Photoshoot in a Parking Lot - The Importance of Light and Background

I am often asked questions and comments about my photography - what location, what camera, what settings, etc. The camera question aside (it's not about the camera, it's merely a tool of the user), I am happy to answer.

It's all about the light. The proper light for what you want to capture.

For portraits, I prefer the late afternoon / early evening light. Morning light works, too, but for some reason, if given the choice, most people prefer to have their photo taken in the afternoon.

Location - You don't have to go somewhere exotic or even scenic to get good portraits. It's all about the background and the light. I've shot great photos in my backyard, in my living room and in the driveway. My favorite photo of my daughter was shot in the early morning light in our driveway:
Her Senior Year
Notice the catch lights in her eyes - she was looking towards the morning sun, but not directly into the sun. I estimate the sun was 45 degrees from the plane of her stance. The background is a river birch tree and the side of my neighbor's house. Here's where having the proper equipment does make a difference - I used a 200mm lens at f/4. The wide open aperture coupled with the zoom blurs the background so you can't really tell you are looking at vinyl siding.

Some more examples - last week, I took portraits of some friends at the local park, in the parking lot.

Here's the set up, courtesy of my friend, Kellie. Not exactly Shang-gri-la! But the light was right, and I thought the background of prairie grasses would provide a nice canvas for these golden kids.

A few things to note:

  1. I had the kids stand on the parking spot berm. I did this to give them some height over the background of prairie grass and flowers.
  2. The light is not directly behind them, but slightly to their left.
  3. I am standing on a step stool because getting slightly above your subject will force them to look up slightly, which I find results in a more flattering pose. I take that step stool to most of my photo shoots because I am pretty short. It is a great tool for group shots, too.
Here is the resulting photo:

Even though that location worked, I wanted to capture more intense catch lights in their eyes, so I had them rotate 90 degrees to their right. The kids are in the shade and off in the distance there is enough light to add a nice sparkle to those blue eyes and illuminate their skin.
Note The Background

But I was not happy with the background of this photo. There were too many distracting elements, especially what I highlight in the following photo:
Note The Background
Call me picky, but I didn't like that (part of a water treatment plant) and the big blob of dark green above the girl's head.

I did "save" the photo by cropping some of the distracting elements away. I switched to a 8x10 aspect ratio and I find the result far more pleasing:

Some more favorites from this shoot:
Kids Sitting on the Parking Spot Berm. Sitting generally relaxes the subject for a nice casual look

Field of Love
Mom gets in the photo - in a Sea of Prairie Wildflowers - I used the step stool to eliminate the houses behind the flowers from the photo

Unknown  – (July 28, 2016 at 4:37 PM)  

Shirley, these portraits are just beautiful!
They must have been VERY pleased.

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