The Creative Mama » inspiring art, encouraging women

Location, Location, Location? Not Necessarily.

Today’s post is a fun little photography lesson!  It’s about something that I keep in mind at every shoot since I’m all on-location and 100% natural light.  Making the best of our location. I often photograph in clients’ homes, in parks, or by the ocean and although I’ve had the opportunity to shoot in some extremely cool locations, I don’t fret if I pull up to a tiny, tree-surrounded property with small windows.  Why?  Because, as Jessica taught us HERE, it’s “Lighting First, Location Second.”  And if there isn’t abundant light inside, then (weather permitting) we step outside into their yard, their porch, and into the neighborhood beyond.

I decided to take two common locations near my own house to illustrate my point.  With my d700 and 85mm f/1.8 lens in hand, I gathered my kids and we took a little walk after dinner!

Here are some ideas to open up lots of new location possibilities for you to use at a client session, or even on your own neighborhood excursions with your kids and the trusty point and shoot.  Use your imagination, explore your surroundings, and find new opportunities right in your own town.

Blah Location #1


The first is a tree-lined sidewalk near our home, beside one of the main county roads.  I’d driven by this sidewalk thousands of times before I ever stopped to think about shooting here.  It’s certainly nothing special ~ this meager strip of sidewalk boasts a harsh chain link fence, a few tall pines, lots of pine straw (and pollen!) piling up on the sidewalk, unsightly utility poles, some shrubbery growing through the fence, one lovely little bougainvillea, and a moderately-traveled road just a few feet away.  Not exactly prime real estate, but with the sun getting ready to dip below the trees (and a strong grip on my toddler’s hand!) I was sure I could make it work!

Look for soft, pleasing light and place your subject appropriately in relation to your light source.

Shoot directly into the sun, let it come from the side, the front, anywhere but directly overhead or underneath your subject.  We don’t want raccoon-eyes (from overhead light) or ghoulish faces (think flashlight under the chin, not flattering on anyone).  I much prefer backlighting and sidelighting over frontlight any day, as it gives more shape and dimension to your subject.  But being all natural light and photographing busy, won’t-sit-still-for-a-minute toddlers on a regular basis, I’ll take frontlight or cloud cover ~ whatever I can get!

Jessica gives a fabulous tutorial on working with light here, and Marta gives us some amazing tips on finding the light here as well.  Go check these posts out ~ they’re fantastic reads and full of information!

Look for texture and color.

Simply by utilizing a couple of positive attributes along this unassuming sidewalk (i.e. the green vines growing through the fence, the bougainvillea in full bloom), using shallow depth of field and taking advantage of that soft, cloud-covered evening sun (coming from the left of this photo), we were able to create this little gem here…

Stacey Woods Photography 2010iso 200, f/2.2, 1/320th

Move around, try different angles and perspectives.

I let Parker stay right where he was, but this time I moved to his side so that he was a slightly backlit and his hair glowed just the tiniest bit.  I also liked the perspective and the depth I was able to get from this angle.

Stacey Woods Photography, The Creative Mama 2010iso 200, f/2.2, 1/500th

Stacey Woods Photo - bougainvilleaiso 200, f/2.2, 1/500th for both images

Use the light to your advantage.

Use backlighting whenever possible (see left photo of bougainvillea, below) to place emphasis on your subject, instead of the busy street beyond, in our case.

Shooting the other direction, utilize light falloff (see right photo, below) to direct the eye to the subject instead of to the messy fence behind the shrub.  See how the sunlight doesn’t quite reach the fence behind the plant, and so it separates itself from the flowers? 

(*Great trick to keep in mind for shooting in clients’ homes, by the way.  Put your subjects in softly-lit doorways and let the room behind them just disappear into the shadows.)  😉

SWP.TCM.location1iso 200, f/2.2, 1/250th   |   iso 200, f/1.8, 1/160th

Blah Location #2

I was determined to use another area near my house, so I began looking around for a second little (overlooked) spot.  Well, I found what I was looking for in…. get ready for it…. a median!  Yes, a simple little median that is positioned at the entrance to our subdivision.  There are a few shade trees, some decorative grasses, the curb, and, well, that’s about it!  The main street lies beyond, with houses on either side of the median/entrance.  The sun sets to the left side of the photo below.


Shoot tight.

