Help This Locationally Challenged Photographer Improve Her Portraiture

Help This Locationally Challenged Photographer Improve Her Portraiture


“I’ve been working on my portrait photography recently – but one thing that I lack is good locations. Most of the great portraits I see online by other photographers have exotic locations that add so much to the image – but I’m trapped in a very unstylsh house most days looking after kids in a very unattractive small town.

Help? I’m locationally challenged – do you have any advice?” – Meg

The above email hit my inbox yesterday and I thought it might make an interesting discussion and that the dPS community might just be able to help Meg tackle her challenge.

What advice would you give Meg? How do YOU overcome the challenge of uninspiring locations in your own portraiture. Feel free to share some links to portraits you’ve taken in locations that perhaps presented this challenge.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Benn March 7, 2012 03:16 pm

    You dont need exotic locations, you just need to be able to see with fresh eyes what is right in front of you!! When you have been looking at the same locations for a long time it can all get a bit uninspiring. Try changing the time of day you shoot in, this will usually change your images straight away. For instance, most peeps wont get up for a 7am shoot but imagine the possibilities with regards to light!! Look for interesting patterns such as repeating patterns of lamps moving down the street or a row of trees to use in the back ground. Try shooting into the low sun for some lovely golden images. I bet that when you really start looking and really start seeing you will be very surprised at what you find right in front of you:)

  • Kimberly March 1, 2012 11:20 am

    It sounds like you have the perfect ingredients to take terrific photographs. Authenticity, reality, life.
    When served lemons, make lemonade. Take your time and look for content in your life that really speaks to you that captures your attention. The gift of a great photograph is what captures your soul. Of course add in great light, right lenses and all the technical componets, but looking at your own environment in a way that it is a gift may open up a truly unique photographic opportunity to you and you alone.

  • Melissa February 29, 2012 07:16 pm

    sorry, the hotel lobby pic… because apparently I didn’t link the second one properly.

  • Melissa February 29, 2012 07:13 pm

    sorry, the hotel lobby pic... because apparently I didn't link the second one properly.

  • Melissa February 29, 2012 07:11 pm

    The best advice I could possibly give for lacking inspiring locations is simply to go for walk, visit the local college, parks, even malls (although I don't recommend taking pictures in the mall, got in trouble for that). The idea is simply to get out and around and take pictures. Sometimes the most inspiring locations come about by taking a walk.

    This was taken at a local park, while this was taken in a hotel lobby.

  • Dmitry Chastikov February 28, 2012 06:22 pm

    I am not a great master of portrait myself but here are my 2 cents. It's not that much the location but the person and his/her expression along with how well you can create the mood in the photo. And this is more about colors and patterns than the clear shapes of the background. Try to keep the people in sharp focus and the rest out of focus, and forcefully add highly out-of-focus colored elements such as flowers, glass, ornaments. Even blurred main subject can work too.

    You may want to have a look at the works of a guru I really like so much, Ella Manor, she often uses a lensbaby but this is not really the key. Here is an ineresting gallery:

  • DeShawn Martinez February 28, 2012 11:14 am

    3 words. Large Aperature Lenses. I live in an oil field town in southeast New Mexico. It is flat and dry. So one thing I do is use a large Aperature to keep my subject in focus and just let the backgrounds melt away. Saying that, still try to be creative with places I find but knowing they don't have to look picture perfect because my subject will be the main focus in the photos.

  • Richard February 26, 2012 06:42 pm

    "Unstylish house" and "Unattractive town" - use them. Often ugly is beautiful and when it's not, you could contrast the beauty of the portraits subject against the unattractive background? Or match the emotion of the subject to the unattractive and unstylish backgrounds?

  • Selena February 26, 2012 03:33 pm

    I'd say forget about looking for the perfect locale and background - it doesn't really exist! Yes, there are some places so beautiful they are a dream to photograph, but for most of us these places are a rare treat and not really part of every day life.

    I'm in a similar situation, I live in a small northern city in British Columbia that can be best described as a "blue collar town". That translates into very little landscaping and a whole lot of industrial yuck. I was in the same frame of mind, always searching for something exotic, different, beautiful to shoot. Then I went to a local photographer's night, where a dozen or so pro's talked about what they do and how they do it. A few of them ventured out toward city limits and beyond for more natural settings, but for the most part their slideshows contained familiar scenes that I usually thought of as ugly or boring. The biggest difference between their work and mine is that they looked for new angles. They used the "ugly" and made it work, or they got creative with lighting and aperture to minimize its impact. In my humble opinion that is one of the biggest things that sets them apart from newbies like me. One photographer even did an entire wedding shoot in a local steel mill - and let me tell you, his photos were AMAZING and I'm willing to bet that the bride and groom loved them even more than I did!

    And here's an exercise that was recommended to me by a local semi-pro/instructor:
    Put down the camera, sit in your setting and just LOOK and absorb what is around you. Think of the story you want to tell with your photograph. What do you want to show clearly, and what do you want to minimize or avoid?
    Move around, lay down (which feels absolutely ridiculous in public, but do it anyway!), stand up, turn around, get closer, go further, look at every different angle.
    And then, once you know what you want to pick out of that particular environment and the settings that will help you do that, pick up the camera and go for it.

    And have fun - use the ugly and mundane, just do it with new eyes and a fresh angle!

  • Dave February 25, 2012 11:05 am

    Build yourself a set, from odds and ends, or go to Good Will, for a few dollars you can build a wall covering. Or build a cardboard wall and paint it green screen green or blue, then you have access to the whole world. Also check out local theater groups and public schools, volunteer to shoot portraits for the company. Plus they can help with the lighting.
    Shoot MACRO and you will have a whole new world to explore.

  • Matthew Shane Wilson February 25, 2012 07:11 am

    We all know that photography is about light, but realize that it's even more important than the subject. Stop looking for a qualifying subject and follow the light. So bundle up the kids and go for a walk. If you follow the light to your subject, then even a leaf,garbage can, or a storm drain can be beautiful.

  • Rona February 25, 2012 07:06 am

    Wow, there are so many good ideas here, now I'M inspired!

  • alwin February 25, 2012 05:25 am

    Is it a portrait of one of your friends or client or it's just of human interest? The latter is one of the most challenging, because it's more of conveying or relating a message to your viewer. But locations really doesn't matter, it's a matter of how you compose your shots. Shoot in RAW and experiment with B/W. Good luck!

  • Phil February 25, 2012 03:55 am

    I would suggest using things like brick walls, peeling paint, wooden shed panels etc as simple contrasting backgrounds. You say you live in a kind of ugly town which suggests you should have some of these around...and should provide you with a strong image. Also take shots near windows and open aperture right up to get lots of light...perhaps throug a window from outside maybe when it's raining! Use a polarising filter and control the amount of reflection you get. Def keep it simple though, doesn't need to be tricky.

    Good luck

  • Christine February 25, 2012 03:28 am

    Lots of great comments already, but your comment that it's an unstylish house in an unattractive small town caught my eye... What's unattractive about your town? Some of the most impactful photos use old industrial sites, and if you have sunlight, you have a great start. Get down low and shoot up through weeds, find an abandoned rail yard and get some interesting angles... an open field, a small corner by a window... don't focus so much on the environment you see in exotic locales, look for the perfect expression and gorgeous light. As a sidenote, I have a favorite picture of my son, taken on the front lawn at a large aperture, so he is crisp and you can see the blades of grass right near him, but the background blurs out fast. My Dad later told me it's one of his favorite shots too, and asked 'what lake were you near when you took it?' The STREET 15 feet from my house (and about 7 feet from my subject) had blurred and the lighting was just right to make it feel a bit like water. I hadn't noticed it before, but it sure changed the way I looked at portraits. Finally, if there's a particular element that you really love, as noted in other comments, try to create it with a planting or a few props.

