By Nathan Anglin
"Location is key." The term has been applied to every type of business out there. Whether it be real estate, coffee shops, or portraits, the importance is all the same. It can mean the difference between professional quality portraits or snapshots. It can determine everything about the portrait session. So what determines a good portrait location?
A great place to take portraits is anywhere the opportunity arises. With technology these days, there is no reason why you couldn't capture that great, but quick, opportunity to catch little Suzie enjoying an ice cream cone in the park. That being said, if you are planning a portrait session, you have the time to figure out a location that fits your style and compliments the photographers needs. So keep in mind these important factors when choosing your perfect location:
There are a few ways to get variety in your portrait sessions. One of them is location. By picking a location that has a variety of backdrops in one location you have improved the variety of your portraits. For example, if a family wants photos by the river, the photographer might choose a location that has adequate variety of river shots, but also maybe a field or marsh nearby or some old building to improve on the variety in that session. Try to keep these locations within walking distance since time is of the essence. Start your session off with your favorite spot, i.e. the river, then move to the other locations, ensuring you have time for the most important photographs.
All photographers seem to only care about lighting. As it is the most important factor in a successful portrait session, it is understandable to stress this. You need "good" lighting at your location or the entire session will be garbage. So what is "good" lighting? Well, it is easier to tell you what "bad" lighting is. Try to avoid locations "spotted" light. The light that comes through trees that creates harsh shadows mixed with harsh highlights. A good photographer will know how to work with this challenge but sometimes that "hotspot" on your cheek is unavoidable if the location is all spotted light. Areas that reflect a lot of light can create challenges, too, but are not always bad. For example, bodies of water can bounce light into your portrait that is not appealing. It is best to look for a mix of "back-lighting" and even shade. Using natural light has always been preferred by photographers, but placing the light behind the subject(you!) is always important. Jumping from lit areas to shady areas can provide for more variety in your session as well.
One of the biggest challenges for photographers is finding that perfect location but being able to access it. All too often there are barriers that prohibit that beautiful location from being that perfect portrait location. This includes physical barriers, legal barriers, and verbal barriers. It is often the case that a young, spry photographer (not unlike myself) finds a gorgeous location in the woods that is private and perfect for that upcoming family portrait session. But how close is it to the nearest parking lot? Can a stroller make it to the location? What about Grandma and her walker? Is it close enough to run back to the car for a quick outfit change? These are important questions to ask regarding physical barriers. Legal barriers can be just as important. When that perfect location arises, ask yourself, is it okay for me to take portraits there? Is there an entrance fee to this location? Do they allow commercial photographers to conduct business on that property? Is it trespassing? This can make your portrait session end very fast when you have to run from the cops! And finally, how easy is it to explain the location to your clients? Is there cell phone service (a problem in my locale) at the desired meeting point? Generally, meeting at a big landmark is a smart idea.
There can be many different reasons as to why privacy is an important factor in making your location decision. The type of shoot can determine whether or not it is needed. For example, a boudoir shoot needs to be private, obviously. But what about infant or toddler sessions? Distractions in your surroundings can make your toddler or infant not want to participate. Playgrounds and dogs are two notorious distractions for kids. Do you want any people watching you bare your beautiful pregnant belly during your maternity session? Privacy can create comfort when you are in front of the camera. Sometimes people are unavoidable (I keep thinking of a session scheduled at Disneyland), but in a private setting you will not have anyone in your background.
Finally, does the location fit your lifestyle? Talk with your photographer and find a location that is in sync with your style and personality. If you are an outdoorsy family that adventures often, maybe a day with your photographer out hiking your favorite trail would be best. Do you have a location that is special to your family? A family cabin or get-a-way could make for a personal touch in your photos. What would look best for your family and make you the most comfortable? Communicate your ideas with your photographer to come up with that perfect location.
When in doubt, refer to your professional photographer. Tell them what you are looking for. It is their job to know where to shoot. They should be open to your suggestions, but listen to your photographer. Take their advice on location tips. In the end, their trained eye is what makes or breaks the shoot. If you are curious about where to shoot in your area give me a call.