The Secret to Finding Photography Locations

Vanessa Powell
7 min readMar 3, 2021


So you have a portrait session coming up, you don’t have a studio, and you have no idea where to go. I’ll let you in on a little secret, it isn’t as far away as you think!

Photo by the Author

Me, standing on a wobbly 3-step ladder, in my backyard, with my daughter & our MAYBE 18–24 sunflowers 🌻

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Would you have guessed where I shot this, had you not seen a pull back image?

When I first started shooting portraits, I was already feeling defeated before I even began. My town isn’t the most glorious when it comes to “backgrounds”. I wanted to shoot in a forest, somewhere beautiful like the Redwoods or Olympic National Forest. I live in a small rural area with corn fields and lakes. We aren’t talking about pretty blue lakes, we’re talking about grimy green/brown lakes.

Fast forward like… 5 years… and my eyes finally started to open. I started looking around more and finding the beauty all around me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good scenic view, but for portraits it isn’t always the focus of my final look. Check out these from Garden of the Gods in Illinois.

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

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Up Close of “Camel Rock”

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Sunset of Garden of the Gods as I was leaving

Sure, I could have easily stuck a person in any of these 3 locations. In fact, I tagged along with a fellow photog that was meeting her clients to shoot out there. She does GORGEOUS work with couples out there. Sure, I could shoot out there too, but I move to the beat of my own drum. Not to say I won’t ever shoot portraits there…but for now… I know it’s not my vision.

So why DID I tag along? I was actually participating in a year long photo project with a group of people from all over the world. When I heard the aforementioned photog was going out there, she let me ride along for the trip! Woot woot! (Did you hear that? You CAN be friends with other photographers in your town even when you’re in the same or similar markets)

If that’s the type of photography you do, then yes, seek out those gorgeous landmarks. I am not bashing that type of photography AT ALL, in fact, I would LOVE to do more of that type of photography. However, as I previously mentioned, it isn’t my current vision…so I go on with my honey badger self and do what speaks to my soul.

This article is for people that aren’t near major landmarks and need help seeing the beauty all around them. Or maybe you are in or near a major landmark and it just doesn’t speak to you the way it does to others.

If you can find beauty in the most mundane of places, imagine what you can capture in the most beautiful of places.

Photo by the Author

Church Parking Lot

The above photo was taken in a church parking lot. A PARKING LOT.

If I were to tell you, prior to our session, we were taking photos in a church parking lot, what would you think? Would you question my skill? Would you question what you are paying for? Would you be confused?

We were standing approx. where the red arrow is pointing

This next one involves a little editing skill… so if you’re just starting out & aren’t sure how to accomplish these tasks, reach out to me & I would love to teach you:

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What’s in your backyard?

So you have a pretty tree that is blooming but your A/C unit is in the way.

No problem! Edit that bad boy outta there!

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With a little cropping, cloning & whatever other adjustments you deem necessary to your preferred editing style, you can transform your backyard into a botanical garden, or…you get the idea.

Next, let’s talk about your neighborhood. Do you have any neighbors that have amazing landscaping? Or maybe YOU have great landscaping?

If you know your neighbors, or you aren’t shy, you could always ask if you can use their yard. Or maybe you’re an introvert & their flowers are easily seen/accessible from the sidewalk.

Check out how I used my neighbors Black-Eyed Susans to create this chill portrait. There is beauty to be found all around you. You just have to be on the look out. Keep those eyes peeled! 👀 🍌

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Sitting on the sidewalk in front of my neighbors beautiful flowers

For the next location… I actually did this photo shoot on Christmas Eve. The dead of winter. We got lucky and had a 50-something degree day (we had previously had 30 degree days) so we seized the opportunity and did a photoshoot in all of its brown glory.

I was looking for a photo of this area and forgot I did this mini BTS video. We were trying to do a Swan Lake themed photo shoot.

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If I told you I took this in the dead of winter on top of a levee would you believe me? 😅

Check out some other photos where I have used a levee, park, or trail:

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Disc Golf Course/Park (same as above but a different location for the different vibe)

See this boring ole’ street with the tree on the left? Now look at how I used it below:

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On a street…in a neighborhood… you can use ANYTHING, ANYWHERE.

Just realized I didn’t post any boys…so we’ll throw this dude in the mix:

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Grass…it’s like…everywhere. Use it.

Check it out I shot this at a Castle somewhere in Europe

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Just kidding. This is a wall outside of a Historic home in the Downtown area

But were you briefly transported somewhere in Europe? 😅

Let’s recap! We’ve looked at:

  • Church parking lots
  • Your backyard/Your neighborhood/neighbors landscaping
  • Maybe you have a levee or a trail behind a public park (or the park itself)
  • Maybe you have a disc golf course/park
  • Look at walls that surround houses, whether that be a brick fence, retaining wall, or the side of a building.
  • Sometimes retail lots with grocery stores, malls, etc. have rose bushes, or pretty landscaping in the parking lot. Don’t be afraid to use those as well. Remember, you aren’t shooting the things around it…these are close ups.

Have you figured out the secret yet? The secret is, there are locations all around you. It’s easier than you might think.

To see the high resolution of any of these images visit my website:

You can also visit my website for more images that use every day backgrounds for portraits. See one you like but can’t figure out where it might have been taken? Email me! I’d be happy to answer that for you!

I can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, Creatively, and Buy Me a Coffee

Did this post help you? 🥳 Have a before & after you want to share with me? I’d love to see it! Email me.

This story was previously published on Vocal.



Vanessa Powell

I am a portrait photographer, graphic designer, creator extraordinaire. I suppose I am dabbling in writing too 😊 | 721vanessa Photography |