I have in mind a series of posts on great locations for individual and group portraits. And I'm going to do that, really. But perhaps not for the original reasons I envisioned.
At first, I thought that the location makes a great portrait, but I was wrong. The people in the portrait take care of that. Where I live there are many great outdoor locations that provide great backgrounds, but none of them will matter unless the people I'm working with feel good where they are. Conversely, a beautiful expression almost always trumps a less than gorgeous location.
Think about it. Someone hands you a family portrait. If the family looks good, and happy, a good location enhances those qualities. If the family doesn't look good, if one or more members look uncomfortable or unhappy, the location doesn't matter at all.
When choosing a location, I think first and foremost about my clients. How will the location/background enhance their experience and reflect something about them. If they are in a beautiful or peaceful setting, perhaps that will help them feel good and relaxed. But that doesn't always work for people who want something dynamic out of their portrait. Then we need to find something bright and fun.
Last summer, I had an engagement session with Nico and Maria. I took them to Morven Park, in Leesburg, VA, because I love to make portraits there. We got some good results, mostly because their love for each other is so fresh and apparent, but when we were done we went into town and took some street shots. I could tell immediately that they felt more comfortable and more themselves in a busy/vibrant spot, and their pictures were just better because of it.
For me, the locations that I like best are quiet and uncrowded. Because the comfort of my subject is so important, I'd rather not have people walking by and stopping or watching. But if my subject wants to make a portrait at a carnival then that's where we should go.