On Choosing a Location for your Portrait or Headshot Session

I was photographing a headshot session a few days ago in Denver, and was struck, as I often am, by how stark the contrast can be between what you see at a location, and what you CAN see at a location... with the right composition, professional equipment, and knowledge of how to work a location to your advantage as an experienced photographer.

I was so struck by this contrast, in fact, that I whipped out my cellphone on this particular session just so that I could share with you what I was looking at… vs. what I was able to create in camera at this exact spot. Fairly dramatic, yes?!

Behind the scenes pullback on headshot location in Denver

I had so much fun at this location that I went back with another headshot client a few days later, and was amazed by how completely different the results were, now later in the afternoon and with overcast skies.

behind the scenes pullback of headshot session on location in Denver

Note that in the two examples above, the backgrounds in the final photos are quite different, even though the location is the SAME exact garage, due to the difference in the angle and amount of sunlight on each day.

OK so what am I trying to say by sharing this??

Basically that choosing a location may not be as critical as you think, at least if you want the focus to be on YOU in your photos. A skilled professional photographer should be able to draw attention to YOU no matter what the location.

Absolutely, there are certain variables that I consider when considering locations: walk-ability, ease of finding places to change, wind and sun exposure, color, texture and the motion and fabric of the available “backdrops” in the vicinity, as well as variety in the intensity of all of these things.

behind the scenes on senior session in Denver, Merritt Portrait Studio

What keeps me on my toes all the time is that even areas I know very well will change dramatically from hour to hour, season to season. So part of the challenge (and delight) is derived from learning how to work with what I see on any given day, at any given hour, and with my client’s particular style, coloring and wardrobe.

In fact, working with a place that is special to YOU is one of my favorite creative challenges as an artist (and if you’ve worked with me, you’ve seen how obsessed I am with the visual discovery!)

behind the scenes on senior session in Denver, Merritt Portrait Studio

Urban locations offer infinite possibilities for texture, light, vibrant movement and implied history. I’ve photographed in stockyards, next to dumpsters, in gritty alleyways, in open parking lots, garages, industrial garage doors… you name it. And in fact, some of those least expected locations become people’s favorite photos of their session.

There’s also an organic energy that happens and brings both focus and spontaneity to expression when you're not in an enclosed, safe studio space. A studio has its advantages for certain kinds of sessions to be sure, but if you head outdoors, when you add the motion, noise and vibe of the city with just enough of a textured background and some beautiful light… it can be rather magical.

Even inside in an urban setting, it’s amazing what can happen with the right composition, aperture, lens, photographer's eye and willing subject! 

Hopefully this all leads to a finished photo that becomes true portrait or headshot magic.

That's when, for me anyway, a picture can cross into becoming ART.

I’m a Denver based headshot and senior portrait photographer specializing in bringing out personality and highlighting connection in my clients’ EYES. I strive to create images that are far more memorable than typical headshots or senior pictures. Your session will be styled around YOU, and will be an immersive, enjoyable and empowering experience, to boot. I would love to chat with you about a session!

Dream Fashion Editorial Photo Shoot | Redthreaded at Blanc Denver

There’s a question often posed to photographers: “which photo is your favorite? Photographer Imogen Cunningham is credited for having coined my idea of the most perfect answer, “the one I’ll take tomorrow.

Given my own enthusiastic desire to remain a"student of life," with a genuine thirst to keep learning, growing, experimenting and creating new work, this notion of each new session producing my new favorite -- until the one I shoot tomorrow -- resonates deeply.

But let’s be honest -- certain experiences do stand out and have the power to shape you as an artist...

... and I’ve got a feeling this session will hold a special place in my list of favorites for quite some time. This fashion editorial photo session pushed me into new creative spaces and invited an artistic freedom that I'm excited to keep stretching as a photographer and creative.

gold-hair-makeup-fashion-photoshoot-merritt-portrait-studio-denver

After photographing her work on the stage for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the uber talented seamstress / costume corset designer and fellow entrepreneur Cindy Settje of Redthreaded approached me with a commission to photograph her corset designs.

Drawing inspiration from imagery she shared with me, a collection of images marked by a moody, painterly light and historic-meets-contemporary feel, we designed the details of this editorial session with a full dose of enthusiastic, collaborative creative energy.

I knew immediately that Sarah (perhaps you saw THIS incredible session??) would be the perfect model for the look Cindy wanted. Having photographed her twice before, I am very familiar with just how much the camera loves her incredibly strong and striking features. But it was her theatrical experience that excited me for this shoot in particular -- I absolutely love working with this gorgeous and talented young woman, and was excited to explore some more fashion editorial poses with her. Not surprisingly, she ROCKED the session.