  • rick stephens February 25, 2012 03:08 am

    I've found that following the adage KISS (keep it simple stupid) works most of the time. Sometimes just moving your subject a few steps one way or the other gives a totally different view...yes, i'm talking about inside your home. another thing that has opened my eyes to some possibilities in the past is little kids. works most of the time to make a game out of finding where they want their picture taken, give them a piece of candy or a little pocket change. every time they like a spot. take their picture there to make this game more interesting. key here is not to do it every time they are at your house. (i use grandkids). you'll be surprised at the spots they discover. even my 8 year old plays this long as it's money. are your surprising new spots worth some pocket change?

  • Brenda February 25, 2012 12:13 am

    Get a MACRO lens; it will open up a WHOLE new world!

  • nick February 24, 2012 10:32 pm

    Locationally Challenged??? strange to here.
    i do not care about background, if do not exist i make one... i care about the light, angle, mood, smile, interaction. the subject is the portrait and i will focus on that not beyond. you got so many good tips that you can overcome the Locationally Challenged....
    Good luck!

  • Rohit Zedek February 24, 2012 09:34 pm

    use your boundary wall as back drop ...use different aperture...if you have a small garden use the max out of it...shoot at times when sunlight is diffused

  • John Lambert February 24, 2012 05:34 pm

    Every town, no matter how ugly, has walls. Walls of wood, stucco, brick, paint, etc. Some of them are cracked, peeling and otherwise in less than perfect condition. Pose your subject against one of these walls that strikes you as suitable and shoot away. You may find that one of these cracked old walls makes a nice contrast with the model. There are also windows (reflections?), doors, old posters, etc. Most towns have a park somewhere, use a fringe of trees, flowers, bushes or a lake. I am assuming, of course, that you are talking about outside shots.

  • Linda Hare February 24, 2012 03:17 pm

    I agree with all of the above suggestions. I can certainly relate as I come from a very small town in Texas. Last April one of my friends asked me to take her engagement photos. I was excited but nervous as I was thinking the same as you 'Where will I shoot that will be interesting?" I asked her to be scoping out some places before the shoot. We ended up at kind of a junk yard that had old vehichles sitting around and an old wooden shed. Next we went to the old cemetary. It had a great tree lined drive that was awesome for the couple to be strolling down. Then we went to the old train depot (my favorite location), then to an old gas station that had a large brick wall painted with a fading Coca Cola sign and finally to a stop sign. The stop sign was special to the couple as that was the spot she got her promise ring. Those turned out really cute too.We also went to the school playground and the photos of him pushing her in the swing were precious. So the point is, you can make any location work, just look at it in different way. I also took some props like a picture frame, a picnic basket, a quilt and some fresh flowers.

  • kuhlphoto February 24, 2012 02:00 pm

    i didn't get a chance to read through all the responses, so apologies if this is redundant. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place, with lots of options for shoot locations, but I have to admit I frequently look at other people's photos and envy their locations and opportunities. The grass is always greener and other places are always more exotic than our own. I would encourage her to try to see her own town through the eyes of a new comer. Everyplace has a story. Is it small town Americana? Is it surburbia? Is it a place with a rich history? Are there parks or historical sites near by? Try to either incorporate a sense of location and celebrate where you are. These places may seem boring, but will likely have significance to the subject. Perhaps their high-school steps, the yard of the house they grew up in, etc. Contrasting context is all the rage these days. We know of a very busy photography company in a beautiful city that makes a lot of money shooting in very ugly locations - wedding couples at oil refineries, kids in gutters, glamourous women on parkade floors, models in auto-wrecker lots, etc.

    Otherwise, light is more important than location to the feel of the final image, so consider great lighting situations and do tighter crops or shallower DOF to leave out more of the background.

    Consider having at least four locations planned out for your shoot to keep things fresh, moving and you won't get to bothered if one particular location isn't working.

    All the best!

  • Mary February 24, 2012 01:52 pm

    It may sound strange, but I've gotten some great portraits at local cemetaries.

  • robin walbridge February 24, 2012 01:22 pm

    Look at the new Sports Illistrated swim suit issue. That was shot in my home town of many years ago. I thought seeing my old haunts would be nice (the girls did not hurt). When looking at the issue there were no identifiable location shots. look at the the back ground, depth of field was so shallow there was no background
    My point, worry about the subject, not the location.

    2nd point. If you need a background Don`t try and find a location for the person. if you need a location use their location, ie, a student in school, and art director in the studio, and engineer in their field, a clergyman in their church

    use what you have, it is there now and you will be much happier for it

  • Tim February 24, 2012 12:02 pm

    Hi Meg,
    I'm neither a portrait photographer, a professional photographer, nor is my location unattractive. BUT, when it comes to my product photography... my apartment IS esthetically challenged (read crowded and small) ;-)

    My solution... is to set up a green, and/or blue screen.

    Many times my products need an environment I don't have access to, a professional kitchen, workshop, gym or out of season outdoor location.

    For $30 to $40 each I got photographers backdrop paper in colors similar to chromakey blue and green. Then I bought some inexpensive poles, lighting hardware and bright LED lightbulbs for a total cost of about $150 to $200 including expensive LED bulbs and backdrop paper.

    Now I can shoot myself using my products anywhere:-).


    P. S. this project is brand new to me and I'm not finished setting it all up yet, but if you want more information on how to do it, feel free to contact me.

  • Geoff February 24, 2012 10:38 am

    The advice I would give to Meg is:

    You are feeling as we all did as new photogs. Photos are not about exotic locations or a fancy house. It is about expressing yourself. We all started out comparing ourselves and feeling we cannot do what they do. But we can do what we do. Just learn how to use your equipment and how to take great pics and it will all come.
    Time? you can always make time for what you really intend to do. However, if you say you don't have time, etc, etc, or if you say you dohave time, etc, etc then you are probably right. What you believe is a choice.
    As to locations - there must be a tree in your town? Or a park, a pond, a lake, an old building, etc? There must be some small parts of your unstylish house that can work as a backdrop for portraiture?
    What I am trying to say is don't try to reproduce what you see by the pros - you probably can't travell as they do and probably don't have their resources. Just use their work to give yourself some inspiration and go for it! You will be glad you did when your own style and artistry shows through. Good luck.

  • Laine Torres February 24, 2012 10:12 am

    I was about to illustrate some of my tips, but Flickr seems down. Well, here are my 2 cents without samples:

    1. Blur the background (duh, everyone has said that already)

    2. Fill the frame - children are specially easy to apply this to. Their faces are gorgeous and there is no acne, making post-editing not needed. They also look very candid up close (same goes for elders who don't mind their wrinkles)

    3. Shoot the details: on the same note for children(and anyone else), shoot the details that represent them (the shoes, the hair, the toys, anything)

    4. Focus on the eye: whether you use manual or auto-focus, make sure the eye is your focal point. By doing that, you create this intimacy between subject and viewer. Same goes for pets.

    5. Embrace the experience: I found that many times the pictures didn't seem all great then and there, but when the shooting was fun, that is translated to the viewer. Don't get frustrated, enjoy the bits and pieces you get and I guarantee that when you have fun, you will also like the pictures, with or without a good background.