Use a longer lens if you have one available to you (or zoom with your point and shoot).  Get in close to your subject to avoid showing a cluttered background.  Focus on the details to really direct the eye inward.  (Can’t see those kids who just passed by on their bike, can you?)

2010 Stacey Woods Photographyiso 200, f/2.8, 1/500th

Now open up.

Open up your aperture to a very wide f-stop (use Aperture Priority, AV,  A, even venture over to Manual Mode, or M on your camera’s control dial) to really make shallow depth of field turn your distractions into creamy, blurry goodness.  Lila’s curls look delicious to me this way, and really stand out against the green grass and her soft peachy skin.

Stacey Woods Photoiso 200, f/2.8, 1/400th

Rise above the distractions.

That’s right, if all else fails, just shoot upwards!  I simply asked Parker to climb the tree (which he loved), and by shooting upward into the sun, I was able to utilize this beautiful backlight (my personal favorite!) and catch some gorgeous sunflare coming through the trees and over his shoulder.  And no obtrusive rooftops. :)

SWP_backlightiso 200, f/2.2, 1/400th   |   iso 200, f/2.8, 1/500th

I’m issuing you a challenge!  Tonight, just before the sun drops out of view, take your camera and your kiddos outside, and put some of these techniques to use!  One of them or all of them, whatever helps you to discover and take advantage of the fabulous, never-boring settings in and around your home.  Make the most of what you have and let’s see what beauty you can create!  Don’t lose a precious moment because you think the location isn’t “perfect” for shooting.  Trust me, it rarely is.  😉

Stacey Woods

Co-editor, Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. Her online photo journal can be found at Stacey Woods Photography. Stacey’s own husband and children (a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter) are her greatest source of inspiration… and laughter!

About Stacey Woods

Stacey Woods is an on-location, natural light lifestyle photographer for the Tampa Bay, FL area. Her favorite subjects are expecting mamas, the tiniest of babies, and children of all ages. She believes that the small moments are really the biggest ones, that photographs are legacies that we leave to our children, and that authentic love is beautiful. Her online photo journal can be found here.

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  • Erin27MAYS

    That’s well known that money makes us free. But how to act if someone doesn’t have money? The one way only is to try to get the business loans or sba loan.

  • Tracey

    What a fabulous article! I would love to share it with clients! I think all too often they get hung up on these “primo” locations that in reality, lighting wise might not be the best option.

  • Stacey Woods

    Aww Jessica thank you so much! I think they’re beautiful, but then again I might be a tad partial. 😉

    Kimberly, so glad to see you here! Thank you for the sweet words, friend!

  • Jessica Cudzilo

    Ummm, I’m sorry … do you have the most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen?!? Those looks shouldn’t even be legal! Are they for sale? I will buy them quickly up!

    Great post! I needed this as much as the non-photographer did.

  • Stacey Woods

    Thank you everyone! I’m glad it’s been of some help.

    Marta, for all of these I used my 85 1.8 on the D700. Love that combo lately ~ the skin tones are creamy and I adore the bokeh. :) Thanks!

  • martalocklear

    Perfectly put. When I teach this is one of the things I cover. Half of the people that see me work literally laugh at the spots I shoot in! Most of them are dreamy little micro nuggets like this. Do you mind me asking what lens you shoot with? The images are stunning.

  • Kimberly

    What a lovely post and great tips for those of us who are photography novices. I hope to make better use of my little digital camera by reading tips on this blog! And your children are gorgeous – love how you describe Lila’s curls as “delicious”! From your friend, Kimberly

  • Julie

    This is a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Tammy

    Love this post Stacey! Great, helpful tips!

  • Angie

    Reaching out to give you a virtual hug my friend. What a great article, and a reminder even to us who shoot professionally all the time. Be creative, look for light, and make the best of the situation. xoxo!

  • andrea

    Fabulous post! Thanks for the reminder, going in tight is one of my go to techniques!

  • Melanie

    Great post! I love the reminders and ideas. And again you girls inspire me to be my best! Thanks so much!

  • Trish

    Wonderful ideas , gorgeous lighting, and beautiful kiddos… :)

  • AmyC

    Thank you so much! Fabulous post, great reminders!

  • sharon

    what a helpful post – thanks!

  • Courtney

    What a great post! I’m so anxious to go out and experiment now!

  • Stephanie Wind

    I love this post! Sometimes it\’s hard to NOT look at the whole picture. :) I\’m going to have to take this one to heart.