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How to Get the Most Out of Each Portrait Location Spot


Some photographers are very inefficient when it comes to shooting in a portrait location. They will take a photo here by this tree, then move over to another tree, then by the pathway, and one at the rock. Then they can’t figure out where to shoot next, because they’ve already used every “backdrop” they can see in that area, and they only have a handful of shots to show for their efforts.

I’d like to share a few tips with you for using your locations fully and completely, without leaving any leaf, tree, stone, or pose unturned. You’ll speed up your sessions, and get a lot more useable photos by adopting these habits.


First, find a background that you like. Look for good light, elements that frame your subject, colors that complement, something to lean or sit on, etc. Once you’ve found a spot or background to start with, use it completely and quickly before you move on to a new spot.


I’ve created a few lists that can help you remember all the ways that you can pose your subject(s), and use a background fully, before you move on. Use these ideas to create your own list that you can carry with you until “wearing each spot out completely” becomes second nature.

All subjects with any background

  • Standing
  • Seated
  • Smiling
  • Serious
  • Laughing
  • Looking away
  • Close-up
  • Far away
  • Portrait (vertical) orientation
  • Landscape (horizontal) orientation
  • Full body
  • Head shot
  • With a prop
  • Without a prop
  • Unexpected composition (such as subject on the very edge of the frame, subject centered right in the middle, etc.)


Families, couples, or groups with any background

  • All looking at the camera  and smiling
  • Looking at each other
  • Hugging
  • Laughing
  • All sitting
  • All standing
  • Some sitting, some standing
  • Parents
  • Kids
  • Boys
  • Girls
  • Parent with child
  • Individual portraits of each family member
  • Couple hugging facing each other
  • Couple hugging, one behind the other
  • Holding hands
  • Walking towards you
  • Walking away from you


Individual with trees or walls (something to lean against)

  • Shoulder leaning on a wall or tree
  • Back to the wall or tree, looking at the camera
  • Hand to the tree or wall
  • Head leaning on the tree or wall
  • Arms folded
  • Hands in pockets
  • Hand on hip
  • Sitting against the tree or wall
  • Any of the above, looking away from camera
  • Funny/silly looking around tree or wall


If you move quickly through each of these poses, your subject won’t feel like she’s stuck in one place forever, but you will have so many options to choose from when you are sorting through the photos later. You might not choose to edit every pose, in every location. But, you may find as you go through the photos later, that you really like the serious face in one location, and you really love the close-up in a different location. Shooting so many options in each location at that moment gives you that choice, instead of being stuck with the one and only option you thought of in that moment.


Some of your photos may end up looking very similar to each other, but you may decide that you really like the full body pose better than the tighter shot. If you had only shot that location with a cropped pose, you wouldn’t have that option. Alternatively, if you don’t shoot a cropped-in pose at that time, youhave the option to crop it later, but you will lose photo quality by cropping it the file smaller.


As you learn to use each location fully, you will find that you can get many more useable photos in much less time, with less effort, and in locations that you might not have even noticed before. One tree and one person could be one photo, or it could end up being a hundred photos if you are extremely creative and efficient.

Give yourself a challenge to figure out at least 10 different photos in one location spot, and share a couple of your favorites in the comments! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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