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 environment. To immerse viewers in your images, you need the right setting – find the right portrait location.
My Recommendations for Outdoor Atlanta Portrait Locations
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.
Old Fourth Ward Park
This park is an excellent combination of green with water features and modern industrial elements. The park is more like a series of elevated walkways over a large pond. The walkways are made of paved concrete with steel railings, and the walls are stacked with gray stone. Old Fourth Ward Park is a fantastic place to shoot because afterward, you can walk onto the Eastside Beltline or go to Ponce City Market!
If you’re reasonably familiar with the city of Atlanta, then you know about Piedmont Park. Located in east Midtown, it’s a beautiful combination of open fields of short grass, big trees surrounding various ponds and lakes, paved walkways, and architectural features like gorgeous stone steps and a gazebo & dock overlooking a large lake. There’s tons of variety here to work with, though parking can be challenging, and there’s almost always an event or festival. Scheduling is critical for this portrait location.
A series of small parks are tucked away into the neighborhoods of Ansley Park in east Midtown. My favorite of these is Winn Park, which feels incredibly secluded. There’s an open field surrounded by trees and a small pond with stone steps and lovely pathways. It’s one of my favorites for the fall season!
Atlanta Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens are one of my favorite spots in Atlanta. You’ve got incredible variety in architectural greenery, art installations, and nearly guaranteed outdoor beauty. You also get some stellar skyline views. It’s adjacent to Piedmont Park, so you can easily walk there after you’ve finished shooting at the Gardens. If you can, try to schedule a portrait session during winter when the evening light shows are truly spectacular. Photography sessions here do require a permit!
Located a few miles from Lenox Mall, this residential park has one of my all-time favorite seasonal features to photograph – cherry blossoms. Yes, Lenox Park is pretty and has some great trees, a stone bridge, and a terrific red telephone booth – but for about two weeks out of the year, it’s got some gorgeous cherry blossoms that line a stone stairway. It’s almost impossible to time since it changes every year, but if you are lucky enough – the images are stunning!
Rock Mill Park & The Greenway
Sprawling throughout Alpharetta is a beautiful trail called The Greenway. It’s a comprehensive, concrete paved path that meanders through woods and residential backyards for over a dozen miles. It’s charming, and you can get some great images if you’re okay with walking a bit. About halfway through the trail is Rock Mill Park, which has a small stone amphitheater and stone gazebos that are also fun for portraits. Bring bug spray for this one!
Gritty & Urban
Krog Street Market & Tunnel
If you like an industrial look to your images with some graffiti dabbled in, you can’t beat Krog Street Market and the infamous Krog Street Tunnel for portrait locations. The Market is a series of shops around a loop with some restaurants on the edges. You can get some exciting stuff outside, but the outside has the beat-up brick and metal that’s so appealing. The area is undergoing a lot of gentrification, so it’ll be interesting to see how long the original character lasts. Additionally, a short walk from the Market takes you to Krog Street Tunnel, an iconic underpass with every inch of every surface covered in graffiti that constantly changes. You can do some fun stuff with this spot, but do keep an eye on your valuables. I’ve heard of other photographers having their stuff stolen by the foot traffic (there’s a lot of it).
Ponce City Market
A renovated Sears distribution center, Ponce City Market, is a great place to spend a few hours, even if you’re not taking pictures. It’s routinely packed, but the brick, exposed metal, and occasional accents are gorgeous. There’s also variety in textures, so you can get a lot of different backgrounds to your images without having to move too much. Skyline Park is fabulous, though you need a permit to take pictures there (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information). Additionally, Ponce City Market does not allow for flash photography, so keep in mind that all your images will be natural light based!
Eastside Beltline Trail
The first installment of the Beltline, the Eastside Trail is currently a 3-mile stretch from Piedmont Park to Ponce City Market and off to Krog Street Market. As a portrait location, it’s got a lot of variety with buildings, restaurants, the main walkway, and art installments. It can be tricky to shoot here because it’s almost always packed with walkers, cyclists, and people on scooters, but if you can avoid the foot traffic – you can find tons of potential options for a shoot.
Old Fourth Ward Skate Park
The Old Fourth Ward Skate Park is located off the Eastside Beltline Trail. It’s a unique spot, and it’s not for all portraits, but it’s perfect if you need something with that style. Open to the public, with local bathrooms and free street parking; it’s a great access point to the Beltline.
Atlanta has a lot to offer. It’s got bright, modern, and beautiful new spaces, but don’t forget the grit and texture of older brick and stone. If you walk around Georgia State’s campus and near some of the federal buildings, you’ll find many great urban-looking portrait locations. You’ll need to walk around to find the right spot for your images, but there are endless options. Downtown Atlanta is one of the rougher areas, so keep valuables close and be mindful of your surroundings.
