Finding the Perfect Location for your Portrait Session | Pretty Presets Photography Tutorial

When I first took up photography, I would go anywhere I could to find a great location to shoot. Now, this also meant that I did a fair amount of trespassing, which I no longer do. Never. Ever. Under any circumstances. And, I don’t recommend it to you, either!  With this in mind, I also know a lot of photographers who still venture onto private property, which is their prerogative, but they tend to do it when they are photographing a paying client, which is extremely unsafe, mainly for legal reasons. On the other hand, can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if you were on a shoot, and have the property owner ask you and your client to leave, or even worse, call the local law enforcement. Not pleasant!

Finding the Perfect Location for your Portrait Session | Pretty Presets Photography Tutorial

In my own experience, it is best to either obtain permission from the property owner, or find public locations for your shoots. Also, with public locations, depending on your city or state, you may also need to acquire a photography permit. It is fairly easy to obtain a permit, and all you need to do is contact the parks and recreation department in your city or county, and they will be able to guide you through the process.

With all of that in mind, I will show you some of the places I use for portraits, and maybe this will get you thinking about places near you that will work well for your shoots!

1. Parks and Walking Trails - Hurricane Shoals

Look for places that have scenery – bridges, park benches, rivers, waterfalls, ponds, etc. Some heritage parks will even have old, rustic buildings that make a perfect backdrop because of their texture and color. The more scenery the park offers, the more photographic opportunities you’ll have. I continually take my clients to Hurricane Shoals, and often shoot in the same buildings, making sure to vary the angles I shoot from, as well as my post-processing, so that their images are still unique. I felt like I hit the location jackpot with Hurricane Shoals, but if you search your area, you’ll be surprised at how many parks, and heritage parks, you’ll find, many of them you’ll have no idea that they’re even there until you search.

Finding the Perfect Location for your Portrait Session | Pretty Presets Photography Tutorial

2. Museums - High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Surprisingly enough, a lot of art museums will let you take photos indoors and out, though there are usually specific areas where you may/may not photograph. The good news is that the places where you are allowed to shoot are generally in common areas like hallways, foyers, windows and courtyards. Since art museums tend to have a lot of detailed and unique architecture, they make a great location. Just be sure to check with the staff to find out where you are allowed to shoot, and most likely they will give you a permit to fill out, and also a map of the areas where you are free to shoot.

Finding the Perfect Location for your Portrait Session | Pretty Presets Photography Tutorial

3. The Goat Farm - Atlanta

Originally, this was an industrial brickyard in the early 20th century, but it has now been converted into a music venue, as well as an artist co-op. The really great thing about this location is the variety – you have everything from brick, to rusted tin, structures covered in ivy, and even a vintage Ford truck.

Again, these are places that have worked well for me, close to where I live. As you drive around, start taking notes of what you are seeing, and ask yourself “Would this be a good spot for portraits?” based on questions like “Is it accessible?” and “Does it provide several different places to vary the look of my portraits?”


Anna Gay is a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA and the author of the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture. She also designs actions and textures for Photoshop. When she is not shooting or writing, she enjoys spending time with her fiancee, and their two cats, Elphie and Fat Cat.