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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!  

Location Is Everything

Everyone has that ONE place that they just love.  For some of us, it's our home.  For others, it's someplace we visit.  For me, it's my husband's family land in the community of Thiefneck.  If I could only use one word to describe this piece of property, it would be "peaceful."  

For the past seven years I have been enjoying this property at various family functions, such as the family reunion.  And three years ago, my aunt invited me to use the property for photography sessions.  Since this time, many families have enjoyed creating memories at this property.  One such family is the Higgins Family.

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This is my favorite location for photography sessions...hands down!  There are so many different places to take photographs, which provides an array of background choices for my clients.  Recently the future of this land, the future of the families that call this area home, the future of the businesses here, the future of the wildlife in this area, and the future of all the other families that just enjoy this area is at stake.  There is a High-Speed Rail that has hopes of taking this land.  

As with every controversial issue in the world, there are people for and against the issue.  Obviously I am against this high-speed rail.  I SEE the happiness this area creates for families.  I SEE the memories that are created and captured.   I HEAR the laughs as the children play and families joke with each other.  You can read more about this project here, both against the rail and for the rail.  But before you make a decision based on what you read about the issue, take a look at what I SEE and HEAR when I visit this property.  

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Just A Few of My Favorite Locations

I think every photographer has their favorite locations - where they know the lighting, know the location, and secret nooks.  I know I certainly do!  

I get asked quite often where my favorite locations are, which prompted me to put together an Exclusive Client Access Area on my website.  This area has all of my favorite locations, as well as a style guide, wall art inspiration, product care, and frequently asked questions.  You might be asking yourself how you can take a look at that page on my website...and the answer is...after securing your session by paying the required 50% deposit, you will be given a password which will grant you access to this exclusive area.  

I primarily work in two counties in Texas - Limestone and McLennan.  I have several favorite locations in both of these counties, but I am going to share my absolute most favorite location in each of these counties with you now.  

Hands down, my favorite location in Limestone County is a piece of property my husband's family owns near Personville and Donie.  There is a covered bridge, a tin barn, a tire swing, and a cabin.  In the spring, the bluebonnets grow so beautifully and are basically undisturbed.  The covered bridge is perfect for both family and individual photographs.  The tire swing is a "must-do" at this location!  It is perfect for getting people of all ages to smile with a genuine smile.  The porch of the cabin is a favorite among clients because it gives the photographs a feeling of "home."  Since this is private family property, I am the only photographer that has access to this location.

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My second favorite location is in McLennan County and is located just outside of Crawford, Texas.  This location is called Tonkawa Falls.  Just as the name implies, there is a waterfall which makes a beautiful backdrop for photographs!  There are plenty of other scenic backdrops as well, such as cliffs, a stone stairwell, a dock type structure, a grove of trees, and a stone wall with a building.  

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I am always on the lookout for other locations.  Do you know of some that you'd like to share?