    6. Run some tests: I will usually ask one person (if I have a big party to shoot) to test the lighting/background and, contradicting the tip before, if I find that a setting/position/location is not working for me, I am not afraid of admitting and suggesting a new area. Mostly everyone will gladly help you find what you are looking for. They will pose/stand before a different wall, sit on a different chair or even go outside if that will result in them looking good in your shots. After I consider their help/suggestions, I will share an image or two to explain why this location works or doesn't. That motivates them even more to work with me and also to trust that I know what I am doing. Not all scenarios are perfect and they know that.

    7. Borrow lighting from other rooms: I would love to visit my clients with a "pack-and-go" studio, but neither I have all that equipment nor that would fit in their homes. So I improvise! I will scout the house and find lampshades and bring them into the living room. Remember to offer to put them back where you found them - you don't want to leave their homes a mess after you're done!

    8. More furniture around: if you are shooting with long lenses (which usually is my lens of choice when doing portraits) it's hard to find angles and distance yourself enough to be able to focus (mine has a minimal focal length of 4 feet!), so I move stuff around! I rearrange the furniture so I can be where that dresser is. Sure they might think you're crazy, but they will be OK with the furniture ballet if the results are pleasant, hence sharing an image or two to build their confidence. Again, remember to offer to place the furniture back. Many times I am breaking a sweat with the pictures AND the furniture! Haha!

    9. Change the angle: I always bring my own stepping stool (tall and sturdy) and a mat I can use to lay down on pebbles or dirt, if we're shooting outside. That allows me to shoot a child from directly above while they play with some toys, or to get really low and aim up (usually there's less clutter by the ceiling, right?) That gives me a very limited space for background, and that's a great way to avoid the clutter.

    Just a few more tips, I swear!

    10. Look for a pattern and use it as backdrop: A bookcase, a window, a door, a mirror and, what I usually use: sheets. Bed sheets, towels, blankets, anything colorful or not. If it's a baby, lay him there and shoot down, if it's a toddler, hang it up and shoot up. You can also wrap a wet child in a fluffy towel, if the mom is OK with that!

    11. Use back lighting: If the sun is setting, lucky you! Run outside and measure the light on the sun, then place your subject between you two (the sun and you) and snap some silhouette shots. You can do the same with that old hand-me-down lampshade from the living room.

    Last but not least:

    12. Shot in black and white: if nothing else is working for you, shoot in black and white. Have the focus on your subject, compose your shot and snap away. There will be no colors to distract from the subject and the shapes might add to the story.

    I know exactly how you feel! I usually shoot kids at home, in their elements, and find less-than-super-tidy homes and it's a challenge! You just keep trying and get creative. Hope this long monologue helps!

    Good luck!


  • Tasha Markwell February 24, 2012 10:12 am

    Hi Meg,
    I though I would share with you what I am learning at the moment, it may help. I am seeing my surrounds very differently through my own eyes. Look for long reedy grass and prop people in that for a soft but interesting effect to surround them and be in the background. I photographed a Christening at someones home and they were against a very unattractive garage door with a brown fence background, my god I thought this is going to be a challenge!! The best thing was the grey metal doors of the garage and shooting them on angles and I did I fab black and white presentation they loved! So a fence, great garage door, long grass and so on make a great backdrop for a creative shot and doesn't take away from the person. I am in the middle of building a studio addition to my home, so I can control lighting etc, but I am so into being outdoors and going to peoples homes and just finding that special shot - no matter what the location looks like :) Happy hunting! You can do it, you are just feeling isolated and stuck, and that is totally understandable. My only other suggestion is doing environmental portraits (well shooting interesting portraits of people in their own environments be it work, hobbies, sport etc and capturing them doing what they love, where they love). Best of luck! Tash

  • Jim Hardin February 24, 2012 09:51 am

    Be creative.... If you live in Kansas go out to wheat field and cut a few strands of wheat and place in one of the children's hair. Lay them down in the wheat and use the setting sun for an evening shot. In any town there are tall trees. Have them hide behind a big tree and peek around it. Many times I use a 2.8 f stop and this changes the background so you can't see it so it would not matter. Just think out of the box and do anything that comes to mind. Jim

  • Sandy February 24, 2012 09:13 am

    No worries! Get a babysitter and spend a morning driving and walking around your town. Take shots of the park, churches, old buildings, gardens...take as many as you can. Go home, review and make a file for future ideas. Keep the file updated. Old doors, damaged walls, big old trees, ect...are great locations and every town has them. Don't put a limit on your imagination.

  • Tasha February 24, 2012 09:03 am

    These are excellent suggestions. It is not too difficult to come up with ideas.

    I live in area where there are hundreds of opportunities for backgrounds, however, my time is somewhat limited and I find that often I just want to take photos but can't get out of the house. I am fortunate to have a beautiful little daughter who is extremely happy to help me out. Again, maybe you just need to find a style of what you like and then look for ways to enhance it.

    I also browse all and every type of magazine I come across in a bid for inspiration.

    I wanted to add a link but flickr must be under construction. Sorry and good luck with it.

  • Jessi Brendel February 24, 2012 08:59 am

    Having lived here the majority of my life, I sympethize with becoming... shall we say... "disenchanted" with one's surroundings. However, when I get like that, I simply pick a spot at random and force myself to get creative with it! Here's how:

    1) Add a new model or prop - someone or something completely different than you've ever shot before. Different things can bring new inspiration for the same old places!

    2) Shoot only at one particular camera setting. Pick a shutter speed, or a focal length and don't deviate. You'll find new angles, perspectives and get results you may not have stumbled upon otherwise.

    3) Turn OFF the preview screen and wait till I get home to view the images. (this forces you to try several different things right then and there as you won't know what works and what doesn't till it's too late to try again!)

    There was a post here not long ago suggesting you should go sit in one place for ten minutes without even your camera to hand. In those ten minutes, you really LOOK HARD at what you see immediately around you and think of different ways to shoot just those things. Take in the colors, textures, the way the light plays... THEN go get your camera. Take notes once you do start shooting and you'll have an arsenal of ideas for your next session!

    Above all, just GO SHOOT. Don't let yourself be hindered... get out there and shoot anyway. Who cares if someone doesn't like the background?!

    Good luck!

    PS: I realized just how hypocritical I am in this post. Just today, I asked for location help from a fellow photographer. I'll take a dose of my own medicine, now! Thank you!

  • Vlastik February 24, 2012 08:29 am

    It is not what location, but why you are there and what is the light.
    Every single place is a photo location, the creative act is to find out how you can use it for your purpose.
    Fancy locations, exotic backdrops - that is not necessary. On contrary.
    The best pictures are from locations you know, you've made plenty of shots, so you know what time of the day is there the best light, if there is traffic, what style of shots could be done there and, of course, if it is safe to shoot there.

  • Watt February 24, 2012 07:48 am

    I live in a small town too - and I hate it like Meg :P
    But using as large aperture as I can (usually f/1.8) I can hide the things behind the subject.
    I love street portraiture photography and without enormous blur those pictures would be valueless.
    Another advice could be - if you can afford and carry with yourself at times, to buy some background linens or paper.
    Yep, and another: I suppose there's a park or a forest near you where you could take portraits. Even a lake or something would help (but... at us the place around the lake sometimes it's full of garbage... :( ).

  • susan February 24, 2012 07:35 am

    You are assuming that because you don't live in an exotic location that things around you are uninteresting. Sometimes the most interesting things are the expressions on peoples faces, people sitting at bus stops, a dog sleeping against a wall, or an interesting perspective of an ordinary street scene. It's never the location, it's the WAY something is shot. Look for the beauty in the ordinary process of everyday living. Look at the websites of the usual wedding photographers, and then the EXTRAORDINARY ones. The difference is the artistry, not the location or subject. Any wedding can look boring and predictable, or exciting and evocative. It's the photographer, not the subject or location. So your own home, friends, and town can be amazing too!!

