Magic behind Tourism Photography: Owning a Location

March 27, 2015

Scouting locations for tourism photography is one of my favorite parts of this job. Climbing mountains, exploring a lakeside, or walking along sandy beaches are definitely perks. There is always something new and spectacular in uncovering a great location. That is why I enjoy working on projects where the location is the star, like the NC Tourism Print Campaign that LKM approached me to shoot. The comp drawings done by LKM Art Director, Shawn Perritt highlighted several diverse and exciting landscapes from the North Carolina Mountains to the Coast. I jumped at the opportunity to bring the comp drawings to life in the perfect North Carolina locations. When discussing my tourism photography, LKM’s creative director, Jim Mountjoy was very complimentary. In Jim’s own words: “One goes to Jimmy for images. But consistently, you will end up with an artist, storyteller, problem-solver, delightful partner, and wonderful images.”

My Process

My scouting process has been called meticulous, and it definitely is. It goes beyond being thorough, I commit myself to a level of perfection that is obvious in my photos. I don’t just find a location, any photographer can do that, I own my location. I coordinate the shoot so that my crew and I will have multiple opportunities to stay with a site, recording the perfect light – how it falls at different times of the day, how it diffuses through the branches of the trees, how it plays off the surface of the water. In my initial scouting I am constantly shooting, taking compass readings, and noting the sun’s path. These shots help me visualize the best time of day to set up for our full production shoot on location, but they also can be helpful in post-production.  I prefer to capture that moment when light, location, and talent all converge, that’s why I always schedule at least two opportunities to get the shot. I don’t like leaving things to chance. However, despite the long days for my crew and me, getting to the site before sunrise and packing up well after dark, sometimes the magic moment doesn’t come. That’s when the scouting photos can help. If the sky or the background on a scouting shot has more oomph, I can add drama into the shot using composite techniques in post-production.

My Trek from the Mountains to the Sea:

The NC Tourism Print Campaign took my crew and me across the entire state from west to east. Our first shot was at Lake Santeetlah in the beautiful North Carolina Mountains.  This location complemented Shawn’s comp drawing in every way except one, there was no pier. This didn’t deter me; the spot was too perfect. So my team built a portable pier and transported it to the location. The result is this magical shot!

Picnic at Mountain Lake

NC Tourism - Mountain Lake

NC Tourism Campaign Ad Comps






Hawksbill Mountain overlooking Linville Gorge was the most physically challenging shot. I hiked 20 minutes to the cliff face no less than 5 times, and the final stretch is an almost vertical climb! On the days of the shoot, before sunrise, with 10 people in tow all loaded down with equipment, we looked more like an expedition to the ends of the earth than a photography crew. The hike was worth it, and the shot was perfect.

Sunset View

2092013-0935NC Tourism Campaign Ad Comps






It was hard to keep from climbing the trees at Orton Plantation. While shooting, my mind kept climbing into those magnificent branches. It reminded me of the playful afternoons from my childhood. So, I explored a couple of additional photographic ideas that had been floating around in my head to satisfy the ad concept. I felt that I had captured something quintessential about North Carolina in one of the shots; luckily Shawn and Jim agreed and that’s the shot that made it into the campaign.

Boy in Tree

Boy in Tree - behind the scenes

NC Tourism Campaign Ad Comps






We reached the sea, with the remaining shot of a hopscotch grid on the beach at Bald Head Island. Getting this shot was a battle between me and nature. It was important for the grid to be close to the water so there would be a nice balance and easy read between ocean and play. We would draw the grid and a wave would come and wipe it out. I devised a rig so we could quickly and cleanly draw the grid out on the beach, and I would immediately snap the picture before it was washed away. In the behind the scenes picture, you can see that we drew the hopscotch halfway down the beach. Very little was added in post-production to embellish the shot to make it seem endless – because it already was!


NC Tourism - Beach - Baldhead Island - behind the scenesNC Tourism Campaign Ad Comps

Client: North Carolina Tourism
 Agency: Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy
 Creative Director:     Jim Mountjoy
 Art Director: Shawn Perritt
 Senior Writer: Steve Lasch


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