Continuing the whole crowd-sourced topic thing, this month’s wonderful question comes from Justin. “I’d love to read about how you pick out locations. What makes for a good location? How do you go about finding new spots to shoot at? I’d also like to hear more about when you find a new spot. I know to Nicci and I that seeing you balanced on a tiny little rock in the middle of a stream was just hilarious. I’d love to hear more stories about these new adventures and getting the perfect shot.”
There’s a definite risk that I’ll make this too long and boring, but I’ll try to break it into something reasonable. :) For Jensey and I, a good location consists of a few basic things; Simple and workable light, simple but interesting backdrops, and minimal congestion. (Meaning we’re not waiting 3 minutes between each composition for a family to walk through our background.)
Ultimately, we don’t want to have to fight the light. This usually means we have plenty of shade from trees or buildings. Shooting out in the sun is great sometimes, but if the light is too harsh, it just doesn’t reflect well on the subject. That, and it’s cooler in the shade… we kind of like that. For that same reason, we try to only schedule sessions during the early morning or late afternoon for the softer light.
One of our favorite types of location is just a forest or park. Thick foliage is great at filtering the light and depending on the angle of the sun, can make for some great flare shots as it peaks through the canopy. We also love the backdrop trees generally provide; when we’re shooting at f/2, a forest behind you can be beautiful.
A lot of people think lakes or flowers are great backdrops. Truth be told, unless the lake is a beautiful placid blue (and doesn’t have sun glaring off the top), I’d suggest skipping it. Same with flowers, unless the locations is awash in blooming bushes, a few roses here and there aren’t going to do much of anything for your photos. This brings me to my next point perfectly… Finding the best angle!
As most of you know, I like to climb things to get the shot when given the chance. I don’t do it simply to justify our insurance premiums, I do it because it often gets something different. (And if it doesn’t, at least I got to climb a tree/building/fence!) Take this photo, for example…
By shooting from above, you get a unique sense of place. The backdrop and distractions disappear and you’re simply left with the couple and their immediate surroundings. A similar thing happens when Jensey or I lie on the ground (or middle of the street!) We usually do that because we want to frame the subject just right with what’s around them; it gives us much more control over how much of the foreground makes it into the photo as well.
When we occasionally ask a bride or groom to squat a little, it’s because we can get a higher angle that puts all the focus on their portrait and little on what’s around them. Even for things as simple as vacation photos (where you have little choice of the location, because, you know, you’re on vacation!), it’s smart to take a moment and pay more attention to your scene.
This could quickly grow beyond the scope of this article, but try and remember at least two basic things. 1) Think how bright the scene is and then think how much light is on your subject. Our brains can interpret and combine light incredibly well. Our cameras… not so much. So unless you’re using fill flash, remember that either your backdrop is going to be super bright and washed out or your subject is going to be little more than a silhouette. (Source: 3 in 5 Facebook vacation albums.) Fixing this might be as simple as asking your subject to step 5 feet back or shooting from a few degrees to the side. 2) Never mind a second suggestion, practice this first one! Think with the capabilities of your camera in mind. Believe me, I wish it was as easy as tugging my ear to capture exactly what I was seeing, but we’re not there yet!
Back to normal shooting, though… If you’re a photographer, there’s definitely some trial and error involved with the locations you choose. For most new locations, its a good idea to check it the day before at the time of your shoot. Find where you can go for softer light, see which direction the sun sets, where you should go if the clouds are out, is there a place to hide if you get caught in a quick rain shower, etc. Feeling confident going into a shoot goes such a long way!
You’ll find that some places are consistently easy to shoot and that’s great to have places you’re familiar with. Be careful, though, of not overusing a location! At times, we have to turn down shoots at the Disney resorts because we don’t want to feel like we’re going to the same place over and over. As a photographer, you’re being hired for an artistic vision. If you feel like that vision is dulling, you owe it to yourself (and your clients!) to step back and reevaluate where you’re shooting. On the flip side, it can be a lot of fun to try and find fresh perspectives in familiar locations. This happens to us a lot since there are only so many places you can shoot in one city!
We’ve shot around the Boardwalk Resort a bazillion times, but having a different lens than normal (24mm vs the 35 or 50) provided for the shot above.
Justin, I hope this post was remotely helpful! And for the rest of you, well, I hope the same. :) As always, thanks so much for reading and please leave any thoughts or questions below!
If you’re bored and curious, here are a handful of my past articles…