Member, Professional Photographers of America

Five Tips for Finding the Perfect Location!

I've been looking at images on Google for over a year now and wondering what it actually looks like in person...and how portraits would turn out at this particular location.  I finally had the chance to try out this location when a family contacted me about a family session.  We were discussing possible locations and nothing was really jumping out at her as a "perfect" location.  I told her about this new location and asked if she'd like to be the first client to be photographed at this location.  She loved the idea after I showed her some of the images from Google.

Now anytime I decide to actually use a new location, I have to actually go to the location and get out and explore.  I want to find spots that will provide a great location for the upcoming session.  I have to consider many factors, such as lighting at different times of the day and backgrounds.  I also look for any safety concerns and consider those with the ages of the clients.  

Choosing the "perfect" location can often times make or break the session.  We obviously don't want to break it!  We want to MAKE it!  Here are the most important factors I consider when choosing a location:

1.  TIMING   I will always suggest to clients that they either choose a time in the very early morning or an hour before sunset.  I'm not a morning person and honestly 99% of my clients would rather have a session in the late afternoon.  Most first time clients want to schedule a session around noon because it is so bright outside.  The problem with noon sessions is the simple fact that the sun is so high in the sky and casts very harsh shadows during this time of the day.  As the sun lowers in the sky, it allows the light to fall softly leaving less shadows.  If you absolutely have to schedule a session when the sun is high in the sky, you will either need to find a very shady area or find a photographer with an amazing flash system.  

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

2.  SAFETY   When considering a possible location for a client I take into account the ages of all the subjects that will be at the session.  The last thing I want is for someone to get hurt because I put them in a potentially dangerous situation.  This family has an adorable baby girl that is just a few months old.  They typically use a stroller when they are out.  This particular location has stone steps that you must walk down to get to the location.  This is important to know ahead of time so the family can be prepared since strollers and stairs are not a safe combination.  

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

3.  PRIVACY   Another factor I always consider is the amount of privacy the location has, or doesn't have.  Some clients are more bashful than others and don't like others watching them during a session.  Some clients have children that are easily distracted by surroundings that are too busy.  Privacy is a VERY important factor for certain sessions, such as a bridal session.  I often tell my clients about the activity level of locations so they can determine if the privacy, or lack of, will be an issue for them.  As a photographer, I can work around others that pop up in the background occasionally.  It honestly just depends on their comfort level and how distracted the surroundings will make them.

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

4.  PERMITS/AVAILABILITY  Different locations have different requirements.  While some parks are completely free to use whenever you'd like, others ask that you ask for permission prior to the session.  It is a good idea to look at the calendar of events for a particular location prior to booking the session.  For example, Cameron Park in Waco hosts many events.  It is important to know this prior to showing up for a session.  Early in my photography career, I planned a session at Cameron Park for the early morning.  I was greeted at the entrance with a barricade!  There was a special event taking place that made this location closed.  I was so embarrassed!  Luckily I know the area pretty well so I was able to suggest a nearby location and have the session.  I learned a VERY important lesson that day!  

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

5.  VARIETY   Another factor I consider when suggesting possible locations for clients is the overall variety of background.   I always ask my clients what type of setting they are looking for and then suggest places around that idea.  However, I like to expand upon their initial idea when we are at the location and walk around to new areas to provide them a variety of background options. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

In summary, to get the most out of any location for a photography session, one must visit and assess the location weeks (perhaps even months) before the actual session date.  If you take the time to do this carefully, you will avoid wasting everyone's time and avoid disappointments from assumptions.  When I walk a location, I imagine different poses in various locations for different types of clients.  This helps me when I later plan a session at the location.  

If you'd like to learn more about Mother Neff State Park, you can read more here.  There are a lot of hiking trails and camping sites!