Setting the Vibe

As a photographer, some of the most popular questions I get is “where should I go to get my photos?” or “what recommendations do you have for locations?” It can be hard to find the ideal location for a photo session, even for photographers, so it makes sense why this question pops up so much. 

There are many factors that come into play when considering what is the ideal location for a portrait photography session. The backdrop is a considerable factor. It can be difficult to find a location that is absolutely awe inspiring or out of this world, but it’s more important to choose a setting that is fitting for the genre of your session. For example, if you are looking for the perfect location for an outdoor family portrait photography session, you won’t want a background where you can see lots of people, buildings, traffic – things that have absolutely no relevance to your session. However, if you wanted a couples photography session and you liked the style of some parking garage sessions you saw – then it would be more appropriate for your session to have “city life” in the background. An experienced photographer will be able to offer much flexibility with a decent location, but minimizing these irrelevant background distractions will make your photos that much better. 

Time of day is a huge one. Many don’t know why photographers often only do evening sessions when they’re natural light outdoor photographers. This is because around the sixty to ninety minutes before sunset, the sun is low enough in the horizon that the whole landscape is painted in beautiful, even soft lighting, but not too low that off camera lighting is necessary. This soft lighting is more flattering on skin tones and faces, and easier on the eyes. This also means that if you’re wanting to have a session somewhere with rolling hills, mountains, or tree scenery, this pre-sunset time window may not be ideal if the sun is too hidden to allow for enough light. When considering a location for a portrait session, you should always consider the most ideal lighting time. You can find the sunset times by searching any city, state location here.

When choosing a location outside for a portrait photography session, consider how much variety any of your location options give you. For example, a portrait session in a wide open, flat field with no trees is going to have less naturally occurring flexibility in scenery. This does NOT mean less flexibility in posing, just less options to work with that are naturally occurring. If you choose a location with a few trees, some benches, a cement walkway – these things can allow flexibility in your scenery. You can do poses near the trees, on the benches, with the walkway, all giving you more variation in your final gallery. While this is not necessary in a location, it can be a great bonus if a location you’re looking at offers it. 

You also want to avoid places that are unnecessarily heavily shaded. If the goal of your session is to be in a forest-like setting with heavy tree foliage, then it makes sense for your location to have this. But, if that is not the idea for the image, it’s best to search for a location that has exposed sky. Open shade is great – this is shade cast from something that doesn’t actually cover directly above, so when you look up, you can see the sky. Heavy shade exaggerates fine lines, under eye shadows, and is overall considerably unflattering to the face and skin. This is another factor that returns to the lighting of the location, as different locations at different times of day can drastically affect how well a specific photography location fits your time and needs. 

Overall, when you’re considering a location for a portrait photo session, you should always include your photographer! While some photography basics are pretty universal, every photographer has their own preferences. Sometimes photographers have favorite locations that are excellent for portrait sessions, adding a bonus that they have lots of experience photographing at that location, which optimizes your time and experience with them. 

Popular locations to consider: Public access gardens, hiking trails, public parks, look out points, camping areas, public access areas along rivers and lakes