  • Chuck from Virginia USA February 24, 2012 07:02 am

    My SIMPLEST SOLUTION would be to 1. zoom in so that your portrait will ONLY include your subject. (or move in closer to your subject to eliminate the background altogether.) 2. focus on the subject' s closer EYE. USE a tripod or steady your camera FIRMLY and slowly sqweeeeze the shutter. Remember you are trying to capture the SUBJECT and NOT THE BACKGROUND. I prefer to have the subject face 45 degrees to the left or right and then Look into the lens. Good Luck and keep on keeping on. Chuck

  • Rayburn Mitchell February 24, 2012 06:53 am

    Sometimes it can be as simple as having a smiling child hug a smal tree if there is an interesting background. The background can be a light snow or rain, or blur the background and you will be surprised at the results.

  • Scott February 24, 2012 06:53 am

    Sounds you want to be outside... All the comments about aperture and cropping etc are very good and effective. But finding the location can be half the fun, especially as you have children.

    Grab your camera, coats for the kids and go for a drive/walk. Have the time and confidence to stop anywhere that might look interesting and go for a walk. As has been mentioned, you don't need a nice big scene with everything in the right place, cos you'll only see a little of it at a time. As a whole it may not look like much, there's one place i go with 3-4 decent 'backdrops' all in the same spot.

    Also don't be scared to ask for permission. Doesn't matter if it's private property, it can still be used, just make sure it's done properly. Find the place, check it out the best you can, then (making sure your well prepared with business card, portfolio, photo shoot vouchers etc...) approach the owner, introduce yourself, compliment the location, explain what your wanting to do, then if necessary, provide an additional incentive in form of future product or service. Only once have I had someone flat turn me down, normally they'll just want a call before you turn up for the shoot, so they know it's you on their property...

    My father always taught me something that applies to all aspects of life, "Never ask? Never get!"

  • Alicia February 24, 2012 06:03 am

    These are really really great suggestions! I am bookmarking this discussion for future reference!! Thanks, everyone!

  • David Hunt February 24, 2012 05:35 am

    Keep in mind that you're photographing children not landscapes. If you are taking close ups, adjust your camera to focus on your subject and blur the background. For wide angle shots of children at play, etc.. any place a child chooses to play is appropriate background because it is their choice, normal and interesting. For example, if they are running barefoot through a mud puddle, you have a great potential shot. Playing board games at the kitchen table or helping paint a fence would be more interesting and natural then a staged shot with a beautiful mountain landscape in full focus in the background. Just get down to their height level when you are photographing children. Hope this helps. Good luck and enjoy!

  • iamaiman February 24, 2012 05:35 am

    Hi Meg,









  • Marco February 24, 2012 05:31 am

    I find that all of the above is good advice, but all are making the assumption that Meg has the basic tools of a portrait photographer without being sure. Most of this advice is based on you having a DSLR and some fast lenses for wide apertures. If Meg is using a point and shoot or a DSLR with a kit lens she will not have the options of a portrait photographer who does. The nice thing about portraiture is that almost any DSLR will work fine, but you must learn how to use it. If it is a crop sensor, some settings will for sure be different than a full frame sensor, yet the principals are the same. Either way, she needs fast glass. You need to have lenses that go down to at least an f/2.8 or better. Kit lenses just won't work as well as an f/3.5 just isn't enough to blur out the background that is too busy in most cases. If you don't have the tools, don't beat yourself up over not getting the results you want. Just learn to get the most from the tools you have until you can upgrade.

  • Chas. McNamara February 24, 2012 04:48 am

    I do editorial portraits and most of them are at the subject's home. You can see from the various shots that I usually have to darken to background, or hang something on the wall.

  • Dan February 24, 2012 04:41 am

    Hmmm.... Interesting dilema. I have a similar issue where I am, but instead of unattractive, mine is all nature. I'd consider adapting to a specific style. If the town is really that unattractive, maybe a grunge style photography would be a good idea... I did some of this in my last town (150K people, but a failing in industrial town). So, I went to a grunge style for my main style, and macro for the attractive images.

  • Ole Koustrup Hansen February 24, 2012 04:27 am

    For me - I think the portrait - meaning the person is important. I have always wondered about those wedding photos and/or portraits taken exotic places ... is the place more important than the person?

    What I like is to get the person and the persons personality into the picture. Taking pictures of children - why do you want the Spanish Staircase in Rome as background - why not the local playground or forrest - even the street you live on (using a F1.4 you can get it some out of focus - and enhance the person)?

    Go for your backyard and that lonely tree - let the person sit, leaning on the tree - maybe reading, like Alice in Wonderland - adjust the light, and the picture could be taken on Hawaii, Barcelona or the moon (nearly)

    Of course you can cheat - take the picture with a green/blue screen in the background and then paste a beautiful and exotic place into the background - but is it really a nice and authentic portrait photo?

    Ole (from Denmark)

  • Bill Pearl February 24, 2012 04:14 am

    Lots of great suggestions here. Only thing I might add for you to consider is.

    Go to the clients home to do the portrait. Their home will reflect who they are so use it to your advantage. Perhaps the snowy or sunny front steps, the garden they work so hard on, for the guys maybe the workshop or place of work, the family in the 'family room', etc..

    Remember you are trying to tell the story of those in the portrait.

  • Jason Adell February 24, 2012 04:12 am

    Meg... I read several replays above and they are all great. What I do when I am not happy with my background is shoot against a green screen, then I can place my client anywhere in the world they want

  • john McKay February 24, 2012 04:10 am

    Soft outdoor light Plus interesting doorways, textured walls, fences, gardens, rocks, etc etc.
    Indoor public places can also work well as backgrounds. I like churches.

  • Scott Warren February 24, 2012 04:04 am

    The most important thing is to LOOK AROUND you at all times. I caught a double rainbow, the major part showing through some locust trees, bare in winter. I only saw this because I looked out my office window at the right time. Pictures in the woods after an ice storm with bright sun can be breath taking. I saw a friend post a picture of a very muddy creek, pure brown, taken after a snowfall, it was really neat. Great pictures are all arouind you. You have to choose what YOU think is striking. This week, I'll get the first daffodils of spring. That pic will brighten the hearts of all of us Northerners. Nothing spectacular, just a very welcome harbinger of the soon to spring - spring. Just look around you- great pics are all over the place.

  • BettyD February 24, 2012 03:59 am

    I personally LOVE unattractive small towns.
    There are always some dilapidated houses, garages, barns to choose from. I especially love old stone or brick walls with CHARACTER! Also, look for gardens with fences as they make great locations.
    Take the kids on an outing and look closer than the average person to find some amazing backgrounds. I'd suggest taking pre-shots or logging the best time of day to shoot the locations also.
    Good luck!

  • Lori February 24, 2012 03:55 am

    Post processing can turn ordinary into whimsical. I recently shot an engagement shoot in the middle of a terrible drought, there wasn't a green thing to be seen anywhere and I always shoot outdoors! So I made the brown and tan hues of dead plants a focal point, not something to be avoided:

    When I got engaged we set up a photoshoot in a antique shop and took photos on couches and in chairs, then outside in front of a yellow wall. Some of my favorite photos of us ever! :

    Imagine a big open field, shot from a low angle, a girl in a bright red dress running barefoot through the grass. Or setting up a picnic amongst the trees. I could literally pick a dozen spots in my immediate neighborhood that could be used in a pinch.

