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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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• 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.

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• 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.

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• 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.

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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:


Need help with posing seniors?  Check out the MCP Senior Posing Guides, filled with tips and tricks for photographing high school seniors.


No Comments

  1. Amanda on April 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Thanks for this! Great advice for any shoot!So I have a kind of dumb question, I have never done a senior shoot and am wondering what the basics are with these as far as, what time of year they are done, what the pics are used for, ( is it invites, announcements etc.?) what the expectations are of a “senior shoot” to the families….?would love to hear the basic jist of it!

  2. Kristen Scott on April 28, 2009 at 10:22 am

    This was an awesome article!

  3. danielle on April 28, 2009 at 10:30 am

    great post!

  4. Jessica on April 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for that awesome post!! I was just discussing this last night with my sister as to why I cant just shoot at a garden and thats it. I NEED variety and other close areas by as options…I am so glad someone gets it!! Haha..thanks again and I will definitely check out your blog 🙂

  5. stacey on April 28, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Great post, Sandi! Thanks so much!

  6. Sarah on April 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Awesome advise! Thanks for all your great tips. I am loving all your work…thanks for sharing it with us!

  7. Tira J on April 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you so much Sandi, for answering my question and for your knowledge. I took your advice about finding a location and not being shy a few weeks ago and it was so amazing and I can’t wait to go back. You rock!

  8. Kelda on April 28, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Perfect timing! I’m about to go scout out locations! Thanks Sandi!

  9. SandraC on April 28, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks for the tips! There is one thing I’m wondering about…..dirt….looking at these pics, you have them sitting on the ground, in old rusty wagons, back alleys, junk piles etc. These places are usually not that clean, not even remotely. So how do you handle that, do you carry a broom and some sanity towels with you?

  10. Heidi on April 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Great article! So much helpful information, and words to be inspired by. Thank you for sharing. I love doing senior photos. There is so much desire to be cool oozing out of every teenage pore that being able to capture that and make them proud of their photos is so fun and rewarding. Your examples were BEAUTIFUL!

  11. char on April 28, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks for answering my question! I am quite inspired by you and your gorgeous work! I would love a little info on your post processing! Do you custom edit all the images your client sees or only the one they order prints of? As we all know editing is time consuming and I am always struggling how to efficiently manage this part of the work flow! How many images do you give your clients?Thanks again, Sandi!!

  12. Shelly Frische on April 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I too would like to know how many images you give client and if they are edited at 1st sight for client

  13. ashley on April 29, 2009 at 12:29 am

    ditto on how many pics you usually take and how many proofs you provide to the senior. I am also intrigued with your post processing and can’t wait to hear details on how to get the grungeish look.thanks, great post.

  14. gina on April 29, 2009 at 1:46 am

    great post, sandi!!

  15. Diane - DB Impressions on April 29, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Great tips Jodi! Thank you again for sharing with all of us!

  16. Holly on April 29, 2009 at 11:43 am

    This is great information…and its nice to hear that I am not the only person that scouts for places to take pictures. My kids love to come with me and we will lose track of time just driving around and checking places out. Thanks for everything you do and give.

  17. Christopher on April 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    What a great post! Thanks

  18. ttexxan on April 30, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Great advice!! For guys its hard to take clients out alone without parents…Clients that are guys are one thing but females we always have mom or dad along!! As for locations we have the same taste in mind!!! The more urban the better…We have even started shooting in old Junk Yards!! Fav place of all!! We are just getting started this year with seniors but find many season photographers asking about our locations…Mums the word in our circle..

  19. Andrew on August 31, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Wow! Really awesome post… Scouting is actually my favorite thing to do because, like you said, when something inspires me I start getting all excited and think of so many awesome ideas for a shoot. Inspiration makes me a whole different person LOL

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