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When choosing a photo shoot location, you have to think about two major categories – the location in general and the amount of places you have at that location to pose. In other words, you have to decide where you are going to pictures and then specifically where you (or your subject) are going to stand once you’re at the location.
When choosing a photo shoot, the first thing you want to consider is the vibe or aesthetic that you want for the shoot. Are you looking for more a cityscape? Or lots of greenery? Is there a specific location that would make sense with whatever outfit or campaign you are going to shoot? Having a disconnected location and photo shoot theme can be very distracting. It can cause people to look at the photo and, instead of admiring it, they are asking themselves whether or not everything is cohesive. Sometimes cohesion is more a of a feeling, so just think through if the outfit, location, and overall theme/vibe of the shoot align. If they do, then you’re good.
Once my client has described what type of theme or style they want, I try to imagine what background I think would make the most sense. Sometimes it comes pretty quickly or is an obvious choice. If it isn’t obvious, then I’ll usually hop on Google and type in words that relate to the theme plus a location. Another option is to see what other folks have done with that theme. Google works for this, as does Pinterest. Obviously you shouldn’t be copying what anyone else has created, but it could help you get inspired and start thinking outside the box.
Something to keep in mind is that some places have rules around photography. Public places like streets, parks, etc. aren’t a problem, but privately owned places can get tricky. Always check through their ‘Visit’ or ‘FAQs’ to ensure that there aren’t any rules or any entrance fees. Better to know these things ahead of time.
While the aesthetic is obviously the most important aspect of any location, lighting considerations are a very strong second. If you are following my guidance on the best time of day to shoot, then you are already setting yourself up for more options. The light gets softer as it gets closer to sundown and the softer the light is, the more options you’ll have in terms of posing. (Read more in my blog post all about when to shoot outside!)
We’re back to my favorite topic – open shade. (If you need a refresher, here is my post on open shade.) Having options that create open shade will help you have a wider variety of places to pose on location. Think of a wide open field that doesn’t have any trees. If it is in the middle of the afternoon and there are no trees, you won’t have anywhere to get out of the sun. You will be forced to do your best with shooting in bright sunlight. (Not sure how to do that? Check out my post here.) But, if you have open shade options, then you don’t have to worry about how bright the sun is.
The paragraph above already listed that trees can create open shade. What other things can great open shade? Buildings. Tall bushes. Anything that casts a shadow that the subject of the photo can stand in because, remember, open shade is about being able to stand in a shadow while also seeing the sky.
Knowing you’ll have multiple spots of open shade is important because that’s where you are going to have your subject stand. (The same applies if you are also your subject.) You’ll know that you’ve done this correctly if the light looks consistent on your subject and also behind them.
How do you know if the lighting isn’t consistent? You’ll see spots of brighter light, either on them or in the background. Also, this is best scenario and not meant to drive you absolutely wild at shoots. Some locations are more challenging than others and you might not always get perfectly consistent light. See the photo of Cailin below. Look about halfway down the sidewalk, beyond her feet. There’s a bit of super bright light. Does that mean we throw out this whole photo? No.
Some of these photography ‘rules’ are the true embodiment of learning the rules so then you can break them. Making intentional choices with what you have in front of your is far different (and far better) than taking a guess and hoping it’ll turn out ok.
Look at the photo of Z below. She is standing in the open shade created by the building you can see in the left part of the frame. This is an example of consistent lighting.
If all of this has your head spinning, just remember that it comes down to two different choices. The overall location you are picking and the then individual location options available. Keep both in mind when you and you’ll be golden! Also remember that these skills are honed and strengthened over time and are not something that you’ll immediately master. You’ve got this!
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Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..