  • Paul February 24, 2012 03:45 am

    My advice is to not worry about backgrounds, shoot where and when the light is good, then shoot wide open like f2.8 to throw the distracting backgrounds out of focus. Take some test shots, go and look again.... you'll be amazed what you can achieve.

  • Christa Hoenig February 24, 2012 03:32 am

    You can use things that don't exactly need a good location, like, the sun, if you can get up early enough, and find the perfect spot to photograph it makes for great pictures. You could also (if you're not busy) take a day and visit neighboring towns/cities/villages, look for something you think would look like a good picture, pick the best way to shoot it, stance/lighting/setting on your camera etc. You could also fix up your backyard, and take black and white photos of your kids running around. Take close up pictures with a blurred background. Use the different resources you have to make your pictures look better. I hope you have fun shooting!!! :)

  • gordon February 24, 2012 03:31 am

    The location hardly matters! You can take fabulous portraits just about anywhere. A great imagination and creative skills are all that you really need.

  • Daren Russ February 24, 2012 03:19 am

    Im in the same boat as this photographer. What will be the optimal setting. what can i use to add pop to my photos. Im new and investigating DIY projects to help with lighting etc. One of the best things I have found is getting commonly available things to help with your photos like... and these are only sujjestions.

    1. Go to a automotive store and get the silver window protectors you see in windshields. These make good reflectors

    2. Go to your local thrift store and look for different fabrics.. can be curtains, bed sheets etc. Get a halogen work light and you can use this as a light box.

    3. Make time to go out to locations in your area and take practice shots.. need a subject, when your at the thrift store pick up an old plastic doll. I know you will look weird but who cares.

    4. de emphasize your back grounds by having your subjects 10.. 15 feet away and blow the back ground out

    Again.. im just starting too but look on this site and others for inspiration.. take that side road that you drive by all the time.. check out that old farm house or barn.. (check with owners first of course). Inspiration is where you find it.

    Best of luck

  • Robert K February 24, 2012 03:18 am

    I would like to suggest my go to background, it's outside, and I have found at least one terrific one in every location I have photographed: it's a tree. I love them when I shoot with my lenses wide open, when I shoot with everything sharp, when I shoot blurry portraits, when I shoot artistic, commercial, personal, sensual, and many other ways. Trees are amazing! For texture you could use the bark as a background, let the sun shine through the green for dramatic backlighting, use the tree to block the noon light and photograph under the umbrella of shade it offers, use the tree as a prop chair or a screen to shoot through, the possibilities are nearly endless. Focus on what you have and make it better!

  • February 24, 2012 02:48 am

    Joe McNally's new book "Sketching Light, an illustrated tour of the possibilities of flash" (link here has a chapter where Joe illustrates the point of making an unattractive background attractive (or at least, not unattractive) by using shallow DOF and underexposing background / flash on subject, all using TTL. (TTL is an abbreviation for "so easy anyone can do it!). Good luck Meg!

  • David Parkhurst February 23, 2012 10:33 am

    1. Try to have a couple of backgrounds packed in the car, even if it's simply a piece of black cloth and one of another color. Great for isolating subjects if the background stinks. 2. Work your subject/pose to fit the background. Nothing but bricks/pipes in the background? Go for the industrial/art noir look! Long coats, hats, overbundling people, a "glimpsed face" or thoughtful expression. Look for ways to minimize your background.... focus on a railroad track and work your subject around that, isolate them against a wall..... it's lovely to have "Half Dome" behind us when we shoot, but it's not always going to happen.

  • Abhinaba February 23, 2012 01:07 am

    It is not a necessity to travel to exotic location to get exotic portraits. It looses the very purpose of portrait photography as its about the subject more than the landscape (the very name says that). It can help to a great extent but so can uninspired locations.
    As you must already know, that photography is all about creativity and doesn't come with any hard and fast rules. And you are more than welcome to break the "guidelines" to show your creative personality. So instead of seeing your "location challenge" as a challenge, use it to your advantage. Uninspired situations can itself be a inspiration for a photography project. Lull of a cliched town, the breeze of boredom and lack of exotic/stylish/modern architecture can be some very strong elements in your photos, and if combined with the right expression of your subject(happy or sad or whatever); either staged or spontaneously can bring in a lot of emotion in your picture. Try using "emotional" contrast and exposure, along with those of your cameras.
    Also, what seems not so exotic to you, can be seen as a brilliantly inspiration by someone else. Its all about perspective. Try playing with your perspective a bit. After all, an ability to perceive the same thing uniquely is what separates us.

    If there is one thing true about creativity in general, is that "our prejudiced mind" limits it and nothing else. Have a lot of fun and great success with your portrait photography. Keep Shooting :D

    Here is a stack of "exotic" photographs (not portrait) from not so "exotic" places. Have a look and get inspired.

  • L February 22, 2012 09:39 pm

    What I find hardest is to figure out what type of portrait I want and what sort of mood/style I am after, as this dictates what type of background I need. As others have said isolating the subject with a long lens or shallow debth of field can be very helpful to remove clutter, but make sure that the colours in the background convey the mood you are after and ensure that the blurry background isn't too busy with colours that distract (unless of course if that is what you want to have in the photo). What I find more frustrating is that when you are in a great location, but you cannot get the shot that you want, that there is too much good that you forget to concentrate on what you are trying to achieve i.e. a pretty portrait, but instead you focus too much on the red wall. Here is a recent photo I took in a lab that was a great location, but I felt that showing all the details distracted from what I was after.

  • Dianne Dayboll February 22, 2012 11:49 am

    I am an in home daycare provider, so I am also at home during any day light hours. I love taking photos of children. You don't need beautiful backgrounds, expensive props or lighting. Get on the same level as the children. Try and catch them doing what they do naturally, (posing usually tends to look stiff with young children). You have the advantage of being able to watch the light in your house. If the kitchen has great light in the afternoon, take your shots there. Get in close, to avoid backgrounds altogether. Be creative!
    To view some of my photos:

  • Valkyri February 22, 2012 06:04 am

    I read something today - paraphrased it went something like - leave your camera alone, vow not to shoot anything and just look and think about what you could be shooting until you're mad that you don't have your camera.

    I thought this was great advice for me, who also lives in an uninspiring place. I'm starting to look at ordinary things and wondering how I could make them look less ordinary. I think it's about developing an "eye" - as much I followed some of those links and thought (ain't no way I'll ever achieve THAT!) there are interesting things around if you're looking at them as a photograph and not as your general environment. Sure, you can stress over how to "get creative" like some of those examples, and maybe (like me) feel rather discouraged - or you can just notice the things around you without the pressure of actually having to take any shots.

    So, I read through the comments hoping for advice for me - but that little bit that I read earlier today might help you Meg too.

    Good luck!

  • Snapsnapzoom February 22, 2012 02:38 am

    One of the most interesting ideas someone gave me once was to take a shovel go to the edge of the woods or even just a grassy spot in the yard, drive way, whatever, and dig in. Move it off into a box or plate and then take a close up picture of all the details there. Its like an entire world that no one ever looks at. Its great for sketching and drawing too.

  • Scott Grissom February 22, 2012 02:32 am

    I completely agree with Martin:

    "Meg needs to get away from the mindset that she needs a good location to get good photos.
    With some creativity, short depth-of-field, and interesting lighting, you can use almost any location to get interesting photos."

    This photo was taken in an office that had been turned into a library because the only view in the window is of the backside of an air-conditioning unit. I used the monochrome setting, a very low aperture and a little longer shutter speed to help overexpose the background. When I showed it to my instructor she thought it was a building in the background.

