How do you choose the best location for your senior photos?
The trends are always changing, but as a photographer who loves organic, relaxed, well-lit images, I definitely lean in to the current fashion to take pictures outside. If you time them right, the photos will contain a lot of natural light, which makes the skin look smooth and soft; the elements in the frame will be timeless, because trees and brick walls never disappear; and you can often add a lot of dimension justing using the resources provided to you in the scenery: flowers, leaves, rocks.
To just say “outside,” though, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The ocean and the woods are both outside, and they provide very different scenery. Outdoor parks, covered bridges, and downtown streets are likewise very different. Plus, you don’t want to pick a location where it will be difficult to get pictures, or a spot that everyone else is using so that in the end your images look exactly the same as everyone else’s.
Here are five tips for choosing the perfect spot, no matter where you live; and a little further down, a list of places in southern Maine and New Hampshire that might be right for you.
One: Know thyself.
If you are someone who loves the beach and naturally feels instantly relaxed in that setting, a beach might be a perfect spot to take photos—especially if you can drag a friend or family member along to talk and laugh with you from the periphery while I snap your picture. What setting makes you most comfortable? Wooded trails? Gardens? Waterfalls? Is there a place you know like the back of your hand, or a place where all the troubles of life melt away? Might be a good spot for photos!
Two: The more light, the better.
This can be a tricky one, because if you time your photos at high noon then we’re actually going to want to find some shade. But most of the time, I will try to plan sessions for late afternoon to early evening, when the sun is three quarters of its way across the sky and its light isn’t so harsh.
Wide open areas can be great for photos because you don’t have to work around shadows, like you might on a sunny day walking through the woods. (Overcast days in the woods can be fun, but you have to start early!) Think piers, fields, in the shade of a long building with not a whole lot around it, hilltops, rooftops, wide spans of country road…
Three: Pick a spot that won’t be crowded.
Folks in my area love to have portraits done in a city park close to my home. It’s a very pretty park. The trouble is, there’s usually a lot of people there, and it’s on the edge of a busy street. This can make it difficult to claim a spot for pictures and to avoid getting people or cars in the background. There are also sometimes events going on at the park, so you have to be sure to check the events calendar online before you nail down a date.
If you have a location in mind that has the potential to be crowded, try to pick a weeknight for portraits, because often the weekends are when these places are at their busiest.
Four: Neutral backdrops are best.
In my experience, colorful locations, or locations with lots of different textures, tend to make photos very busy. By this I mean, you might want to take your portraits in a garden that is overflowing with all kinds of different flowers, or in front of a graffitied wall. The reason you are drawn to these spots is that they are vivid, dynamic—which is awesome. That’s art. The trouble comes along when you realize that these locations are still going to be vivid and dynamic in your photos, and you might be the least interesting thing in the pictures.
If you’re the sort of person who is drawn to gardens, consider a backdrop of a barn wall, or tall grass. There’s still that back-to-nature feel, but you’ll be the star of the show because the other elements will fade back and become a subconscious part of the experience. If you’re drawn to a graffitied wall, perhaps a leather jacket, or arty outfit, in front of a run-down mill, or a classic brick wall would be best.
Five: Ask me! Ask your photographer!
If you know the vibe you want your images to have, you can ask me for suggestions. I have a lot of locations up my sleeve, having taken portraits for many seniors (and families and businesses), and I know which places require permission to use, when they’re at their busiest, how many options there will be for different backgrounds, and whether or not there will be a place for you to change.
Additionally, I might think of places you would never consider because they’re not parks or hotspots. Some of my best photos have been taken on private property (with permission, of course!), in families’ very own yards, or just on pretty stretches of road.
If you’re hoping to scout a location yourself and you happen to live in the southern New Hampshire and Maine area, here a myriad of different location ideas, their terrains, and what to expect:
Emery Farm—Durham, NH. Call ahead to ask permission to use this family farm. There are corn fields, tractors, wooden fences, great trees, and pumpkins if you time it right.
Eliot Boat Launch—Eliot, ME. Tall grass, soft and sandy beach, pier, wooden trails, fields—even a little grassy cliff. Lots of options! No need to call ahead.
Harbor Beach—York, ME. Parking is permit-only, so you might have to park in town and walk. Weekday mornings it’s not terribly crowded. Rocks, sand, ocean.
Wagon Hill—Durham, NH. Across from Emery Farm, no need to call ahead. Keep in mind, though, that this is a popular spot, and sometimes there are weddings happening there, or other folks out taking pictures. Keep walking back and you’ll hit a field, open water, funky wooded trails, and a little rocky peninsula.
Mast Point Dam Recreation Area—Rochester, NH. This spot is on the river, with lots of rocks and trees, but still open areas for great light. Not a wide variety of background options, but it’s sort-of off the beaten path so you can often find space to take photos without other people in the background.
WM Gonic Trails—Rochester, NH. Flat, wooded trails in three separate loops. A little waterfall during warmer months.
Fort Foster—Kittery Point, ME. $10 admission per car. Plenty of backdrop options, from the ocean, to sandy footpaths, to rocky coast, to old fort buildings with ivy climbing the walls. Can be quite crowded.
Prescott Park—Portsmouth, NH. Piers and water, but shipyard in the background. Gardens, wide spans of grass. Fountains, brick walkways. Check events calendar before visiting. Also bear in mind that it’s a popular location for engagement shoots, so you may show up and have to wait.
Vaughn Woods/Hamilton House—South Berwick, ME. Vaughn Woods shouldn’t require permission for use, though Hamilton House requests notice since it is a museum landmark. Woods, fields, water, gardens, barn walls, fountains.
Somersworth Mills—Somersworth, NH. Haven’t actually visited these myself, but have a photographer friend who uses them. Indoor options. Good for male senior portraits, or a “darker” look.