If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of time and money scouting locations for photography shoots — driving around aimlessly in your gas guzzler, seeking that inspiring spot. But if you work smart, you can find the locations you want without spinning your wheels.
Here are six tips for cost-conscious, time-sensitive and environmentally friendly location scouting:
1. Start building a location log on your computer. Whenever you’re driving somewhere and not doing photography, keep an eye out for locations. When you find a good one, grab a few shots of the scene with your phone. E-mail the images to your computer or upload them later to start a log of possible locations for future shoots.
2. Use your cell phone for note-taking chores. Your image’s EXIF info will have the time and date the picture was taken; this will give you an idea of the light at that time of day and also the month/season. Grab a shot of a street sign to show the intersection and a nearby landmark, capturing the street address. If applicable, take a picture of the location’s hours of operation. Upload these to your log, too.
3. Organize your location data. As your log grows, you can organize your prospective locations — by seasons, for example. Over time, you’ll have a list of places you can use no matter the time of year.
4. Do your research online. If you’re shooting an assignment on location, you can do a lot of your research online in advance. For example, if you’re planning to shoot for a business with multiple locations, see what kind of office pictures they have on their Web site; it may save you the trouble of driving all over town finding the best venue.
5. Use Google Maps. Street View  is a fabulous (if somewhat freaky) tool for location scouting. Panning around in 360º lets you get a sense of a location’s lighting, among other things. From the virtual reality images, you can assess where the sun will be, since the directions of the compass are included.
6. Keep a notebook. Carrying a notebook around is still a good idea, as you may want to jot down some quick thoughts, save a news clipping you come across, or record other things in “analog” rather than digital. (Make sure it’s a small notebook and write on both sides of the page and it’s still pretty environmentally friendly, too.)