Keep It Simple
It’s a natural impulse to look for a stunning location for your shoot, but it’s not always the best move for a portrait. You want the focus to be on your subject, and often a beautiful background can be more distracting than flattering. Save these special spots for photo shoots of their own and find something more background-suitable for your portraits.
Get Your Money’s Worth
Look for spots that have a lot of different looks to offer. Your field of vision in a portrait is usually fairly small, so you’re never seeing a lot of background at once. That means that even within a very small area you can find many, many “mini locations” simply by repositioning your subject, changing the angle, or taking a few steps to the side. Places that have a lot going on and different kinds of visual interest can offer you the most “mileage” as you can zoom in for a simple backdrop but still give yourself lots of options without traveling to a whole new location.
Because of that small frame, portrait locations can often be found in the most unlikely locations. A single tree and a patch of grass in a parking lot can give the impression of somewhere lush and wild if you frame it right. You’ll have to train your eye to pick out little spots of beauty that you would otherwise dismiss for their surroundings. Remember, you can shape the landscape with creative framing every bit as much as the landscape shapes your shot.
Take Test Shots
Often you’ll see things you missed before when you get behind your trusty lens. You should have a good idea of the location — possible compositions, where the light comes from, what works and what doesn’t — before you ever bring a subject on set. Plus, your test shots will be invaluable when you get home and realize that all the different locations you looked at are starting to blur together.
Thanks to modern technology, we don’t have to walk all around the city or even drive all across the countryside anymore to find the perfect spot! It’s a big world out there, so don’t be afraid to use a few tools to help you narrow down your search. Panoramio crowdsources user photos of locations so that you can view images of almost anywhere from your kitchen table and test a place out before you commit to making the trek out to see it in person. For something a little more in depth, try a fantastic app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Once you have a location in mind, this nifty tool can give you the lay of the land with details on the terrain and ground elevation. You can even input the time of day that you expect to be there and get data on the exact angle of the sun (and moon!) at that time. Along with the elevation, this can give you a sense of the sunny and shady spots in the area.