Should You Take Portraits On Location Or In A Studio?

“How do I decide where to take my portraits?” Do you rent a studio or shoot on location? There are pros and cons to each. Depending on what you need, one option is much better than the other. So where to begin?

My past few blog posts have been about where to shoot your portrait session. Below are a series of questions to ask yourself to help decide!

Ask These Questions to Determine Where to Take My Portraits

This section is going to directly compare taking your portraits on location vs. in a studio based on some specific factors. These will be posted as questions to get your brain working to consider your optimal choice.

1. Is the background critical?

Do your images have to be in the forest with the trees, waterfall, and birds? Will posing in front of a graffitied wall sell the story? Is that sunflower field necessary? If you answered “No” to this line of thinking, then a studio would work well for your needs.

2. Do you have limited availability and a hard deadline to shoot your images?

If you have to have your photos taken by a specific date so they can be edited and finished by a critical later date, then you should consider a studio. Especially if the shoot is a bigger production, having to reschedule and reorganize a team of people, and potentially reapply for permits, is not fast or easy. If the weather takes a turn and ruins the planned day, your window to finish taking images might be hosed. Use a studio If timing is critical, and you can’t risk scheduling a reshoot.

3. Are your props massive?

If you need to shoot on a 30+ ft sailboat, then you’re going to need an insane budget, or you’re stuck shooting on location.

4. Is your budget super tight and limited?

We’re not all rolling in dough or backed by a company with a massive marketing budget. Studios can be expensive. Most charge an hourly rate of over $100 and require you to book for a minimum of 2-4 hours. Shooting on location is 90% free. Some venues, though, will require permission and potentially a permit as well. A number of my favorite sites in Atlanta require a $300+ license for a 2-hour shoot. Think of shooting on location as a “freemium” thing.

5. Don’t ruin the dress!!!

If your wardrobe is super [….] (insert reason here regarding fragility, sentimental value, cost, etc.) and can’t be touched by the outside elements, you’ll probably want to shoot in a studio.

6. Your session is the opposite of the current weather.

Need to shoot a summer beach portrait, but you live in Minneapolis, and it’s January? Or maybe you just run hotter than the sun, and it’s currently 95°F with 100% humidity outside? Enjoy the beauty of temperature control in a studio.

7. Can’t risk prying eyes during your session?

This applies to photoshoots with a trademarked or secret product, celebrity status, and risque attire. If privacy is essential and you can’t risk the peanut gallery or photobombers, then you need a studio.

8. Need immediate access to a changing room or bathroom?


9. Need to get a lot of locations knocked out quickly in a single session?

If you need to shoot in one day and your session requires a lot of different backgrounds for your images, then shooting on location will be perfect. You can pick up and move with relative ease!

10. Do your images require sophisticated lighting?

Natural light is excellent, and it’s simple, but if your images need to have crazy colors or a specific look, then you may need a studio. Natural light can occasionally get in the way of how you want your images to appear. The same goes for studios that don’t have large windows. You’re almost required to use a flash. This one is a toss-up and will require some brainstorming and communication with your photographer.

Pros and Cons of Shooting Portraits On Locations vs. In Studio

On Location

studio portrait of atlanta captain marvel cosplay

Pros Of On Location Portraits

  • Props and pieces are already there
  • Natural lighting
  • Free models
  • Change locations on a whim
  • Natural precipitation

Cons Of On Location Portraits

  • Possible Permits and Permission
  • Natural light
  • Lack of predictability
  • Carrying gear
  • Lack of bathroom/changing room


Pros Of Studio Portraits

  • No weather concerns
  • Temperature control
  • Bathrooms & Changing space
  • Full creative control
  • Privacy

Cons Of Studio Portraits

  • Have to create your environment
  • Bring your own props
  • Slow changes between scenes
  • Expensive rental fees

Suggestions For Portrait Locations And Studios

Final Thoughts

Talking with your photographer about the images you are envisioning is crucial during the planning phase of your portraits. In my experience, Pinterest is immensely helpful with this endeavor. I always ask for a dedicated Pinterest board with the captions rewritten to state what exactly my clients love about those images. This communicates what is important to you and helps me as the photographer know exactly what elements to focus on (no pun intended). This doesn’t just apply to your possible portrait location, but also the lighting, posing, and compositions!

Did all of these questions help you decide? Do you think I missed any scenarios? Shoot me an email and let me know!

The images in this post are from a studio and on-location cosplay portrait session with my friend Erin as Captain Marvel!