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Choosing a Location

By: J.A.J Aaronson - Updated: 22 May 2013 | comments*Discuss
Location Portrait Lighting Image

If you are shooting a portrait it is very easy to concentrate entirely on the subject and forget to think about what else is going on in the frame. However, one of the keys to producing a striking, insightful image of an individual is the choice of location.

Some of the most memorable and visually arresting portraits ever made have their subjects in front of very stark backgrounds. Indeed, master portrait artists such as Richard Avedon placed their subjects in front of plain backdrops almost exclusively; one need only look at Avedon’s celebrity portraits for evidence of the impact that this can have. A plain backdrop can help to ensure that the viewer’s eye is concentrated entirely on the subject, without any distraction. This minimalist approach can also produce a tense, edgy atmosphere in the image.

Suggestive Environments

However, a plain background is not always the most fitting location for a portrait. In many cases, it is more effective to have the subject in an environment in which they feel comfortable, or which says something about their character. For example, you may wish to place your subject in their place of work, or in their home. David Bailey, one of the most successful photographers of all time, recently produced a series of images of tradesmen in their workplaces; these images gave a fascinating insight into the lives of these individuals, even without captions. This can be replicated by a good choice of location and some thought about ‘props’ which could be placed around the subject, perhaps signifying elements of their character.

From a lighting point of view, the location in which you shoot a portrait is a vital consideration. The availability of light is an important factor when thinking about the image that you want to produce. For example, if you wish to make a sharp, bright photograph that creates an atmosphere that reflects this, you will probably not be best placing your subjects in a dimly-lit room in which you will either need to use flash or increase the ISO until grains appear on the image. Instead, an outdoor location may be more appropriate here, both for the possible extra availability of light and for the visual connotations that an outdoor environment bears.


The choice of colours in the location in which you shoot your image also has an impact on your lighting considerations. Bright white planes will have an effect on your lighting choices; highly reflective areas of this sort can often result in undesired effects such as lens flare or, indeed, over-exposure. In order to compensate for this you may need to adjust your shutter speed and aperture settings, or possibly change the location of the camera in relation to the reflective area.

Your lighting considerations will also alter depending on whether you choose to make the image indoors or outdoors. If you are shooting indoors then it is likely that you will be using artificial light; this will mean that you will be required to adjust your white balance settings in order to ensure that you are recording true representations of the colours. For more information on this, you may wish to read the article on white balancing and colour temperature elsewhere on this site.

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