Today I'm starting a new series for photographers that will detail tips for finding great shooting locations.

I know I get bored and uninspired when I shoot at the same location over and over. And it can be VERY challenging as a photographer to come up with new locations -- especially when you've been in business in the same city for YEARS. So photographers -- I feel your pain.

The best tip I can offer you for finding unique and inspiring locations for your engagement and family portrait shoots is to MAKE IT PERSONAL. Base your location off of who your client is. But don't necessarily rely on your client to come up with it themselves. Clients don't often realize what makes them unique or what resources they have available to them. It's up to you to find these things out and help get the ball rolling by brainstorming for them.

Here's what I do. I have two separate .pdf questionnaires -- one for engagement shoots and one for family portraits -- that I send to clients to help me get to know them better. I ask questions about how they met, what they enjoy doing together, what their favorite local hang-outs are and if the have access to any fun locations (giving them plenty of examples to get them thinking outside the box). When I receive that back from them, I highlight anything that is location or activity specific. Then I email them with a list of ideas. By using this process, my clients and I have collectively come up with some really fun shoot locations over the years! Here are a handful of my favorites:

Chrissy & Anthony mentioned that they enjoy taking cooking classes together. I knew it would be logistically challenging to do a shoot in a public cooking class, but I loved the idea of incorporating cooking into their shoot in some way. I asked if they had access to any great kitchens with natural light and -- low and behold -- they had friends with THE most amazing kitchen built in a separate building in their backyard for commercial photo shoots. We did the whole shoot in the kitchen complete with fun colorful aprons and cookie baking. Click here to see the full shoot!
Katina & Robert mentioned that they love doing home improvement projects together and that Home Depot is their "home away from home." I went out on a limb and suggested that we shoot in Home Depot and they were game! I did this shoot way back in 2007 and it was a huge hit!
Scott & Megan met in Boston and live in Baltimore. They were having a destination wedding in Arizona and also came out for their engagement shoot. It was clear from their questionnaire that they love city life, so I suggested that we do their engagement shoot on the Phoenix light rail. I love how this shoot turned out!
Locations don't have to be super-unique or public. They just need to be personal. I've done numerous engagement shoots in homes. If a couple loves hanging out on the sofa, snuggling and watching movies, I often suggest we do the shoot in their home. Every home is unique and offers opportunities for creativity. Click here to see a great example in Matthew & Jamie's engagement shoot!
Jay is a local DJ at a night-club and I was thrilled when he and Kiera were up for doing part of their engagement shoot there. What a unique location! Click here to see more photos from this fun out-of-the-box shoot!
Sometimes what the client cherishes, or something they enjoy doing, can inspire the location for their shoot. In the case of Jay and Lisa, their love for travel, old cars and their golden retriever, Mason, led us to incorporate these things into their shoot in a random neighborhood in central Phoenix. I had SO much to work with that really made the shoot fun and unique. Click here to see more!
When I found out that Dave & Ann loved riding his motorcycle together, I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into their engagement shoot. Not only did it work out great to shoot with it on a dead-end road in a nearby Indian reservation, but I've never had a groom be more happy to do an engagement shoot :).
I don't do family portraits often, but when I do, I love it when my clients are up for doing something to make their shoot personal. So often, clients default to a park location, but if you can encourage them to do something they love to do as a family for their shoot, they will end up loving the photos all the more. This cute family loves to read together, and their little girl really enjoys hanging out at bookstores. The shoot turned out so fun and special -- click here to see more!
I recently got the chance to shoot my sister's family on one of their regular lake day outings. I'm in love with the photos we got.
If you're feeling bored and uninspired with your local shooting locations, try working with your clients to personalize their shoot. It will breathe new life into your work and will allow you to produce something truly unique for each client.

Stay tuned -- next week I'll be sharing about my main concern when selecting a location for each photo during a shoot -- whether it be a wedding day, engagement shoot or portrait session. If you found this tip helpful, click here to find out about other resources I offer photographers!

*Edited to add: Click here to go to part 2 of the series.


Equipment used for above photos:
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50mm 1.2 lens
Canon 24mm 1.4 lens
Canon 70-200 2.8 lens
2 Canon Speedlite 580 EXs
2 Pocketwizards
Light Stand with umbrella bracket and cold shoe
50" Softbox
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