  • Mano February 22, 2012 01:01 am

    Hi Meg

    If you think that better backgrounds give better Portrait , then its wrong.. Dont take me wrong, ofcourse beter backgrounds are good to have in portraits but , they also take away the viewers attention from your main subject.. Some of my tips are:

    1) Take a photo of your subject and turn it into B&W , coz if you observe , B&W photos will give strong look for the viewer and also you can turn the viewers attention from distracting background to your main subject..Usually they have a feel within themselves.

    2) Take a closeup of your subject by completely removing background(you can always do that even indoors and infact you can take a lovely portrait photo even in rest room) coz viewer doesnt always know where you have taken that photo.

    3) Use effectively your distracting backgrounds in such a way that you dress up your subject so that he/she gels well with your available background.
    Ex: If you have rusty doors or pipes , ugly bushes , then dress up your subject in such a way where you try to convey the viewer that your subject is alone , missing somebody , waiting for someone a kind of grim look etc..

    All these do add a story for your portraits..

    I am not a pro photographer(just a hobbiest and photographic enthusiast) but after viewing countless wonderful portraits online , i have started learning myself and just shared them with you..

    All the best.


  • Alet February 21, 2012 10:05 am

    Meg, it's very good of you to seek help. At least you are an honest person. As a reminder, most of the time, things can turn out differently under the camera lens. Totally different if what's seen by our naked eyes. Play with your camera settings at manual mode. Set at different apertures and shutter speed. But always consider the available light. Check the results and check which focal lenghts give you the best results at a given aperture & shutter speed. By the way, change your WB(white balance settings too). WB is a simple way of getting your colours right!

    All the best! Keep that desire burning.

  • Buck Leonard February 21, 2012 10:00 am

    I live in a rather uninspiring small town in Kansas, probably alot like yours, Meg. I have found that even the most mundane looking objects can be transformed into beautiful works of art. Just use a little imagination. I love taking my kids to the school playground and working with action/blur photos. There's a set of train tracks that run through town that I'll take the kids to (just have to watch out for the trains that come through every 20 minutes). If there's any wooded areas that you can go to, those are great. If there's alot of junk in the background, work with your depth of field to blur out the background. If you have any open areas where you can get a good sunrise or sunset, sillohuettes make wonderful pictures that are rich in color. I would recommend just going out for a walk some nice day and look at what's around. You'd be surprised at what you might see, that you never saw before.

  • John LeFebvre February 21, 2012 09:34 am

    EVERYWHERE has somewhere interesting, whether it is something you create in your home (use a few sheets, bits of material, and anything reflective - even tinfoil on sheets of cardboard - to give your lighting a bit extra).

    There must be some water somewhere, a stretch of grass, a hill, a tree (or two!) that would make an interesting place for person to lie down on, lean against, etc. Be creative, get dressed up, get naked(!), use props, use none, try EVERYTHING and see what works and what doesn't - you will learn a heck of a lot and have an adventure along the way. The only thing stopping you is YOU. Good luck, and hopefully we will see some results of yours!

  • Karen February 21, 2012 09:21 am

    I will take trips to the local nurseries during a sunny day and take macros of the flowers.

  • Karen McHale February 21, 2012 08:00 am

    I would really recommend a basic photography class at your local community college for two reasons. One, it will GET YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE! Trust me, as a stay-at-home-mom of seventeen years, I know the need of getting out and doing something creative and having adult conversation! Second, it's a great way to hone your skills and brush up on your basics (or learn them if you haven't ever taken an actual photography class). It will also give you some other prospective and ideas. Oh, and did I mention that it will GET YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE????

  • Tiffany February 21, 2012 07:53 am

    What I've done is gone to my town's website (if you have one) and see what they try to attracts tourists to. Those areas are taken care of usually and often have some unique qualities. I've lived in the same town my whole life and I'm constantly finding little areas that I've constantly passed by, but when I get my mind into the tourist (or new-comer) mindset they catch my eye.

  • David Wahlman February 21, 2012 07:16 am

    Hey Meg,
    I think that one element that really helps in locations with nice backgrounds or not, is depth of field. Someone might have already mentioned it, I didn't read the above comments, but if you don't have a background you want to be clear in the picture, then move the subject away from the background, use your largest aperture, and if possible and conducive, using a longer lens will also help depth of field. Sometimes blurred contrasts, colors, or patterns in the background can be really enhance a photo, especially if you don't have an intriguing background to start with.

  • Farrish February 21, 2012 07:10 am

    I concur with most of the people above. It's a portrait shoot, not an Ansel Adams tribute (it's his birthday by the way). I have found that many of my strongest portraits come from a completely neutral wall. I find a waterfall laden with tropical birds in the background is a substitute, many times, for a lack of talent.

  • OnyxE February 21, 2012 03:48 am

    I'm not a professional but I've seen lots of great portraits that incorporate the suggestions given above. I don't think location is that important for portraits and I think if you just go out and start taking portraits in your 'very unattractive' town you'll start coming up with ideas. My favorite subject for 'portraits' are close ups of Canada geese where the background is often so blurred it's just a block of color.

    I know of a photographer on Facebook who takes great photos in very unexotic locations; you might want to look at some of her photos

  • Isoterica February 21, 2012 02:58 am

    My answer to an unglamorous house and run of the mill suburb as well as illness has been to shoot a lot of macro photography. You can do it in house, up close and personal, you can do it outside in your backyard and get excellent results without ever leaving home. You can shoot food or leaves or toys or compositions of all.

    You did say you were interested in portraiture though. And you have kids kids. Perhaps a local park and capturing children on the play equipment.. or by flowering plants and trees, spring is a wonderful time for that. You could also capture adults spending their leisure time there, elderly taking a walk. Having children is often a good communication tool because other parents or caregivers or even older people who have had children are more willing to interact. For instance a man walking in a park alone might be ignored but a man pushing a baby in a carriage always draws attention. So do pets. Pets and kids are ice breakers.

    The above comments have already answered to how you can blur out the clutter or boring backgrounds. Another option is getting so close that the faces fill the frame. Driving a little ways provided you don't have too many children to keep track of might be worth your while too.

  • Deb Buchanan February 21, 2012 02:57 am

    Meg....I too am photo challenged in my area. There are no oceans, forests, mountain scenes to capture so I started with small subjects in my own back yard to learn macro. Insects, flowers and birds can keep you quite busy on a daily adventure by just stepping outside. The more you shoot, the more creative you get. Winter months can keep you creative by going for a walk in your neighborhood or driving around your town to look for subjects like Snowmen and Christmas decorations.. Learn and read about "How to take photos" of your subjects. i.e. snow, birds, flowers, insects. Buy yourself some flowers and you'll find yourself capturing closeups and learning about lighting. Small subjects tells big stories...My "Noticing the Little Things" won first place on Webshots. Challenge yourself by taking a Sunday drive and finding abandoned subjects. DPS always has a weekly photo challenge. Remember, always take your camera with you. Good luck Meg, we're all in this together because we all share the love of the same hobby.

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra February 21, 2012 02:10 am

    I am stuck in a dusty, dirty city with tooooo harsh climates but could manage to capture some decent pictures. I hope the location should not matter at all.

  • SedienaLee February 21, 2012 02:06 am

    Look at your local park areas. are there any state parks or forrests nearby? its not unreasonable to ask someone sitting for a set to drive an hour outside the city. also if youre near a big city, check out downtown areas. i took half a day and drove all over the state capital looking for places of interest. i found several that were not on a map.

