Everyone is unique and different, and high school seniors want their images to match their one-of-a-kind uniqueness. There are several things that can make an image unique: lighting; posing; clothing; props; and the location. I feel locations are important in creating dynamic images and keeping your images different and fresh. However, they are secondary to the lighting, posing and client interaction. I’ve heard a number of photographers say “that’s an amazing image, but they have great locations to shoot at” or “I wish I had great locations to work with, like they do”. In reality there are amazing locations all around each of us to create beautiful images, you just need to get out and discover them, create a location library and memorize everything about them. Several years ago I decided go out and photograph and memorize all my favorite locations, and note what times during the day the lighting is optimum. I realize that lighting is different day to day and season to season, it could be overcast or a bright sunny day. However, you can still note a general time of day the natural light is best at each location. You can always add reflectors or off camera lighting when needed. You can photograph at the most amazing locations, but if the lighting and posing are subpar – or if you are only focusing on the location and neglecting your interaction with the client – the quality of your images will be lacking.
After I created a location library for myself and memorized the lighting, I found it changed the way I approach each senior session. I have all my seniors fill out a portrait questionnaire. I request that they explain their personal style and what they like and dislike about other senior portraits they have seen. After I receive the returned questionnaire I build a shoot schedule for each of my seniors. This includes what locations we will go to and what times we will be at the locations for the optimum lighting. Before I did this, a senior would schedule an appointment and I would be constantly thinking, “ok, where are we going to go today”, or when looking through their clothing, I would want them to wear a certain outfit that would look amazing with a new location I saw the other day – but where was that location at? Oftentimes I would remember the location but the lighting was just not quite right at the time of day I scheduled the session. I found that I was wasting time trying to make the locations and light work. Since incorporating these changes I can photograph my clients in perfect light every time! Getting my mind off the technical side of things allows me to focus on the client, and it really brings out their personality in the portraits.
When I’m location scouting I am looking for several things. I want to find a location where I can do several different looks in a short amount of time. I establish several places at a location that would make for interesting background and subject matter, and I note any natural reflectors. When photographing with natural light, if you include natural reflectors final composition of your images they are usually blown out and distracting in a photograph. I suggest leaving them out of the frame.
After I find a location, I’ll photograph the site at the same place during the course of the day, and record the time of day I shoot each time. This is so when I bring the images up at a later date and view them, I can visualize what the light will look like at different times of the day by paying attention to where the shadows are falling. Imagine the sun as your main light in a studio setting and visualize in your mind where the shadows would be if the sun was in a different place – morning, mid day, or evening. Look for potential areas where the natural light would stay consistently amazing, and also look for the areas where the natural light would rarely be flattering and mark those. Knowing your lighting at your favorite locations can make you a more efficient photographer both while photographing and in post production. I also feel that it can boost your confidence while photographing on location, and your subject will pick up on that and be more relaxed in front of you and the camera. Here is an example of an image from my location library, I have marked the natural reflectors and open shade. As you can see with this location, there are a number of options for different looks here: from really edgy looks with the airplanes, to textured grungy looks with the train cars, as well as a field/mountain scene. I’ve also documented the time of day and season.
Here are three images from the same location to show utilizing variety in a single location for different looks.
When building a location library it helps me to categorize my images by the type and style of each location – grungy, urban, industrial, water, traditional, etc. This will assist you as you build your shoot schedule, as you will be able to easily navigate your location images and find the ones that suit your client the best.
I am constantly searching for new locations, and have made it a goal this year to find at least one new location for each of my senior sessions. You will be surprised how many amazing locations you will find if you take the time to get out and look closely at places you see every day. Wedding photographer Jasmine Star inspired me to allow my clients to pick out some of their locations. This is another way they can feel involved in the process and really own their portrait session, and it also allows them to pick locations that match their personalities and style.
Lastly, with regard to private property, be courteous and ask permission. If you are a professional – act like one. You will be amazed how willing people are to work with you if you simply explain what you are doing and ask permission to utilize their property.