Finding good locations for environmental portraiture.

Bewsey Hall Woods
Bewsey Hall Woods

If you are anything like me at some point you will have looked at other photographers work and said to yourself “How are they so good at finding good locations?” and “if only I could find locations like that”.

This weekend I’ve got 9 ‘outside’ portrait sessions booked, I’m under pressure to find good sites that will offer me the opportunity to take images that my clients will like. If they don’t like they won’t buy. The problem is, I’m 400 miles away from home and I’ve never worked in this town before.

What am I looking for ?

The main thing for any photographer is analysing the available light in a scene. Without light you have no image. Modern digital cameras these days can do an awful lot to make darker scenes an option, but given a choice I’ll settle for a well lit open space and higher image quality every time.

The next thing is composition :

What elements (features) might make the image interesting ? If you think of iconic portraits it is the background or environment that help the photographer tell the best story. Think of Princess Diana’s solitude at the Taj Mahal – would Marilyn Monroe have achieved global fame without the vent on the street?!
It’s very rare that the most famous portrait of someone is one taken inside a studio. If you can think of one maybe leave a comment and I’ll alter this!

Location Scouting:

Yesterday morning I went for a quick morning run with my smart phone, I needed to find good locations with all the above in mind. (I also could do with losing a few pounds). Obviously I have a bit of an understanding of what may or may not work in a scene – so every time I saw a space I liked I stopped and took an image. These spots are really close to each other in an urban English town. Most of our cities have spaces like this, we probably walk past ideal locations every day without noticing them. The key is to actually look; Deliberate Looking I call it.

The portrait sessions will be happening over the next three days and if my clients are willing I’ll share a few on here to show how things worked out. How you execute each shot (Lens choice, exposure settings etc) are vitally important, but if you have the basics listed above in place, your job will be that much easier.

In summary

  • Think through the locations that are going to work best for the typical photographs you take
  • Keep an idea of what you are looking for in the back of your mind, whether you are currently searching or not
  • Actively scout for new locations on a regular basis
  • Engage in ‘deliberate looking’ whenever you are out and about

For now, here are the locations for my weekend sessions. I have uploaded them straight from the phone, well be shooting in the early evenings so I’m hoping for some lovely golden colour from the sun.

You can click on them to get a better view.

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