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Every photo has a background and more often than not this is largely dictated by the location that the photo is shot in; and so selecting a good location for your photo shoot is fundamental to achieving the results you envisioned.
The location of a photo will inevitably form an integral part of the narrative of the photo and in many cases, such as a landscape or street photography, it is the story! So getting it right in the planning phase of your project is essential.
Practical Considerations For Selecting A Location.
The following factors should be considered prior to selecting the location.
The time of day.
Depending on what time of day you are shooting there are things you’ll need to take into account. The most important thing that the time of day will impact on is the lighting of the shoot.
At midday the sun will be overhead, the light will be harsher and the short shadows will be difficult to work with. If you’re working with models the bright midday sunlight can be a little unforgiving and if you’re shooting landscapes then it gives you less to work with in terms of shadows and contrast.
In most cases the ideal time to shoot if you’re relying on natural light is during the Golden Hour – which is the hour after sunrise and the hour or so before sunset. The light has a lovely mellow hue that brings out the best in models and the landscape.
However, you can work with the light at any time of the day provided you are aware of it and take it into account in your planning.
How much equipment do you need?
One of the most practical considerations that you need to make is related to your equipment. How are you going to get it to the location? If you need to use a car, is there parking nearby?
If you need a lot of equipment, including for instance costumes for models, multiple cameras and even props, then the locations where you can shoot will be, at least in part, determined by this very basic factor. Alternatively if you are only using a camera, and perhaps a tripod, then you are much freer to choose less accessible sites for your photoshoot.
Is the location safe?
There are some places which are not safe to shoot and these should be avoided, particularly since your equipment might be quite expensive. Certain locations in cities are dangerous to wander into with a camera slung over your shoulder, even in the day time. Equally, it’s worth being careful if you’re planning to climb up steep rock faces or cliffs along the sea shore to get that perfect shot of the sunset!
How To Choose A Location For A Photo – What Kind of Photo Are You Taking?
The kind of location that you chose will influence the entire look and feel of the photos but this will be contingent on the type of shoot you’re doing.
Finding Portrait Photo Locations
- Try to make use of the natural light. This will mean keeping an eye on the weather, choosing a time of day that fits your shoot and making sure to use the sun and its shadows to your advantage.
- It’s usually a good idea to shoot near to some shelter, even if that’s only your car! If the weather turns and you’re miles from the nearest shelter in a rainstorm not only will you get wet but your equipment could get damaged.
- A quiet spot without too many passers by is generally the best place for portrait photos unless you are planning to use a crowded city street or a busy site like a train station for effect.
- In a portrait photo the subject should always be the main focus on the image so try to choose a location that won’t distract from the model.
Finding Landscape Photo Locations
- Explore once you arrive. You might have found a great site but take the time to check out other angles of the same view. While you are exploring keep an eye out for things you can frame the image with, such as an interesting tree trunk, an abandoned farm building or a bridge.
- Be inspired – look at the work of others to get new ideas. You should always be studying the work of others, not only to pick up tips and techniques but also to mine for new inspiration and ideas.
- Make a bucket list of the places you would love to photo. When you’re making a bucket list it’s worth having two lists – one with places you could visit on a day trip and the other which is more ambitious and might require travelling to the other side of the world!
- Finding themes and building on them. If you’ve been having success with coastal photography then find more parts of the coastline to explore. As you focus on a specific genre you’ll naturally develop your own strong style, learn what to look for and become more adept at the whole process.
Street Photography Locations
- Night time shooting presents an exciting array of lights in the city and can be one of the best times of day for street photography. Not only do the high rise buildings offer interesting possibilities but the buzzing life around restaurants and bars creates a perfect backdrop for action photography.
- Tell a story in your work. Photos of street vendors, homeless people and commuters all speak of a unique way to live within the city and sometimes a single photo really can say more than a thousand words!
- Urban exploration is key to keeping your street photography interesting and fresh. Unless you’re working on a specific project then try to keep moving, follow your feet and your instincts and go to new places when you can.
- Travelling light is crucial for street photography. Generally speaking you don’t want to have a huge expensive camera, and often even your phone will be okay. It’s a good idea to take some water or a few snacks with you but the last thing you want is bags of equipment as you make your way around the city.
Pro Advice For Photo Location Selection
- Does the site suit your shoot? If you can use the location and the environment of your shoot to add to the subject matter then you can really build on the depth of the composition and enhance the narrative within the image. For example, if you were looking for a great location for a bohemian fashion photo shoot you might want to find an inner city street with brick walls, interesting features in the architecture and possibly some street furniture that the models can use in their poses for the photos.
- Branding – Professional Photoshoots for a Company. If you’re doing a photoshoot for a branded company then the setting of the photos will need to be in line with the brand’s overall image. An outdoor shoes company would not want photos taken in an office and so you’d need to venture to some rocky terrain, a forest or somewhere that shows the shoes in active use! One of the most valuable assets of any company is the brand that they have built up over time and so making sure that you select a location that is not only in line with their brand but actually develops it further will mean you deliver above expectations in your photo shoot.
- Overhead cover and lighting: When you’re selecting a location you can make good use of overhead cover; and whether that’s a market stall or a canopy of trees it opens up new opportunities for your work. Within the city you can use overhead cover to channel and diffuse light, create strongly contrasting shadows and an enclosed sense of space. In a forest, or a park, you can use the canopy of trees and dappled light underneath to make charming portraits with a spring time feel that is bubbling with energy and movement.
- The dominant color or color scheme of the environment: When selecting a location, especially if you’re shooting portraits or street photography, pay close attention to the color scheme of the dominant colors of the site. You can use complimentary colors just as well as contrasting ones but make sure that you are aware of it. However, not everything works. For a portrait photo shoot you want to avoid background colors that take away from your subject’s clothes and make them melt into the scenery! On the other hand you can use the background color to compliment your subject and the meaning of the photo. A popular location for pre marriage photoshoots, for example, is a meadow with wildflowers growing in it. The meadows full of bright flowers symbolizes, at least subconsciously, new life and beginnings and will not only compliment your subject in a visual sense but also in terms of the narrative of the photo.
- Variety: When you’re choosing a site for your photoshoot it can be very helpful if there’s a good variety of options available within a relatively small area. Different backdrops in different directions make it much easier to produce interesting photo shoots without having to travel in between shots. A portrait photo shoot in a park overlooking the city for instance can open up many options. From one angle your subject could have the park with trees behind them and then in the opposite way you could have the city stretching out behind them!
Selecting a Location for a Photo – Summary.
It’s very important to get the location for your photo shoot right because it plays such an integral role in the whole composition. When you are selecting a site try to make it as meaningful and interconnected with the subject of your shoot as you can, either in a contrasting or complimentary way.
In certain situations your subject or the style of photo shoot will largely determine the type of locations that you can use but within that there are still important decisions to be made. While you are planning a shoot never overlook the practical considerations that can make all the difference and help make your vision a success.
How do you go about selecting a location for your photographs?
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