I live in a very small desert town with what I feel are very limited shooting locations to choose from: lots of harsh sunlight, a lack of open shade, and tons of dirt and weeds. I’m feeling stuck. How do you choose your session locations? And what are you looking for when you’re shooting?
Let’s start with this: if anyone gets harsh sunlight, a lack of open shade, and tons of dirt and weeds, it’s us, your friends from Arizona. When we’re not pulling cowboy artwork off the walls of a bride’s getting ready room — Are you SURE you don’t want John Wayne as a stand-in bridesmaid? — we’re fending off rattlesnakes and hiding our clients under shrubs posing as trees to prevent third degree sunburns. We get it. But for as much time as we’ve spent in the past wishing we lived in a magical photography land of overgrown grass fields, lush tree lines, historic American homes, and a perpetual golden hour (We’re calling you out, Virginians! We love you, but we also want to be you!), we’ve spent more time learning how to adapt so that we’re comfortable wherever we’re shooting, but also educating our clients about the best time and place to shoot to optimize the light and location.
The Right PLACE to Shoot
To answer your first question, we let our clients be as hands-on as they’d like in choosing their session location. We help guide them, but we always let them make the final call. We’ve found that it’s important that our clients feel invested in and connected to the place they’ve chosen. We offer suggestions, of course, but we never dictate. If they don’t already have something in mind, we invite them to visit our blog and look at our most recent work. If something stands out and they just love it, then we’ll shoot there. If nothing does, then we’ll just ask them to give us a vibe. Some of our clients are from the desert and love it. Some hate it and want the opposite. Some want something more urban and others are looking for something natural. Since we’ve been shooting awhile, we’ve built up a small arsenal of locations, so we can help make recommendations based on these general ideas. We also encourage our clients to be as specific as possible. To give us key words if they can verbalize it. For example, we once had a client who said, “I want greenery and a white picket fence. If I have those two things, I’ll be happy.” Believe it or not, there are a few spots in town like that, so we suggested one, and she loved it.
We also always encourage our clients to think outside the box, too. To brainstorm someone they might know who can get them access to a location not typically accessible to the public. March is Spring Training season in Arizona and we had the pleasure of working for some Major League players this year. So, for one of them, we shot part of the session in the stadium. But unique locations aren’t just for professional athletes. They could include private residences or estates, skyscrapers and even airplane hangars. The sky is literally the limit! One of our recent clients wanted to have his engagement session at the childhood home his parents built. So, he contacted the owner, got permission, and we scheduled it! Anytime you’re able to shoot in a space with sentimental value to your client, they’re going to like the images that much more — and so are you. Plus, it’s just fun and stimulating creatively to shoot somewhere new, right? So, in short, it’s a collaboration. It doesn’t take much work. Really, it doesn’t. Just ask the right questions and your client, most of the time, will lead you to the right answer.
The Right TIME to Shoot
In choosing locations, with few exceptions, there’s never really a wrong place to shoot, but there is a wrong time to shoot since we don’t use any off-camera flash to overpower the sun when it’s the most intense. For us, we always shoot in the two hour window after sunrise or the two hour window before sunset, also known as “the golden hour.” We don’t compromise on this one, because it’ll compromise our work and the quality our client’ll receive, so we always schedule our sessions to make sure we get our clients in the most flattering light. We have a FREE 7-step series on how to find great light, so check that out when we’re done here. If your client suggests shooting at high noon, it’s not that they’re trying to make life hard or give you a challenge, they just don’t know, so serve them well by educating (and empowering) them about when to find the best light. After we’ve done that, we’ve never had a client respond with, Nope! I don’t care! Bring on the harsh light, raccoon eyes and blown out backgrounds! Your clients will get it, and they will thank you for it, too.
Friend, this is probably a good stopping place for today. We don’t want to bombard you with too much at once! So, here’s what we’re going to do: check in next week and we’ll answer the second part of your question in detail: “What are you looking for when you’re shooting?”
Until then, lots of virtual hugs!
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More from the Dear A&J Series…
1. The Best Place to Invest
2. How to Choose a Session Location
3. How to Find Great Light
4. How to Blog to an Invisible Audience
5. How to Take Sharp Family Portraits
6. What Lens Should I Buy Next?