Shooting Overseas

Love travelling? Why not experience the best of both worlds by satisfying your wonderlust while you pursue your photographic career? Sounds good to me. 

Matt Dowling, director of The Freelancer Club and being an international fashion photographer means he gets to do this quite a bit (lucky Matt). Here's his advise for getting it right on an overseas shoot.

One of the most alluring aspects of a career in photography is inevitably the travel. Most budding photographers fantasise about shooting in exotic locations, exploring the world through their lens whilst capturing idyllic scenes.


The work of Sebastiao Salgado influenced my decision to pursue my passion and today there are working photographers who are pushing the boundaries of the medium. John Huba, Justin Mott and and Rob Howard are all worth swooning over.  


However, before you book your flights, there are practical considerations when shooting overseas and the glamourous charms are not always as they seem. To help turn the fantasy into reality, here are a few things that we always ticked off the box when shooting abroad.


Whether the project allows you to visit the location a week or an hour before the shoot, take every second you’re given. Location scouting is essential in domestic shoots and even more important when overseas.


Should you have a local liaison and/or an art director working with you they should be able to provide most key pieces of information. If not, it’s important to ask the right questions such as ‘can you shoot in certain areas?’, ‘what’s the law when shooting in public spaces?’ or ‘where are the no go areas in regards to safety?’.


In my past experiences, the vast majority of countries we shot in warmly embraced us and often wanted to get involved. We always spoke to the locals before we started shooting to ensure that we weren’t crossing any cultural boundaries and as a way to source the best locations. It’s very simple, so long as you respect the country you’re in, it will respect you.



Anyone who’s ever arranged or been a part of a photoshoot will tell you that it rarely goes 100% smoothly. When shooting on location, multiple this by ten. You have fewer resources at your disposal to fix problems, weather often plays a role, and the language barrier can throw a shoot into disarray. Not only should you research extensively but pack for every possible outcome and all weather conditions. Hiring a local to show you the ropes is worth it’s weight in gold.


We once shot in Milan on the same day a local festival marched through the streets for about 6 hours. Bad prep can kill a shoot.



Every country has its own laws on what you’re allowed to shoot and where you can feature the work. Research and local knowledge are key here and you may well need to obtain a permit to shoot certain buildings or areas before travelling. In the UK, for example, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square require written permission from the Mayor to shoot for commercial purposes.


In most countries you may not photograph police or armed forces. Persistently shooting an individual may be deemed harassment and of course the protection of children is of paramount importance. The current Metropolitan police guidance states that: 'Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel'. Research the laws before you travel to avoid disappointment or worse.  


On bigger jobs we were provided with locations to shoot in so simply turned up and shot. For personal projects you’re on your own. The latter rarely gives you much time to scout or prep so you must think on your feet a lot and make quick decisions on what you’re allowed to shoot or not. Should you have aspirations of publishing the work, it’s worth covering your bases.


A historic old hotel in the south of Spain, who we thought would have a major problem with us shooting there, bent over backwards for us whereas we were asked to produce a permit when shooting a sports editorial on Wimbledon common. Bottom line, ask if you’re not sure.


Matt also runs The Freelancer Club which helps photographers (and other creatives) connect, develop and work. Check out the club and whether it’s right for you.

And see a TED talk by Sebastião Salgado here!

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