June 4, 2019
There are three elements to every great image: story, lighting, and composition. A story can include many items, but one of the most impactful is the location. To immerse viewers in your images, you need the right setting – shoot portraits on location.
Let’s try a little experiment. I’m going to tell you the same story in two different ways. Let’s say we’re sitting down over drinks, and I tell you about this crazy thing that happened to me. Here are the two versions:
“Holy smokes! It was terrifying! I was taking a walk when I heard this rustling noise. I turned around to look, and all of a sudden, this freaking deer jumped out at me!”
“Holy smokes! It was terrifying! I was taking a walk the other night along this narrow trail by the local park. Do you know that stretch where trees fully surround it? Well, it was pretty dark, and the street lamps weren’t working, so it was kind of creepy. As I’m walking along, I start hearing this rustling noise. I couldn’t see squat, so I turned in the direction of the sound to get a better look when out of nowhere I see this deer jumping out of blackness right at me!”
Which story was more immersive? Did one give you a better context to fully engage with what I was saying? Which one sparked your imagination to a higher degree?
The one where I defined the location and time of day, right?
That’s what separates studio sessions from those done on location. You can do a lot with great lighting in both scenarios, but adding the extra context of location helps sell the overall story. I’m a tremendous proponent of shooting portraits on location, and here are some reasons why you should consider it for your next session.
Unless you have a lot of resources and money, it’s challenging to bring the location to your studio. I’m not sure you can recreate a glorious day on the beach without bringing in lots of sand, building a small pool, and doing some major work in Photoshop. The same goes for a forest, city skyline, creek, and more. You’re better off taking a short drive and maybe even a short walk to get the real thing. Atlanta is a great place for this, almost every type of environment is within a few hours of driving (pending traffic of course).
It’s no simple task to replicate a golden hour sunset in a studio. It’s also expensive to mimic neon lighting. Want it to look moonlit? Yeah, that’s not easy either. Depending on your vision and budget, you’ll want to plan your shoot at the exact right day and time for ideal results. From there, your photographer can add or omit lighting to enhance your images and bring your vision to life.
Not all portraits have just you in them. Sometimes you need random passerby and people in the background to help set the scene. It would be weird to take an editorial portrait at a carnival and not see other people at the stands or in line for the rides, right? So long as you can’t recognize anyone, they won’t need a model release either. Simple and easy. You obviously can’t direct them, but part of the magic is the randomness of it!
If you don’t like the spot you’ve set up, just pick up and move somewhere else. I encourage location scouting before any session to avoid hunting for too long. The fact remains that if we arrive at a site, and something isn’t right, or as expected, there’s not much stopping you from saying, “Let’s try another spot.” On the flip side, if you want a shoot with multiple settings, then shooting on location gives you the flexibility to walk or drive to the next spot. The only set up required is your photographer’s gear and any props you may be using.
Want a rain-soaked shot? How about something in the snow? It’s a pain in the butt to plan for, but shooting on location means Mother Nature can provide the waterworks. If you have a tight timeline and the right budget, you may still need to bring these elements yourself.
Some locations will require permits and permission to shoot there. This is usually cheaper than renting a studio, but tracking down the appropriate people can mean a lot of emails and phone calls.
It’s hard to control an on-location setting. You’re at the mercy of the weather, parking, other events, random bystanders, or a cop having an awful day. And if you’ve lived in Atlanta for more than a few months, you know it can be pretty unpredictable. Your photographer will need to plan for a lot more variables to ensure that your on-location session is successful.
Every time you move locations, you’ll have to pack up and then unpack all props and gear necessary for the session. Packing and unpacking aren’t awful, but carrying heavy stuff can get tiring. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it makes things more difficult. Consider getting a friend or asking your photographer to bring an assistant to help out!
Bringing multiple outfits to a session is already a chore. And as we bounce around Atlanta, we’re now carrying them too. It becomes a major struggle. A lot of planning is necessary to determine how to change clothes on location for your portraits. In a studio, you typically have a bathroom or a dedicated changing room available. Plus, someplace to hang your clothes.
I love shooting on location. To me, it adds unique constraints and obstacles that ultimately make the entire portrait session more rewarding. I also want all my images to tell a good story. As a result, 90% of my favorite shots to date were all done on location. That said, it may not be for you, and your session may be better suited for a studio. I highly recommend working with your photographer to figure out if your portrait session would be better suited for in-studio or on location.
Do you have other questions about taking portraits on location? Shoot me an email at email@example.com or reach out via my Contact Page. And if you’re interested in working together, get more information about my photography services.
There is an infinite number of options when it comes to shooting on location, all depending on the look and feel you want. Below are some of my favorites based on setting type in the Metro Atlanta area.
* Denotes a location that requires a permit
Images are from a brand portrait session with the hilarious tandem of Marilyn and Latesha from Mom & Daughter Chronicles
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