requires a combination of creativity, persistence, and logistical know-how.

Location scouts must be able to assess the practical and logistical considerations of each location, such as accessibility, parking, power sources, and any potential legal or permitting issues. When a suitable location has been identified, the next step is to secure the necessary permissions and permits to film on the site.

In some cases, filmmakers may need to make creative compromises or adjustments to their vision based on the practical limitations of the location. The location scouting team must be able to think creatively and propose alternative solutions that still capture the essence of the desired aesthetic.

Hiring and Collaboration

  • Local Expertise: Engaging a knowledgeable Location Manager or Scout, who understands local nuances, can prove invaluable. Their expertise as an assistant location manager or location assistant is crucial for navigating the complexities of filming locations.
  • Community Liaison: Working with local film commissions can provide access to resources, insights, and necessary permits.

Legal and Practical Considerations

  • Permits and Insurance: Obtain all necessary legal documentation to ensure compliance with local regulations.
  • Respecting the Space: Treat locations with care, maintaining their original condition and minimizing disruption to the surrounding area.

The Role of Technology in Overcoming Challenges on a Location Shoot

As technology continues to evolve and advance, filmmakers are increasingly turning to digital tools and solutions to help overcome the many challenges of location shooting. From pre-visualization to weather tracking software, technology is playing an increasingly important role in streamlining the production process and enabling filmmakers to work more efficiently and effectively on location.

Advanced location scouting software allow filmmakers to explore potential locations remotely, reducing the need for physical scouting trips. Pre-visualization 3D tools such as Google and Apple Maps and Sunseeker help filmmakers plan and visualize their shots more effectively before they even arrive on location.

During the actual shoot, weather tracking apps like Rain Radar and Windy allow directors, cinematographers, and other key personnel to make creative decisions in real-time based on weather changes.

Sunseeker shows an Augment Reality View for a location shoot on your mobile device, along with the path relative path overlayed on Google Maps.

Specialized Equipment for Controlled Environments

  • Simulating Outdoor Conditions: Technologies such as rain machines, snow machines, and wind machines enable filmmakers to fake outdoor scenes indoors in the studio. This not only provides control over filming conditions but also ensures crew safety and equipment protection.
  • Filming Techniques for Adverse Conditions: Techniques that utilize water trucks, rain towers, and wind machines are essential for creating realistic weather conditions on set, adding authenticity to the scenes while maintaining control over the environment.
A 3D image from Google Maps
A cloud map from Windy helps anticipate cloud cover ahead of time


Location shooting is a complex and challenging aspect of filmmaking that requires a combination of creative vision, logistical planning, and technical expertise. From scouting and securing the ideal filming location to managing light, sound, and weather on set, filmmakers must be prepared to navigate a wide range of challenges and obstacles when shooting on location.

However, despite these challenges, the benefits of location shooting are clear. By capturing the authentic texture, character, and atmosphere of real-world environments, filmmakers are able to create more immersive, engaging, and emotionally resonant films that connect with audiences on a deeper level.

Ultimately, the key to successful location shooting is a combination of careful planning, creative problem-solving, and a willingness to adapt and improvise in the face of unexpected challenges. By embracing the unique opportunities and limitations of each filming location, and by leveraging the latest technology and techniques, filmmakers can create truly memorable and impactful films that transport audiences to new worlds and leave a lasting impression.

What are the key types of shots used in documentary filmmaking?

Documentary filmmaking employs various types of shots to effectively tell a story and engage the audience. Some of the key shots include:

a. Wide shots or establishing shots: These shots provide a broad view of the location or setting, helping to orient the audience and set the context for the story.
b. Medium shots: These shots focus on the subject from the waist up, allowing for a more intimate view of the person or object while still maintaining some context.
c. Close-up shots: Close-ups are used to capture facial expressions, emotions, and intricate details, creating a strong emotional connection with the audience.
d. Cutaway shots: These shots are used to provide additional information or context, often showing related objects or actions that support the main narrative.
e. Observational shots: These shots capture candid moments and natural interactions, giving the audience a sense of being present in the scene.

What does B-roll footage entail in filmmaking?

B-roll footage refers to supplementary footage that is intercut with the main narrative or interview footage in a documentary or other film. B-roll is used to:
a. Provide visual context and additional information related to the main story.
b. Cover up cuts or transitions in the main footage, creating a smoother editing process.
c. Add visual interest and variety to the film, preventing the audience from becoming bored with a single shot.
d. Illustrate or emphasize points made in interviews or narration.

How can one effectively shoot a documentary film?

To effectively shoot a documentary film, consider the following tips:

a. Research and plan: Thoroughly research your subject matter and create a solid plan for your shoot, including a shot list and schedule.
b. Invest in quality equipment: Use high-quality cameras, lenses, and audio equipment to ensure the best possible footage and sound.
c. Build rapport with subjects: Establish a relationship with your subjects to create a comfortable and trusting environment, leading to more authentic and engaging footage.
d. Be adaptable: Be prepared to adjust your plans and adapt to changing situations, as documentaries often involve unpredictable events and circumstances.
e. Capture a variety of shots: Shoot a wide range of shots, including wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, and B-roll footage, to provide visual interest and context.
f. Pay attention to lighting and sound: Ensure proper lighting and high-quality audio recording to enhance the overall quality and impact of your film.

What should be taken into account when filming, particularly at home?

When filming at home, consider the following factors:

a. Lighting: Use natural light from windows when possible, or invest in basic lighting equipment to ensure your subjects are well-lit and visible.
b. Sound: Minimize background noise by closing windows and doors, turning off appliances, and using a high-quality external microphone when recording audio.
c. Background and framing: Choose a clean, uncluttered background that doesn’t distract from your subject, and frame your shots thoughtfully to create visually appealing compositions.
d. Stability: Use a tripod or other stabilizing equipment to avoid shaky footage, especially when using handheld devices like smartphones or tablets.
e. Privacy and permissions: Be mindful of the privacy of others in your household, and obtain necessary permissions before filming in private spaces or including others in your footage.
f. Storage and backup: Ensure you have sufficient storage space for your footage and create backups to prevent data loss.