Modern City & Skylines
Pick a spot in Midtown Atlanta, and you’ll find some gorgeous architecture for portrait locations. There are little pockets all over for skyline views too, and there’s a ton of construction that’s updating the buildings. The High Museum and Fox Theatre areas have many modern-looking buildings, with the High being a glorious solid white construction. East Midtown has more to offer for modern buildings at the moment, but West Midtown is working hard to catch up.
Located in West Midtown, there’s been an explosion of development here since 2018. Westside Provisions is the original in the space and is one of my favorite portrait locations. Littered with shops, bars, and restaurants, you can’t go wrong for food, entertainment, shopping, or places to take pictures. It’s primarily concrete in construction, but there’s a lot of texture because of the different businesses with their flairs for branding. You’re best off parking in the deck behind Yeah! Burger, but you can also park across the street at the Interlock, a new modern construction with some cool spaces. Technically it would be best if you had a permit to photograph at Westside Provisions, but I haven’t been stopped yet. I think it’s because I haven’t brought along any flashes, though!
Similar to Ponce City Market but located in Alpharetta, Avalon is a live-work-play development that’s all outside. Loaded with shops and restaurants, it’s got a tremendous variety of architectural stylings, primarily in the modern family. I love shooting portraits at Avalon because there’s so much variety in backgrounds and textures. You can easily find a background or setting to match your desired look if you walk around a bit. Parking is free, but you need a permit to shoot at Avalon (contact info here). I also recommend going on a Sunday morning to beat the foot traffic!
Another area similar to Ponce City Market and Avalon, Downtown Duluth has a little more stone and brick than Avalon but is gorgeous and sprawling. The walkways are wide, and there’s a train track to work with if desired. There’s also some green space by the city center, but the main shopping area is where the great spots are located. Especially near Good Word Brewing!
Ventanas is one of the most incredible event spaces in Atlanta. It’s located on the top two floors of a Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Atlanta and covers about 10,000 square feet of stunning views. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor patio allow you to see the entire skyline in epic splendor, and you can go to the helicopter pad on the roof for an even better view. You can see all the way to Kennesaw Mountain! It’s an expensive space requiring a permit for portrait photography, but it’s an incredible experience. It’s considered one of the premier wedding venues in Atlanta.
Honestly, Georgia Tech could fit into multiple categories for portrait locations. The campus was first built in 1885, so it has some older, gothic-style architecture on the east and parts of the southern campus, but the newer buildings on the west and north campuses are exquisite modern designs. The main campus takes about 20 minutes to walk across, and there are infinite pockets and spots to find great portrait locations. Tech is also one of the greenest campuses in the country, so you’ll have a strong balance of city architecture with green space. Additionally, Tech Square is located across the highway from the main campus (still walkable) and is purely modern architecture. You’ve also got pockets of excellent skyline views, including the top of the parking deck at the Tech Hotel. There are paid visitor parking spots around campus, and you probably won’t be allowed inside any buildings without a current student or staff member escorting you. Still, there’s more than enough to enjoy outside.
Centennial Olympic Park
A vast, open space in downtown Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park is framed by the city, making for some stellar skyline and cityscape views. The park is next to the World of Coke museum and GA Aquarium, so you can do some touristy stuff when you’re done with your portrait session. There are hardly any trees, but you can find open green space and the fountain, creating fantastic photo opportunities if you want to get creative. Parking is all on the local streets, so have that planned before you show up!
Skylines (My Secret Spots)
I’ve got a handful of spots for great skyline portraits, but I keep them secret so they don’t get overrun with other photographers and their clients! If you ever choose to work with me as your portrait photographer, I’ll be happy to provide options depending on the skyline view you want.
Historical & Brick Cities
I love this space. The city of Alpharetta did a great job building on the historic look and feel of the area and added some modern elements and green space. Downtown Alpharetta is mostly brick with some older-looking buildings for that textured look, but the recent construction has some modern features that provide a great variety of backgrounds. There’s a small garden with a fountain next to the public library that is cute and a small park that’s stunning in the spring and summer months behind it. The area is entirely walkable, which is lovely. I recommend parking in the parking deck next to the public library!
Essentially a single strip of road with shops and restaurants lining it with a few cross streets, Downtown Roswell is absolutely charming. The stretch is very walkable with lots of sidewalk space, and has tons of grass, flowers, and trees adorning it as well. The buildings are brick, almost taking a cue from an older french city. Downtown Roswell is great if you want portraits in and around shops and stores. It has been a great engagement session spot for me. Parking can be tricky, with most spaces dedicated to specific stores, though there are one or two public parking lots. Lastly, you will need a permit for any photography in the city of Roswell, with options for a day or year pass.
