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What Makes a Great Portrait Location?

Sometimes, when I am on location, I see something so interesting it needs to be photographed. But my timing--particularly during a wedding--is not all about me! I can’t endlessly steal away the couple from our timeline to run off and explore every cool nook with that awesome lighting. I remember on my own wedding day, all I really wanted was to get back to the party with all my friends and family. We didn’t spend that extra time shooting some romantic portraits, and those are really the only ones I would have wanted to print and hang on the wall. I am used to working on a deadline, and when I get that gut feeling about a special location, it is worth spending an extra 60 seconds for an unplanned artistic shot. My job is to balance my urge to take 3 million beautiful photos, with the couple's need to have both beautiful portraits as well as precious time celebrating with family and friends.

Whether I’m shooting a wedding or a portrait session, some of the portrait locations surprise my clients. They look around and while they might be too polite to say what they’re thinking (Uh...Kim, there’s a gross garbage can right over there, or, Ummm...Why are we in the parking lot?), I can tell they aren’t totally sold. A lot of times, less experienced photographers are looking for beautiful things to include in their compositions: flowers, trees, interesting architecture. And I totally do the same, but only after the lighting is figured out. The first thing I do when scouting a location to take a kickass portrait is find the light. While a cloudy day produces nice and soft diffuse light, that doesn’t mean that plunking your subject into any orientation will automatically produce an awesome photo. Light is a thing. It has direction. It bounces off light surfaces, and is absorbed into dark ones. As a photographer, I have to consider where the light is coming from and what it is doing around the subject, in order to take the best photo.

The portrait above was one of the last photos we took during this portrait session. We were literally heading to the car to leave, and in the parking lot I saw this stand of cedars. Becca was facing into the very unpretty parking lot, but that snow-covered pavement acted as a natural reflector, bouncing light back up onto her face to fill in the shadows.

Here is another unplanned photo from this session:

This is a rusty door on a beautiful stone building we were using for our portraits. This is an instance of tightening the crop in order to highlight something specific. Shooting this from a wider zoom, which included the building as well as the door, seemed to make the door look shabbier. There was a lot of chipped paint around the door frame that made it look really rough. Doing a closer crop highlights the richness of the rust colour, without the context of being old. Up close, the rusty metal door gives a lovely glow, and again, the snow underfoot acts as a natural reflector. I chose this overall location for all the big beauty that the park has, but the photos I loved the most came from abandoning all those ideas of "pretty backdrop stuff" and focusing (pun!) on the light!

Cool, hey?

Now go out and take some photos!

♥️ ke


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