Love to Know: How to Choose Your Photo Session Location
This is one of my actual favorite questions to answer: “Where should we do our engagement session?”, “Where do you usually do these things?”, and all its variants. I like to answer this question so much because it’s a different answer for every client. If we’re talking about it in person, my first answer is always the standard answer-a-question-with-a-question move: “What do you have in mind?” Some people have ideas, some people don’t. Either way, no worries! Choosing a location for your photo session is a collaborative process between you and your photographer, and I am here to provide some handy-dandy tips to help you pick the right spot for you!
Above all else, remember: Talk to your photographer! We are your allies in this process. We would love for you to bounce ideas off us, talk through a crazy elaborate scheme, plan some fun styling, anything you’ve got. This will always be the central point in any of my Love to Know posts: Talk to us! We like you and we’re here to help.
So where to begin when choosing a location for your session? Start by considering…:
What kind of session are you having?
The first determining factor is often the kind of session you’re planning. Boudoir sessions don’t often take place outdoors; neither do newborn sessions. Families with small children may want to consider a more controlled environment with minimal distractions. If you’re having a Love the Dress session of any kind, or a newlywed session, you may need space to change; ditto if you’re planning an outfit change into an engagement or other love session.
Once you’ve considered the limitations determined by the type of session you’re planning, think about my first, best, and biggest advice:
What is a meaningful, special place to you?
That’s right, folks—I’m bringing out the big guns early in the game. For me, this should always be your first consideration when thinking about where to take your photos. There is nothing better for a photo
session location than a place that has some special, personal meaning: The park where he proposed. The restaurant where you had your first date. Your Friday night pizza joint. Maybe you met working at a movie theater—return to that theater (or any theater!) for your engagement photos. Do you love going wine tasting together? Consider a session in a local vineyard. Love hiking? Take your photographer along your favorite trail. Did you bond over your obsession with your college sports team? Return to campus—and to the stadium/arena/field if you can!—for your session.
Any place that has personal significance adds an extra depth to the photos themselves. Think about it: Ten years down the road, you’ve moved across the country for a new job opportunity. (Congratulations!) You’re finally getting around to unpacking and putting up your photos in your new home, and you’ve come to your favorite photo from your engagement session all those years ago. Your oldest child asks you where the picture was taken. You tell her about your favorite coffee shop, how you and your partner used to camp out on Saturdays during grad school, a constant stream of lattes coming your way while you did research and wrote papers, enjoying spending time together however you could because you were both so busy. You spent countless weekends there studying, and so you took your engagement photos there so you could always remember it. It’s a great story to tell, and it’s meaningful to her because it’s meaningful to you—way more meaningful than it would be if it were just a photo in front of some pretty flowers, right?
Another useful consideration to entertain?
How will you use the photos?
Think about your intentions for using the resulting images from your session. (Here’s a big, not-so-secret secret about your photographers: We want you to use your photos! In any way! Really!) For your engagement photos, do you plan to use them for Save the Dates? on your wedding website? in a cute guestbook? to display around the wedding? If you’re planning a family session, are these going to be Christmas card photos? Do you need to update some displays around the house? Are you making a big family announcement?
Consider tailoring the location of your shoot to the images’ eventual purpose. For example: You are having a carnival-themed wedding.
(First of all, awesome, call me, I want to photograph your wedding, please.) You intend to use your engagement session images to create a photo guest book, as well as displaying the images at each of the rad carnival games you plan to have at the reception. Maybe you’re going to use the photos to make sweet sticker decals for your popcorn bags. (You guys, I’m getting super psyched for this imaginary carnival wedding.) In this case, consider having your engagement session at the local carnival when it rolls through town, or at an amusement park nearby. Consistent theme, and, bonus! you get some new ideas for your wedding.
Extended examples aside, considering the end result for your photos can help you choose a location. If you plan to display a large print from the engagement session at a formal, religious wedding with your ultra-conservative family in attendance, intimate swimsuit-clad beach portraits? Not your friend.
If you can’t nail down a concrete purpose for your photos, NBD; start somewhere else:
How do you want your photos to look?
Planning the style of your photos can help as much as considering their purpose. This is where thinking about your personal style is important: You don’t want photos in a location that just doesn’t feel like you! If you are a country family who goes four-wheeling together every Saturday, take your photographer along next time. Are you a
self-identified hipster couple? Consider planning the session at your favorite coffee shop or microbrewery. If you like more of an urban vibe, head downtown to hang among the high-rises. Country guys and gals will feel more at home in a big, open field (and possibly on a tractor…) than among industrial brick or in a botanical garden, so find that field!
No matter what you identify as your personal style, it’s important that the aesthetic of your session locale feel authentic. If you’re in a setting in which you’re not as comfortable as possible, any discomfort you may be feeling will show up in the photos. It’s important to be true to your own style! (Which is yet another reason that a personally meaningful location can be so important.)
(*An important subpoint to this: If you are shy or agoraphobic, have social anxiety or any other indicator that makes you uncomfortable around large groups of people, first of all, talk to us so we can discuss how we can make you feel more comfortable in front of our cameras. Secondly, consider little frequented or remote locations, places where there are likely to be few or no people. Also consider an at-home session—we will gladly come to you!*)
If none of this helps you narrow down a location or two, or if nothing stands out…
Eh—NBD. We like taking photos in front of pretty flowers, too! They are fun to take, and nothing adds bold color like a blooming flower bed.
Or maybe you and your partner just couldn’t agree on one activity or place (or two) that has key significance to your relationship. Maybe you’re out-of-towners. Maybe you’re extreme homebodies (what up, sis!) who nevertheless want a natural-light photo session. This is all totally cool. If nothing stands out to you, ask us for suggestions! In addition to having a list of fail-safe locations at the ready, your photographer might have some locations in mind in which he or she has been dying to shoot. (I know I always do!) Take the list and pick the place you like best. Easy-peasy.
Separate but related note: Keep in mind that some locations, regardless of their categorization, may require permits, reservations, reservation fees, or membership. Generally, your photographer can tell you which places fall under these umbrellas, and you can decide to steer clear or proceed accordingly.
Hopefully now, you all feel equipped to go out into the world (or onto the internet…) and choose the absolute perfect photo session location for you. Any big questions I missed? Have a great location in mind? Been somewhere and loved it, think it’d be perfect for photo shoots? Let me know in the comments!