3 tips to find portrait locations in the most unlikely of places

Feb 6, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

3 tips to find portrait locations in the most unlikely of places

Feb 6, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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For me, finding portrait locations is fairly easy. But most of my shoots are in rural locations and I am able to pick locations well in advance. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury. I’ve experienced that, too. You find yourself in a town or city with a subject, and no particular location planned.

So, you have to use your wits to find somewhere on the spot, even in what might initially appear to be the least photogenic of places. This video from the folks at Mango Street offers up three tips to help you find locations while you’re out and about.

YouTube video

It’s an interesting little video, with good advice. In fact, the even when I go to shoot out in the middle of nowhere wilderness, I’m keeping those same things in my mind, too.

  • Colour & texture
  • Light
  • Interactivity

In rural areas, your colours are often brown, green, grey and maybe blue. In urban areas, there can be a whole host of colours in the environment. There can also be a lot of them packed into a real small space.  At first, they might not look really all that special. In fact, there might be a number of things that make you immediately discount it.

But, don’t be so quick to write off such a location. If you’re shooting black & white, the colour isn’t going be as important, but the brightness and contrast is. As is the texture. The light coming in at a 45 degree angle on the right provides a nice contrast. The blue with the grey floor also works well together. Although, the colours will depend on what your subject’s wearing, too.

Interactivity isn’t something I often think about in my own work, but it does come up occasionally. Sometimes I want my subject seated on a particular part of the environment. Or holding something in their hands. I’m not sure the railing thing works for me and what I like to shoot, but it’s a good example of having your subject interact with their environment.

Ultimately, what’s going to make a good shoot location is going to depend on the look you’re after. Whether urban or rural. But hopefully these tips should have you start looking at your environment in a different way.

What other location spotting tips can you offer?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “3 tips to find portrait locations in the most unlikely of places”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    I say you should always be paying attention to potential locations. Sometimes when I go for a walk I’ll spot an interesting doorway, or an atmospheric alleyway, or an interesting corner of a park and think “This is a good location.” and make a mental note. If I’m really on top of it I’ll take a geo-tagged photo and add it to my lightroom catalogue tagged with “location.”

    It may not be until years later that I need a steampunk looking loading dock, but when I do I’ll know exactly where to go.

    1. Mango Street Avatar
      Mango Street

      Great idea!