City of Savannah
You can’t go wrong with the City of Savannah for a portrait location. As a history nerd, I fell in love as a tourist. The old city is gorgeous with gothic architecture, expansive parks littering the city, and those big trees with Spanish moss. You can also take a short trip to any old plantations to take advantage of those long, tree-lined drives that look so good. And if you somehow need something different, Tybee Island and its beaches are a 40-minute drive east. Forsyth Park is one of my favorite spots in Savannah, but you really can’t go wrong anywhere.
Downtown Decatur is a fun mix of clean lines with older buildings of stone and brick. The area is eclectic, and so are the people! It’s a very vibrant area, with lots of bars and restaurants to provide great backgrounds with their neon lighting. The historic courthouse is a popular wedding venue, with the outside grounds providing great portrait opportunities too. There are patches of trees and grass, but the buildings are where the texture comes from. There are plenty of paid parking lots, and the area is very walkable. I like Downtown Decatur as a similar option to Downtown Alpharetta but on the south side of the city.
Agnes Scott College
Founded in 1889 and located a few miles south of Downtown Decatur, this venue is stunning for its gothic architecture. Agnes Scott College has beautiful buildings and green spaces to pick from. The entrance lawn is a favorite of mine for portraits. I’ve shot a few weddings here too, and it never fails to impress. The combination of brick, stone, and greenery is lovely, and there are many spots to create a great portrait.
I hate parking here. Yes, that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this area, and I’m not sorry! Once you get past that nightmare, Marietta Square is lovely. The buildings are older, following the old brick and stone construction trend. The central park is cute and offers some green space, with shops and restaurants framing it with vertical surfaces. The sidewalks are large, and the storefronts are all cute and picturesque. It’s a lovely place for a stroll and grab a bite to eat or enjoy the Strand Theater!
I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Downtown Woodstock as a portrait location. Old-style brick masonry dominates the buildings, and it’s really charming. The space is very walkable, and many public parking lots exist. I like this venue for “lifestyle” or engagement sessions because it has that cute, small-town feel while still being genuinely modern in offerings. There are also some outstanding restaurants if you want to grab a bite after your portrait session. It’s also well decorated for the winter months if you want some festive cheer in your images!
Mountains & Fields
A truly unique park, Arabia Mountain covers a vast area of land. The best-known site of the park is a stone and granite field with occasional trees and bushes dotted throughout the landscape. Trees surround the entire area, so it’s pretty cool. With the proper lighting, it can almost give a post-apocalyptic look. I say this after doing some very romantic engagement photos here too! The park is open so long as there is daylight, with a parking lot at the main entrance. Bring comfortable walking shoes for your portrait session! You can always change into snazzy ones once you’ve found the right spot.
If you have ever dreamed of pictures in front of a classic white barn with a golden field of tall grass, then Vaughters Barn is your portrait location. Just what it sounds like, Vaughters Barn covers over 100 acres. A working farm until 2002 when it was donated to Dekalb county, it’s an idyllic location for that classic, southern look. Parking is located across the street, and there are no public bathrooms. Bring lots of bug spray in the summer! It’s also a trendy spot, so be ready for other photography projects to happen simultaneously.
The hike is fantastic, but so are the fields at the base of Kennesaw Mountain. Not as much tall grass as Vaughters Barn, but you get the benefit of the mountain backdrop here. Additionally, the log fencing adds a certain charm to the images. The base of the hiking trail for the mountain is relatively flat, so you can get some forest-looking pictures as well! Parking is challenging on the weekends, even with an overflow lot. There are bathrooms at the visitor center.
Roswell Mill & Vickery Creek
Tucked away down a hill and just a few blocks from the downtown area, Roswell Mill is a stunning portrait location. There’s a large, incredibly photogenic bridge along with some of the adjacent walking trails. Take the path far enough on either side of the bridge, and you’ll end up at a waterfall along Vickery Creek. Families and engagement photos are popular here, and the location can get pretty busy with regular foot traffic and other photographers. As part of the city of Roswell, you’ll need a photo permit to shoot at the Mill and Creek.
Sope Creek Park
Possibly one of my favorite parks for portraits, Sope Creek Park is unique because of an old, burned-down paper mill that’s open to walking around. It’s a 15-minute hike to the ruins, so bring comfortable shoes to walk in! Additionally, there are no private areas to change or go to the bathroom once you’re at the mill. You’ll need to plan accordingly (like bringing a portable changing tent). Keep in mind that the hike isn’t terrible unless you carry a lot of clothing or photography gear. There’s no permit required to shoot at Sope Creek Park, but there is paid parking that fills up very quickly on lovely days.
Why Location Matters
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.
Importing Locations is Expensive
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.
Downsides to Portrait Locations
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.
Lack of Predictability
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!
Finding Places to Change Clothes
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 portrait photography services.