What makes a good photography location?

One of the hardest difficulties in photography has always been to pick the best spot for picture taking, especially if you needed to take portraits. Finding the right location to ensure that you get the best results for portrait photography can be pretty challenging. Rather than learn the hard way, read  my top 10 tips to ensure your next location shoot is awesome.


How To Pick a Location

Tip#1 CHOOSE A MEANINGFUL PLACE

It’s easy to choose a portrait location based on convenience. For example, if you live near a leafy park, it’s tempting to use that as your default shooting location. But while this may look attractive, it’s not always the best option.

Remember that every subject is a unique individual, with their own personality. This is what makes them so interesting, and it’s something you should try to capture in every portrait you take. Choosing a suitable location is an important part of this. Take the time to get to know your subject. Find out about their hobbies and favorite places and incorporate them into your photography. If they’re an avid horse rider, shoot them at their stables; if they love to surf, go to their local beach.

Tip #2 IS THE LOCATION PUBLIC OR PRIVATE?

Get permission. Not all places that are open to the public are public spaces. Some are privately owned and therefore might carry restrictions forbidding certain types of shoots. If you’re shooting for commercial gain, you need to check first if you are able to use the space.

For example, some public places in Texas are restricted when it comes to commercial photography and you need to apply, and pay, for a license to shoot there. In addition, you will need to do this within a certain time limit of your shoot, so don’t leave it too late.

In most cities you can shoot on the sidewalk without the need for a licence, but you can’t block the sidewalk. So, if you’re planning on using lighting, the best way to avoid falling foul of the law and being asked to move on is not to place your lights on a stand. Assistants are worth their weight in gold on location shoots for holding lights, among other things.

Tip #3 I ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHTING

The word “photography” is made up of two words with a Greek origin. “Phōtos” means “light” and “graphé” means “drawing”. So to photograph is to “draw” images using light. Most professional portrait photographers swear by natural lighting, and some refuse to shoot in anything else. If possible, choose a brightly lit location which offers plenty of diffused, natural light.

When shooting outdoors it’s important to avoid the direct midday sun as this produces very harsh shadows. Look for some light shade such as an overhanging tree or covered seating area, where the sunlight is softer and more flattering. Alternatively, shoot in the morning or early evening when the sun isn’t as strong. If you’re shooting indoors, try to position your subject near a large window so that you can make the most of any available natural light. Depending on your budget and the equipment you have available you can compliment this with some artificial lighting if necessary.

Tip #4  SHADE VS. FULL SUN 

When shooting on location, the sun is going to be your next biggest consideration. Are you going to need shade from the sun, or is it a feature of the shoot? If shooting in full sun, what gear are you going to use to light your subject and deal with shadows?

Photographing in full sun is great for color and vibrancy in a shot, but you will need to have a game plan for the shadows. Either embrace the full sun and use it as a studio light, or use it to back light your subject. You will then need reflectors and/or strobes to light your subject.

Tip #5 CHOOSE SOMEWHERE QUIET

Crowded places, like cities or busy public parks, are among the worst locations for a portrait shoot. You’ll be constantly waiting for people to move out of frame and dealing with questions from passers-by, plus your subject will probably feel very self-conscious and struggle to relax. Finding a quiet, secluded location is not as difficult as it might seem. If you must shoot in a city, get off the beaten track – by moving just a few hundred yards away you can usually find a spot where you and your subject can set up undisturbed.

Tip #6 WHAT TIME OF DAY IS THE SHOOT? 

We usually shoot early in the morning or late afternoon. You need to decide on the time of your shoot. This goes back to the point of shooting in full sun or shade. At midday the sun is overhead and generally this is the worst time of day to shoot outdoors as the light will be at its harshest and the shadows hard to control.

Tip #7 MEANINGFUL LOCATION TO YOUR CLIENT 

Yes, this is an option as well! Especially for engagement sessions because it can be really meaningful to have the photo session at a location where the couple met, or where they got engaged, or simply where they spend a lot of their time together. This is also important for clients celebrating anniversaries or a really important milestone, like graduating from high school or college.
In a family portrait, the photographer can suggest a location, but sometimes, the family will have a specific spot in mind…because it holds high significance for the family. For instance, a popular spot for family portraits might be the garden at the back of their house. The family has spent many a day tending to and cultivating the plants and flowers there. That’s afforded them a bonding experience. Hence, it’s a meaningful area.

Remember: As a photographer, you want to pick a spot that helps tell the story of your subjects or adds greater emotional impact for the people you’re shooting.

Tip #8 SHOOT IN RAW FORMAT

It’s important to add here that if you want to have access to this whole data, you should always shoot in RAW format. Shooting in RAW gives you an unprocessed file that stores the whole color information. You are then free to manipulate this data in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Shooting in JPEG will result in a processed picture with automatically assigned color and brightness value. You can still edit it in Photoshop but you no longer have the freedom to manipulate it to such a great extent. In other words, with RAW you can make the object look the same as you saw it through your viewfinder (or better!). JPEG is also a compressed file format. This means that various optimizations are applied to the image file, which makes the file size smaller. The greater the compression, the greater the loss in quality, but the smaller the file size and the less storage space needed to save it. 

The major advantage you have when shooting in RAW is that you don’t lose any valuable image data. With a RAW file, there’s a massive amount of image information available, meaning you can recover skies that are too bright by reducing their brightness, and increase the shadows so they are brighter.

Tip #9 CHECK OR EVALUATE THE AREA OF SHOOTING 

Check on communications: Is there cell phone reception in the area you’ve chosen to shoot? If you’re driving a long way, have you planned for a breakdown? Search the area for quick food stops to satisfy you and your crew in the midst of a busy schedule and double-check the address of a local electronics store, just in case you need to replace a cable or adapter. One day, something will go wrong; it’s inevitable. But when you’ve scouted out the backup possibilities at a location, you can take most obstacles in stride. 

Tip #10 DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING VALUABLE IN THE CAR. EVER. 

I’ve heard too many stories of car parks being watched by thieves and gear being stolen after a photographer has returned to their car to either get stuff out or put some stuff in the boot (trunk). If your gear gets stolen, it can be replaced, but if for some crazy reason you put your memory cards where they can be stolen, you will never get those images back.

I’m hoping that this gives you guys some insight into how I shoot portraits and plan and everything. I would love your feedback on if you enjoyed the post and would like to see more stuff like this!


 

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Len Parent
Len Parent

“The most important thing to remember is that you can wear all the greatest clothes and all the greatest shoes, but you’ve got to have a good spirit on the inside. That’s what’s really going to make you look like you’re ready to rock the world.” —Alicia Keys

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