Inviting hair and makeup artist Sara Duffey to get to explore her creativity with a more avant garde look than we typically get to explore together was also super satisfying. Cindy threaded a gold theme throughout the session, so we got to play with gold leaf, gold lashes, glitter and an exciting modern-meets-historic look was born.

Then there were our dream team of fashion collaborators (links below)... OMG. In Sarah’s hair were creative and eye catching pieces, hand crafted and spectacularly designed by Frontier Millinery. And those shoes?!  SPECTACULAR designs (some of which were originally designed for Whoopi Goldberg), hand crafted by American Duchess. Perfectly appointed historical jewelry sparkled and completed the look, by Dames a la Mode.

And the corsets… the artful centerpieces around which this whole editorial photo shoot was styled...

Well, Cindy’s work is just breathtakingly incredible, as evidenced by her collaborations with regional theatres all the way to Broadway, Television shows, film and her own successful Etsy shop (also, her Instagram feed is awesome!) The exquisite fabrics, colors, combinations, details, designs and quality are stunning to behold.

And to photograph her incredible work: What. An. Honor.

Perhaps most satisfying of all is how much I enjoyed working with these PEOPLE -- such a wonderful collaborative team. SO grateful to have been asked to photograph this project. It left me at once deeply creatively inspired, and hungry to photograph more fashion editorial… something admittedly new to my body of work.

Finally, turn up your speakers, and enjoy this behind the scenes VIDEO (below) that I made to say thank you to the team!  Watching the looks come together in these creative people's hands is magical. Truly, I LOVE this work.

Seriously... PRESS PLAY!

BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO: Join us for a glimpse into the making of this fashion editorial photo session at Blanc in Denver for Cynthia Settje of Redthreaded.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE | PHOTO SESSION CREDITS :

Model: Sarah Doerner

Corsets + Styling: Cynthia Settje | Redthreaded

Shoes: American Duchess

Millinery: Frontier Millinery

Jewelry: Dames a la Mode

Hair + Makeup: Sara Duffey

Location: Blanc Denver

Photographer: Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Portrait Studio

Photographer's assistant: Gabe Koskinen-Sansone

Behind the Scenes on Urban Senior Portrait Session in Denver

EEEK!!

This session was simply WAY too much fun not to share a glimpse of what goes on "behind the scenes" in a series of snapshots taken by my assistant (who happens to be my son!) I'm always amazed by how important it is to roll with changes in a "plan," as with this session where we ended up with multiple locations by default... if it weren't for that attitude, THIS could never have happened:

Urban High School Senior Portraits in Denver

We had initially planned to stay at one venue (see below photos) for our entire photo shoot, but a multitude of circumstances only allowed us about an hour at that first location. The venue, called Blanc in Denver, is Ah-MAZ-ing and available on limited basis through my Studio cooperative (ask me more if you're a photographer looking for an incredible studio opportunity!) It features a converted barn space, and is now being used as quite a unique weddings and events venue... or a great location for a portrait session! Here are some iPhone shots from when I scouted the place with Gabe (my assistant), and a few behind the scenes from Sarah's session.

After our allotted hour, we were all thrilled with what we were getting... and excited to keep shooting! So we ventured downtown to photograph Sarah in a few other urban locations that I've been wanting to explore as portrait locations.

I LOVE working with all kinds of high school seniors, and to get to work with such an amazing young woman as this, bringing her session to life was a joy beyond words. I've known Sarah for years; she was one of my first portrait clients in my other studio space, and she's an extraordinary person -- funny, strong, gorgeous, and rich with talent that will make you cry.

Seriously, she is going to be famous in the not so distant future and you'll see for yourself, if you haven't already had the opportunity to watch her perform in any number of regional theatre companies in and around Denver. This girl is going places...

And... I mean... I don't usually share back of camera shots OR photos of my desktop editing... but OMG!! I'm WAY too excited to keep these to myself!!

Stay tuned... the finished photos from this session are going to be craaazy beautiful.

In fact I'm excited to share a whole variety of exciting senior sessions that are coming up -- great people, great locations, great collaborations!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Union Station is OPEN! | Senior Photographer Denver

I'm so excited to share this!

My assistant (who happens to also be my 14 year old son) shot a bit of behind the scenes video footage on one of our recent high school senior photo shoots.

And THIS is what he edited together in just a few minutes this morning. I hope he does more of this because I'm really impressed with what he got in his FIRST attempt at creative behind the scenes video of a senior session!!

Thank you, Gabe!