FAQ: Location Scouting For Engagement Sessions

New Jersey Wedding Photographer Ben Lau at work on Long Beach Island, NJ.

Not long ago, we were driving along an empty road on Long Beach Island, seeking inspiration for an engagement session (which was in-progress at the time) when we found ourselves with a bit of photographer’s block. We didn’t have the time to scout the area beforehand and it wasn’t like any kind of environment we’d ever shot in, but we welcomed the challenge with open arms anyway. I remember the sun bearing down on us, with nothing but blocks (and blocks) of vacation homes in our immediate vicinity. Where the heck were we going to shoot? Certainly, heading to the beach would’ve been the obvious choice, but of course that would’ve been too easy :).

Once upon I time, I had a penchant for the unusual, off-beat and border-line restricted (fences? what fences?) back-drops for my clients. I still occasionally partake in those adventures to some degree, because that’s what my clients hire me for: my unusual and off-beat vision for their special day (even if it means hopping some fences). And I would be lying if I said that every one of my semi-loitering/trespassing attempts bore delicious feasts for everyone’s eyes. The true reality is that trial-and-error still takes place, even while the sessions are in-progress. I will also be the first to admit that I’ve taken my fair share of crappy photos, despite all the trouble we go through with getting into places where we’re not supposed to be. But we all do it anyway – because there’s still that chance the photo will come out jaw-dropping-ly amazing, and pre-visualization is meaningless without a shutter click.

The truth is this: it’s rather difficult to screw up a shot when you’re surrounded by giant chandeliers. It’s also pretty hard to screw up a shot when you’re surrounded by marvelous architecture. Same thing goes for old abandoned buildings. But those aren’t my everyday environments. This means I have to work with whatever raw materials I have available, even if it’s a stack of pipes in the middle of nowhere :).

I do have my preferences though, especially as a natural light photographer.

We were looking for a safe, clean place. It didn’t need to be glamorous, but it needed to be accessible and in the shade/indoors to avoid harsh shadows and my clients squinting/scowling at me in all their images. We preferred as little distractions as possible. No trash cans, funny smells, cars and/or gawkers who would serve no higher purpose in life than to break my subjects’ focus. If it featured pretty shapes, patterns and colors, even better. All these were the things were going through our minds while we were chugging along the empty boulevard that morning at 35 miles per hour.

Then suddenly, something caught our eyes and we both started banging on the back of their seats – our not-so-subtle way of letting them know we’d found what we were looking for. Poor couple was only 30 minutes into their engagement session :).

Alexis and Mike sit on a stack of poles during their engagement session on Long Beach Island, NJ with awesome New Jersey Wedding Photographer Ben Lau.
What we’ve discovered is that the strongest compositions are the ones that come naturally (we really, really tried with the first image – but sometimes, things don’t work out as you planned). If the comfort is there, those images will always trump the pose-y shots in front of giant chandeliers and awe-inspiring architecture (which I’m also occasionally guilty of doing, upon request). When I’m scouting, I’m no longer looking for landmarks and environments that will take any attention away from the couple, but rather environments that will serve as a relatively clean palette in order to draw our focus towards the couple. This includes walls, trees and yes, even stacks of PVC pipes. I explain to my clients that I generally shoot wide open, which helps us smooth out any distractions that don’t really “belong” in the picture anyway. That being said, it doesn’t really matter where we shoot, because the focus will always be just the couple and the lovey-dovey bliss they show on their faces :).

We want to thank Alexis and Mike for being such great sports during their engagement session. We’ll be seeing more of them in an upcoming post!

Keep those camera’s clicking,

Ben & Karis

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Northern NJ, NYC documentary Wedding Photographer, Educator & All-Around Nice Guy

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