How I choose locations without leaving my couch
I invite you into my pre-session ritual. This might sound lazy. I hope it does. While you are reading this keep in mind that one of the most effective men in modern history, Winston Churchill, used to go to bed at like 3 a.m. and then wake up with some breakfast in bed with a glass of brandy and finally crawl out around 11:00am. It was his boldness and his vision that made him effective and afforded him some laziness.
Here is my routine. I lie down on the couch sometime after I get input from my client as to the genre and feel they want for their session. It is usually an hour before the session. I rarely allow my client to choose a location because it usually stinks. Lighting is everything so the location needs to work for the specific time of day, etc..
Full disclosure: I have driven thousands of miles looking for locations so I have my entire valley mapped out in my head. I lay down on the couch and I visualize the area within a 10 mile radius and where the sun will be. I scour the area in my mind for locations that I have found over the years. I keep my iPhone close and when ideas come I write a few locations that are somewhat close by each other to minimize drive time. Within a few minutes my session is planned and I can take a nap because a small nap re-energizes me before a session. Naps deserve an entire blog post. Look if NASA can spend millions studying the effectiveness of naps it is certainly worth the time.
Please don't think for a second that I do not add new locations to my list when I see them. I still scout, just much less frequently than I did in the beginning. For some it might be helpful to get a map of your area or GPS locations. Over time however as your skills increase you can just about make any location work. Making the best out of any given location is a skill that comes from getting stuck at weddings and events that look like garbage.
Think of the time, energy and money you spend scouting locations. If you are a portrait photographer and are shooting everyday in high season this is a huge drain. Take time during the off season to drive around and map things out so when you really need the energy you won't have to spend as much time worrying about it.