  • Jeremy Davis February 21, 2012 12:44 am

    I suggest forgetting about location and start scouting light. Put your subject next to a window and see how the light and shadows change as he/she turns into and away from it. Use open shade and try to figure out where the light is coming from. I took a class with Bobbi Lane a few years ago, and one of the things she said that stuck with me was to stop scouting locations, scout light and make the location work.

    Two other things that might help:
    1. Make your subject the focus, not the background. Zoom in on the subject and throw the background out of focus. Then you'll start to see leading lines in the out of focus background that you can use to pull the eye into your subject.

    2. Change your perspective. I find that this is the easiest way to make an old location new again. We're so used to just lifting the camera and firing away, but there's a whole wealth of creativity from up above and down below. Get down on the ground and shoot up, or get above your subject and shoot down. Take a 360 degree walk around your subject. It'll open up a new world for you.

    The image I'm including was shot in an urban park that is NOT pretty.

    Good luck, and happy shooting.

  • Rachel G February 21, 2012 12:19 am

    I am constantly looking for new places for portraits. One thing I do is overlook all the reason why a place WON'T work, and figure out how to MAKE it work. For example- I really wanted to find a nice field of tall grass like the nice sunny pictures I see on DPS forums. But I live in a city in the south where fields are not common. On my way home, I happened to see a "field" on the side of the road, very very small, but if I'm creative about model placement and constantly checking the background, I can promise you that you would think it was taking in Indiana or something.

    Find a wall with great textures, graffiti... if you can get into the habit of checking your backgrounds before you shoot the picture, you can certainly find somewhere around your house that looks like an exotic locations :) In other words, make it work for you!

  • Jason Ogden February 20, 2012 11:23 pm

    Portriats are about the model, so the old saying "less is more" should be the thought on the background, throw some trees or bushes out of focus with good light on the model and you should be ok.

  • Matt Dowd February 20, 2012 10:51 pm

    Try just getting really shallow DOF to blur out any unwanted background. This shot was taken in pizza hut

    and this one was taken in my (not particularlyinteresting) living room.

  • Conny February 20, 2012 09:55 pm

    Read some of the tutorials on this site for lightning tips,

    I would do this: use whatever light in your house and experiment with from diffrent direction ,or just experiment with a flash and a omni bouncher either bought or homemade.

  • ccting February 20, 2012 06:54 pm

    It looks like the weekly assignment "minimalization".. ...

  • ccting February 20, 2012 06:53 pm

    I am struggling for portrait shot too.. This is still my 1st year having my own camera,, and I am concentrating solely to lighting. 1 year for learning basic lighting, not bad right?

  • Karen Linsley February 20, 2012 04:33 pm

    You've received from very good advice here. What I would add is to go within yourself. I assume you have a passion for photography and that you like people (otherwise why do portrait photography?). Deep within yourself is that well if passion, inspiration and creativity, and it will serve you well if you learn to access it and develop it, no matter what your location. But if you don't access that inner source, you could be creating images in the most beautiful place in the world, but those images will be uninspiring. Books like "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron are very helpful. Good luck to you!

  • Chris February 20, 2012 04:28 pm

    Open your eyes, Meg.

  • PhotographresOnUTube February 20, 2012 03:15 pm

    Meg, there are many ways to tackle this problem. I don't know what kind of lenses you're using but I would first suggest to use prime lenses for portraits. Even if you don't have a great backdrop but you can still blow out the background with silky smooth bokeh. If you're using a crop sensor body then you can start off with 50 1.8 lens and for full frame start off with 85mm 1.8 lens

    Composition is another key to a great picture. Here is a sample picture. No greenery or exotic location but the composition, leading lines and rule of 3rds made this picture pop.

    Again, no exotic place here either. This is were the reception was held and that's all I had to work with. You use your composition skills to arrange something that's simple but also fills your frame.

    This run down house was right across from where the reception was being held. What did I do? I went with contrast between formal clothing and a run down building and did vintage edit.

    Basically you don't need an exotic location to make your portrait pop. But having the right lens and feeling comfortable with composition makes your job easier.

    Hope this helps.

    Jibran from PhotographersOnUTube

  • Jai Catalano February 20, 2012 03:05 pm

    You are thinking inside the box. NOTHING should hold you back and I know you know that. I am not trying to be harsh but an excuse is an excuse is an excuse and being in a place that is uninspiring is not worthy of a discussion.

  • Brad Oliver February 20, 2012 02:57 pm

    Whenever I have a boring background or want to hide it, I usually go for a close up shot and get a more intimate shot. Combine that with the right lighting and a blurred background, you should be able to achieve the portrait photo you want.

  • raghavendra February 20, 2012 02:44 pm

    1. you can also show the portraits by standing before the wall,
    2. if u have a garden in your home sit beside the fruits or flowers
    3. you can come down to street, nowadays many portraits have used portraits through street

  • Alignm2 February 20, 2012 11:44 am

    Meg - you need to look at your local, locale as a destination for others. What you find normal and mundane, visiting photographers will find interesting and perhaps exotic (not knowing where you are adds to the mystery!). Try shooting at a different angle - if you usually shoot your subjects straight on, shoot a few images from below, above, the side and even behind! Go for the uncommon view of the common.
    Blurring your background (Bokeh for the photo snobs amongst us) will mask your locale. Posing your subjects in their own homes, offices or in your studio surrounded by familiar objects will make your subjects more comfortable and relaxed. This often offsets an exotic location, since we are all after a good portrait of our subjects, not of an exotic location.
    Just look at things "out of the box." Go for it!!!!

  • Erin Wilson February 20, 2012 11:01 am

    I'm always on the look out for walls with interesting textures. Brick walls, barn walls (weathered wood or paint), wood clapboard, industrial steel, even concrete. Using the same location at different times of day can often completely change the look of the space.

  • Martin February 20, 2012 10:56 am

    Meg needs to get away from the mindset that she needs a good location to get good photos.

    With some creativity, short depth-of-field, and interesting lighting, you can use almost any location to get interesting photos.

  • NgeeJee February 20, 2012 10:39 am

    Location, while tells part of the story of the shoot, it usually is not the main subject (portraits usually is not about scenery anyway). Good use of angle, lighting, and careful selection of lens use is often times crucial in getting an interesting shot (well, to the people who's hired you, anyway). Being a professional photographer means being able to produce images that sells - i.e. clients will like and buy, and not images that win awards (tho it will be good to be both award winning and being able to sell at the same time). What we photographers deemed as good and pretty may not be the case for your subjects. Likewise, what we see as "normal" and "boring" shots can be the most wonderful ones your subjects has even seen, because you have managed to capture "them" in your photo, as a lot of times, we like to see ourselves look good, and it's usually more important than the background or the surrounding.
    This shot is taken at an old neighborhood where my clients grew up. Its just an old public place, with some bench on it, with people selling fruits and stuffs in make shift stalls at the background. It absolutely blown my clients away, as they didn't think that the place can look like that, and totally loved the colors, and of course, they loved natural looking image, and not those posed ones. (85mm f2.0, EOS7D)

    While not all clients like natural, photojournalistic images, a lot more does.
    This images is taken a few minutes before the previous one, and its at the same locality, this one next to a house, and an open drain. Do scout around, as you will find interesting places to shoot even tho they do not look that special in the first place. I passed through this place everyday, and it turn out to be a very nice place for portraits.
    same place as the previous shot, but from a different angle. Angle plays an important role in your final image. Be sure to walk around and do not dive in too quickly to start shooting.
    Some trees in the background, back-lighting, lovely sunset, and a loving couple, that's it. No exotic locations required.
    Just a normal park and a lovely couple, with a long lens to crop out all noise and rubbish. (85mm f/2.0 on EOS40D)
    A chair, and plain old wall, some plants, lowered angle, setting sun, and a happy kid, shot on my small lawn (85mm f/1.8, EOS40D)

    My view is, as photographers (and not a person with a camera), we need to be able to make the most out of our given situation. Explore and experiment with different settings, lenses, angles and time of the day and see what makes it, and what breaks it. Do not for a second thinks that we are handicapped by the locality we are at. Often time, we are handicapped by our imagination, and ourselves. =)

  • Ben February 20, 2012 10:18 am

    There is nothing more exotic and interesting than the location your in, in my opinion. Hit things up with different angles, look at the location not as if you have seen it a million times but as if you are seeing it for the first time.

