While my first love is definitely in-home photo shoots, there is something so magical about families outdoors in pretty light. I’m always up for a new adventure if there is a place that is special to a particular family. But, for those other times when families would like me to suggest some options, there are five things I look for when scouting the perfect family photo location.
This might seem obvious but, for me, it is hands-down the most important! If you have children of any age (teenagers included) space to run or wander or play is absolutely vital. Toddlers need to burn up that little kid energy, while teens need room to wander so they feel comfortable. While a teenager might thrive in an urban setting that allows for lots of texture and is perfect for senior portraits, it does not necessarily promote the playfulness and connection that I strive for. Those things come from experiencing new surroundings together as a family with physical room for bodies to move together.
2. SMALL VIGNETTES
In my other life as a teacher and mom, I think in terms of the story that’s being told. Similarly, in my photography career, I watch for the story to unfold. So, when thinking about where to take families, I think about photo locations that offer a variety of backdrops within the same space…vignettes. For example, the images below are all shot at the same location (a historic site in Westchester County). Even though it is the same space, the access to barns, open fields, rock walls for climbing, wide dirt lanes, fern gardens, and perennial gardens give ample opportunity to vary the interactions between family members.
This is, perhaps, a double-edged sword. I personally LOVE the fun and energy that comes from photographing families playing together at a playground. There is movement and engagement and interaction and joy. It is natural and it is wonderful! BUT, and this is a big “but,” if a child has a hard time leaving such a fun place and it will put a damper on the rest of a session, a playground might be more trouble than it’s worth. All that being said, I do love some trouble 😉
4. AVOID OVERCROWDING
Let’s face it; sunny Saturday evenings are gorgeous and everyone loves them! It’s the most desired time of the week for family shoots. And, of course, it’s the time of the week when the rest of the public is out and about. So, it’s certainly something to consider when thinking about the right family photo location. Will you have actual room to move without some strange guy photo bombing your background? Case in point below. The environmental conservation center in northern New Jersey is beautiful! But, because of the boardwalks crisscrossing the marsh, it can be restrictive. I would never ever recommend this type of location for a weekend afternoon/evening because it would be way too crowded. So, I met the Robinsons here after school on a late September day. This ensured we had most of the place to ourselves, and the girls could run freely without the aforementioned stranger in the background.
5. PRETTY LIGHT
We are fortunate to live and work in the lower Hudson Valley, which is blooming with so many gorgeous outdoor spaces to explore. Among my favorites is the western edge of Rockefeller State Park. The light at the end of the day is simply spectacular! I want my images to pop, for the light to help showcase the interactions and feelings of the family in front of me. And, this place checks all those boxes. When looking for locations, I look for space that offers flexibility with lighting as in the images below. This particular location affords beautiful backlighting in open fields, directional light through tree canopy and also shaded areas out of the sun.
When in doubt, Instagram it! As silly as it sounds, I have been able to scout some pretty great family photo locations by first using Google maps to do a geographic search of parks, arboretums, and natural areas. Then, I take to good old Instagram and search for photos using the names in hashtags for a preliminary “digital scout.” It’s basic, but it definitely has helped me to narrow down options before physically scouting the locations. Here’s a perfect example. This was a park with which I was not familiar, but was particularly special to my clients. So, before traveling out to scout it physically, I did a little digital reconnaissance by researching photographs on IG. It gave me a very basic & general idea of lighting direction, available space, and surrounding vegetation and structures.
So, don’t be afraid to try something new when looking for a family photo location…whether you’re a professional photographer, hobbyist, or client unsure of a suggested spot. There are so many beautiful places to explore; embrace the experience!
Westchester County Family Photographer
Gina specializes in modern & emotive family imagery. By focusing on the relationships of parents and their children, she is able to go beyond the standard pose and capture the true emotion of her clients’ relationships. Visit the Session Info Page for more details.