Want to learn how to find great locations for senior photography?
Hi MCP Actions readers! I’m Sandi Bradshaw of Treasure the Time Photography. And I am so excited to be back here and to be sharing more ideas with you on working with seniors! Today I have some things to share with you regarding finding great locations…and at the end of this post, I will also answer a few of the questions that were left in the comments section of my last post.
Just how important are great locations for senior sessions? I have a mixed response to this. I believe that location can have a profound effect on the success of a session, but I also believe that as professionals we need to develop the ability to be creative and resourceful in most any environment…and use that creativity in order to make what’s available to us work. We won’t always find ourselves in the perfect location or setting, and some are certainly better than others, but one thing that I believe is important for every photographer to do regularly is to look for the possibilities in every setting.
With that said…I have three criteria that need to be met in order for me to consider a location “great”. The first is simple…I need to feel inspired. It’s the single most important thing that I look for in a location. You know the places…the ones where you arrive and you become overwhelmed with possibilities…you imagine shots…you envision beautiful images…you feel confident. It almost doesn’t matter whether the setting flows with your clients clothing choices or “style”…you just know that you can make it work because you feel it. That’s the most important factor for me. I search those locations out. Literally. I go on scouting drives…dragging my kids along for the fun! I typically take a few square miles and I explore the square…looking for unique places that inspire me. For me, those types of locations typically lean more toward an urban style. That’s what inspires me…but, it may not be what inspires you. I believe it’s so important to know where your inspiration derives from and to embrace that as often as you can.
The second factor me for in searching for great locations is variety. This applies to all sessions, but particularly to senior sessions. When you have only one subject in a session it’s important to keep variety in your setting. It helps showcase the individual by showing them in a variety of scenarios…and it also creates a much more interesting image gallery for your client. My favorite locations are the ones that are unique and offer a variety of color, texture, and lighting situations. Remember that you can take several VERY different images by rotating around your subject…or by turning your subject to face a different direction.
I also have several favorite “spots” that do not make for great overall locations. One of them is this amazing trailer that my husband and I found while scouting one morning…I love everything about it…the way the light hits it at sundown, the gorgeous color, and the fabulous texture…I feel inspired every time I am there, but it is not a great location for conducting a whole session. So…I work around that by finding other spots that are close enough to walk to or drive quickly to that provide more variety for the session. Don’t neglect to use a spot just because you can’t shoot an entire session there…just find some other workable spots nearby…don’t be afraid to jump back in the car!
My third criteria for a “great” location is whether it is unique. That may mean unique to me…or unique in general. I get bored with locations easily…and you probably do too. I think that as artists we are constantly looking for inspiration…and it’s hard to feel inspired when you are shooting the same things over and over. I recently took a client to a location that I have probably shot at least 30 times. Creatively speaking, I was dreading the session. However, my client specifically requested the location and I knew that I needed to pull myself out of my rut prior to the session in order to give her the best session I possibly could. This location has become quite a common spot for local photographers near me…but I wanted to “see” it differently this time. So, instead of walking my normal route and stopping at the same spots that I always stop at…I promised myself that I would not use any of the same backdrops that I typically used…and I would walk a completely different direction than I normally do. THIS was just what I needed to see this old, tired, boring location as a unique spot once again. Walking a different route allowed me to see the light hitting areas in a new way rather than the predictable way that I was used to…and my commitment to not shooting any of my normal spots forced me to be creative in this location again and caused me to see things much differently than I had grown accustomed to. This old spot is now “unique” to me again…for now anyway!
There is something to be said for staying away from the traditional spots that other photographers tend to use and overuse. I actually have a couple of locations that I’ve never shot at that I have vowed to never shoot at because they have been so overused. I want my clients to come to me for a unique experience…not something that every other photographer is offering. I’ve been asked my opinion on sharing locations as well…and in my opinion this is an area to tread lightly in. I think that there can be a lot to be gained by a network of photographers who are willing to share some of the more common locations with each other…especially when you may be working in an unfamiliar area and you don’t know what the area has to offer…but when you find those little treasures that offer you everything you’re looking for…don’t feel bad keeping it to yourself. It’s bound to be discovered at some point, but you don’t have to be the catalyst for that.
So…in principal…those are the things that make for a great location for senior sessions. However, I understand that many people…while they appreciate the principal…really want the practical! So…here are some practical suggestions for finding great senior locations:
• Don’t be afraid to ask! If you see a location that you feel inspired by…don’t be shy! Ask the owners of the property (even if it’s personal property) if you can use their location for a session or two. Most will be flattered. I’ve done some of my favorite sessions ever simply because I asked. The worst they can say is no…but they might say YES!
• Look for lots of texture. There is so much that you can do to enhance the look of an image that offers a lot of texture.
• Look for special lighting. A location may look mundane until you see it in brilliant lighting…so be sure that you are scouting locations near the time of day that you are most likely to be shooting.
• See beyond what your eyes see. Look for what the images you take at a location can become…not just what they are straight out of the camera. Look at the possibilities that a location offers.
• Look for color…a variety of color. Ask yourself how the color compliments your subject…their eyes, their clothing, their style. If your subject is dressed in bold colors and patterns then look for a more subdued background, but if your subject is dressed more simply, then look for a background that will add depth and color to your image.
• Look at the details. Sometimes a location may not look appealing on a grand scale, but take a smaller look. Do you see anything in the details that appeals to you?
Alleys, behind buildings, worn wood, parking garages, swampy or lake areas, old vehicles, abandoned buildings, downtown areas, retail areas, overgrown weeds or brush, wheat fields, interesting doorways, and farms all make great senior locations.
Now…to answer a few questions from the previous post comments…
Char asked how long a typical session lasts, how many locations, and if I help dress/style seniors for their shoots.
A typical senior session for me lasts about an hour. I shoot seniors faster than child and family sessions. I offer two senior session types and both are on location. One allows for 1 location and the other for 2. The seniors that choose two locations are typically ones that what a very urban look to some of their images and a very traditional, green and grassy look to others. This is usually because mom and dad want the traditional option and the senior wants a more modern urban look. I’m happy to do both, but my preference is always urban. And…yes, I do help as much as I can with styling seniors. I usually consult with them by email or phone as to what they’ll be wearing…many of my senior clients will even email me snapshots of their clothes choices. I love that! Most of them show up with a suitcase of options and I help them pull together what will photograph the best.
Tira asked about what to do if there is another photographer in your area who is also doing a senior rep program.
There will be. It’s a very common practice. This is where your work and your style needs to stand out as unique and also where you need to just really connect with your reps and your potential clients. You won’t be the photographer for everyone, but that’s okay! If your reps are excited about you and your studio then they will be very instrumental in getting others excited about you too!
Kelda asked if parents usually come with the seniors on the shoots.
Yep! They do. I don’t mind the moms tagging along. Most of the time I feel like I know the moms pretty well by the date of the session. However, in my senior prep information that my clients receive I do tell the parents and the seniors that I prefer that mom not follow us around during the entire session because I do like for the images to be a surprise to mom…and I also know that most seniors are much more relaxed, comfortable, and “themselves” if mom is not there watching the whole time. Moms are so great…but, they do tend to worry a lot about things that aren’t terribly important in the outcome of the shot…such as a stray hair or a slight wrinkle in a skirt.
Many people asked questions about products and marketing that will be covered in upcoming posts. I would love to be able to answer some more questions next time as well…so please feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can. Thanks again ya’ll…and Jodi…for having me! And please feel free to come visit me at my blog: http://www.treasurethetime.com/blog.