  • Peter Krahulik February 20, 2012 10:01 am

    1. Go for a walk in your street. Observe carefully the faces of people passing by. Watch the eyes varying in shape and colors, look for harmony of face shape and skin tones. Look at the noses and mouths. Watch the shadows changing as you are moving on. There are endless variations. Keep looking for different aspects and how they contribute to the overall picture.
    2. Go for a walk in your street. Look for emotions of the others. Look not only for face, but also for the movement and body position. Start with what you see, then try to imagine the same peaople smiling, laughing or crying.
    3. Go for a walk in your street. Look carefully for clothing of different people, its color, reflective properties and their combinations. Change your observation angle to get different background and watch for change in light and contrast.
    4. Take your kids for a walk with your camera. You should now know how what to put them on and how to look at them. Ask them for playing different emotions for you.
    5. Repeat any step you like from above with different weather, or street, or family members, friends etc. Try portraits with two or three persons.
    6. If you can find hidden beauty in the background and include into your picture, its great. Or you can blow it away using wide aperture. Just don't let it stop you from taking pictures. As Steve above has already said - It's not the location, it's person what counts.

  • michael murphy February 20, 2012 09:52 am

    you may just be very used to your surroundings. think along the lines of a tourist visiting. where would they shoot. aside from that. maybe your just ignoring the cool intricacies that your town has to offer that you had no idea existed. i recently did a shoot where the subject was surrounded by garbage behind a Home Depot. Just get creative. Hard to do sometimes but it is in you somewhere. good luck and just keep on shooting.

  • Shan February 20, 2012 09:42 am

    Meg, do you have even a small yard? If so, begin taking steps to make it "exotic". Plant a gardenia bush this spring, and find plans for a small arbor to build, or maybe invest in a wooden swing or bench. Before you know it, you'll have a beautiful, colorful, natural backdrop for your subjects. I know someone who has a small goldfish pond in her yard and takes beautiful pictures of her son next to it, so maybe try that. Good luck!

  • Neil Hargreaves February 20, 2012 09:34 am

    Back up and shoot long.

    It seems counterintuitive, but the best way to reduce the amount of clutter in the background is to take a few steps backwards and shoot with a longer focal length. The reduced field of view of a longer lens helps isolate the clean bits of background, whilst stepping back allows you to maintain the size of the subject in the frame.

    My preferred lens for family shoots is my 70-200/2.8, usually shot at the 200mm end from about 10m away. Shooting wide open, or stopped down a stop, allows me to render the background into creamy bokeh.

    It's also important to remember that to get your subject off the background. The more distance you can get between your subject and your background (compared to the camera to subject distance), the more chance you have of blurring that clutter.

  • Daniel February 20, 2012 09:12 am

    I tend to have the same problem, I'm in a small college town, and there's not a whole lot of great places, so first I started looking into local photographers. Where do they go? What angles are they shooting from? What focal lengths are they using to get either a close or far feel? Then I started taking my camera everywhere, no exceptions, night or day, if I leave the house I take my camera with only one lens (usually my prime, so I can get low-light, and it gives me more of a reason to move). I started to look at the world as a photo shoot, imagining good spots and just wandering. "Oh look an alley, that's good framing" will lead me to "What a nice stair case" would lead me to "Wow, there's a house that's so old it's covered with foliage. What character!". At first it's difficult, but the more you look the more there is to look at.

    Hang out with people and take candid shots, and don't be afraid to take pictures of strangers. The in-the-moment photographs sometimes make the background unnoticeable. And generally everywhere has a greasy spoon joint, coffee shop that the college kids go to, a rumoured "Haunted house". Just be prepared to sit, and wait for the photographic opportunity to you. Slower towns give a good open feel to photographs, and you can really hone in and single out your subject.

  • LFSaw February 20, 2012 08:00 am

    Many great photos are the ones that play with the existing backgrounds... try to think artistic and use the "unstylsh house" and the "unattractive small town" as a spot-on location... maybe even stress out the normality.

  • Walter February 20, 2012 07:59 am

    Outdoors with a 300mm f4 or 85mm f1.4. Look up the work of Dean Collins

  • Kay O. Sweaver February 20, 2012 07:57 am

    Get creative. Use props, I'm sure there's something interesting lurking in the garage, basement or attic. Shoot in the garage, basement or attic for that matter. Shoot someone inside the washing machine. Make it look like someone is jumping off the balcony, hiding under an area rug...

    Look at everything as an opportunity.

  • Mostyn February 20, 2012 07:40 am

    Creativity is always a key ingredient to magic images. This requires working with the client to bring some fun and the magic will follow. Every town has a rusty shed, white picket fence and a small park with a bench. Work with the client to bring props and outfits to tell a story, perhaps a scene from a movie. The key is to have fun and the images will follow.

    Two recent blog posts spring to mind ,,,
    Sarah Ann Wright is at the top end of the creativity spectrum....

    Peter Hurley (with enthusiasm) gives some great tips on getting great close in portrait shots

  • Jack Foster Mancilla February 20, 2012 07:12 am

    Use a good lens at a chosen wide aperture. Wide enough to keep all parts of your subject that you want in focus, in focus. Pick a distance from the background that keeps it at a chosen softness. Soft enough to give your subject interest, but not sharp enough to overpower your subject. …

    The background could be a street, a window, a couple lamps or candles, anything. … It could be children playing in the street, or a stove in the kitchen, a tree, a cracked wall. ...

  • Steve February 20, 2012 07:03 am

    Its not the location but the person that is important.

  • David Fair February 20, 2012 06:52 am

    Good light can make even bad locations look good. Get an off-camera flash and underexpose the backgrounds while lighting the subject correctly to enhance the drama in an image, especially one with skies.

  • Dave Marcus February 20, 2012 06:39 am

    1. Get in close so the background doesn't matter as much.
    2. You have access to strong and unusual lighting. Use it.
    3. You have access to strong and unusual angles. Use it.
    4. Shoot outdoors.
    5. Shoot B&W.

  • Klausbert February 20, 2012 06:30 am

    Or, she could get some drapery for background.
    Or a well-lit window to have her subjectperpendicular to it.
    As Erin said, blurring by using a large aperture should help.

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips February 20, 2012 06:23 am

    My advice would be to hone your lighting skills. Even a very simple backyard can come to life on a sunny evening near sunset. Shoot toward a background that is darker than the sky (a row of trees or bushes) and position yourself so that the sun is hitting your subject from directly behind (gives a beautiful sparkly rim light on the hair!). Play with large aperture settings to blur out the background.

    I'm a firm believer that you don't always need a striking location to take a striking portrait. Hey, by being challenged by only having "simple" settings at your disposal, you'll probably wind up being a better photographer in the long run, because you'll know how to take stunning photos in any situation.