Some days it feels like everyone with a fancy camera is hanging up a shingle and trying to start a professional photography business. So, how do you differentiate yourself from the competition? Especially if that competition is priced significantly lower? Your talent and experience are worth more of course, but let’s face it, for families just looking for a cute Christmas card photo, the lower price point is likely to win every time - unless you can offer them something truly different.
When you can’t compete on price point (and I really urge you not to try), you need to find something else that distinguishes you from the rest. Something that makes potential clients say, "yes, it has to be her (or him)."
One way to do this is by scouting unique, outdoor locations that will give your clients images that they can’t get elsewhere - at least, not until other photographers discover your favorite spots. This is why it’s essential to always be scouting for new locations.
Tips for Scouting Photography Locations
For me, a natural light photographer, the lighting at a location is the thing I look at first. I try to visit potential spots during the golden hour, when the light is most magical. I usually have my favorite subjects in tow (my three boys), so I can take a few test shots and experiment with different settings. Some locations may be beautiful, but they just don’t get very much magical light, and I have to pass. The light, for me, is the most important factor.
With that in mind, I tend to avoid heavily wooded areas and those that sit down in a valley - they are less likely to have the lighting I’m looking for. Areas with a treeline that also sit up on a hill are usually ideal for both image composition and lighting. I also target areas that have a lot of foliage - wildflowers, wheat, even weeds. And then, I’m always looking for something unique about the location - an old barn, a pond or creek, or a specific flower or tree that you don’t see that often.
I use one farm location that has a gorgeous old truck, painted teal blue, onsite. It’s not an obvious backdrop for professional photography, but it’s a favorite among my clients. I also love shooting at farms with animals onsite. Whether it’s a horse in the background or a child holding a bunny, photography with animals is something that can be a differentiator.
Another favorite of mine is a local greenhouse specializing in orchids. This provides the perfect setting for my styled child photography (another way I differentiate myself). The orchid location is not immediately obvious as a photography location, and yet, there is something truly magical in the images I’ve been able to capture there. The greenhouse itself is filled with gorgeous orchids, but there is also a barn onsite which provides a totally different look–all at one easy location.
When I find a place, I’m always very respectful to the owners and offer to pay a fee per day or per session. This makes it more of a collaborative effort, and I truly prefer it when there is something in it for them. If it’s a public spot, like a park or historical site, be sure to find out if the city requires a permit to shoot there.
Protecting Your Photography Locations
I try to be somewhat secretive about my favorite locations. In a perfect world, I’m the only photographer shooting there, but even if this is the case at the beginning, it is rarely that way for long. Your clients will share their images online and in social networks, and if other photographers admire what you are doing (which you hope they will!), they will ultimately come looking for your location or something similar.
This is to be expected, but you don’t have to make it easy for them! I avoid specifying locations on my website, and even when selling mini-sessions online, I just give a general description of the location but never include the address. I message it to clients individually. These are small steps to prolong the exclusivity of the location, but if it’s a truly magical spot, it won’t remain a secret for long. This is why it’s essential to constantly be scouting for new spots.
Fortunately, my little tribe loves to explore, so family outings often double as scouting trips. I admit, looking for locations is just one of the many things I enjoy about being a professional photographer.
These are the foundations I use in looking for great spots to shoot, but what about you? What tips do you have for choosing unique locations?