When I first began taking clients, the only thing I thought about when picking out the location with my clients for their session was how the location looked. Was it eye catching? Was it pretty? And it makes sense, right? Who doesn’t want the backdrop for their photos to be gorgeous? What I didn’t realize at that time was that, without the proper lighting and a few other elements, that pretty location was not going to translate well on camera, and neither were my subjects. Gradually, I realized that there was more to a great photography location than what meets the eye. There are a few things I needed to consider in order to be able to deliver gorgeous, consistent images to all of my clients. These are the things I recommend you consider when you are choosing a photo session location.
It’s All About the Light
I look for soft, even lighting when I am out location scouting. Beautiful locations are nice, but the lighting comes first. When you are on location, watch for areas with even, soft light. Even lighting will flatter your subjects and keep the eye drawn to them and not hot spots (or blown out areas) in your photo. This is especially important when the sun is higher in the sky. In the image above was taken at the very beginning of an evening session, when the sun was still relatively higher in the sky. To camera left, there were some really pretty flowers and shrubs, and had I been looking at the location elements only, I would have chosen that spot. But when I thought instead about the lighting, I knew that shooting to the left would only produce blown out highlights, which would mostly wash out the flowers anyway. And, that blown out background would be a distracting element to my photo. So I opted instead to shoot where I did, choosing this spot for its soft, even lighting. I think the result speaks for itself.
Another consideration is dappled lighting, or lighting where the sun is peeking through in pockets, creating hotspots on your subject. Dappled lighting is usually caused by the sun coming through trees and leaves. In the image below, you can see some of this dappled lighting on the ground both in front of and behind my subjects. By observing where the dappled lighting was coming through the trees, I was able to place my clients in even light, avoiding distracting overexposed spots of sun on their clothing or faces.
I am always looking for natural reflectors at my locations. Natural reflectors are neutral colored objects on-location that can aid in bouncing sunlight onto your subjects. These could be sidewalks, light neutral colored buildings, or the sand on a beach, just to name a few. Because I primarily shoot alone without an assistant, holding a reflector while shooting can be super challenging. But I love to backlight my clients, so as often as possible, I look for natural reflectors at my locations to help bounce light onto my subject’s faces. This helps to ensure my client’s are well lit and helps me achieve natural, beautiful skin tones, too!
The final consideration I have when choosing a photo session location is the versatility of the location. My typical portrait sessions are an hour long, and I pride myself on providing a variety of images to my clients. So I need to answer this question: Can I do more than just put everyone in one pretty spot? By being creative, I have learned to make the most of one spot, and you can get great images without moving around a bunch. But I have also found that, because I often work with children especially, having the freedom to move around some and “go on a walk” helps my littlest of clients. Most of my favorite session locations provide me the flexibility to move around some and capture beautiful photos in a few different areas. For example, the image below was taken less than 15 yards from the spot my clients were at in the last image, above. In a very small area, I was able to find several spots that allowed for great images!
Now that you know some of my favorite tips for choosing a photo session location, start putting some of these considerations into practice and let us know how it goes! Whether you are shooting in an open and airy field, or an urban backdrop, remember that it’s vital for photographers to learn to be flexible and make the most of any location. And if you want to hear more of our tips on using natural light at your locations, be sure to check out our Finding the Light Series before you go!