5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

I live in London and it’s a pretty big city with an array of location choices when it comes to portrait photography. There are beautiful parks, many are vast and rolling, dotted around the city; you almost feel like the country is never more than an hour away. There are canals and rivers with boats and ships within easy reach. There are hilltops offering astounding views of the rising skyline and various parts of the city. And of course, there’s architecture that’s so impressive weaving itself across the city, the fabric of London life with a culturally diverse population traversing the criss-cross of alleys and roads. It’s a fast and busy place.

Some of my couples prefer such busy locations that remind them of the hustle and bustle of the place or of icons and landmarks that they love. Here are 5 tips for you on how to photograph a portrait while walking through a busy city. Embrace the buzz of activity, the age-old structures and new glass skyscrapers that loom over you as you go about your daily business of life, work, and play.

#1 Scout out the location and look for pockets of photo spots

5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

Communicate with your portrait clients and give them some location ideas and options from which they can choose. Get them involved in the process as this helps them get excited, look forward to the photoshoot and own it too!

This is also a good opportunity to discuss outfits, as clothing is really important to the overall look and feel of the images. For this photoshoot, we had an area in mind, but with two very different locations in terms of ambiance and style.

Originally the couple wanted an old ruined church which has stunning walls and old architecture and some greenery. This also gave a really cozy country feel, soft light, and almost enchanting ambiance. However, they had already decided on their outfits and had bought them specifically. I felt that these outfits would work better in a fun city walk photoshoot rather than the old church ruins.

5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

Match the location to the subjects

Just a stone’s throw away was the Leadenhall Market. It is built-up, old, colorful, busy and with a very city-feel, yet smart too. I suggested to them this would be the perfect location and after thinking about it they agreed. The forecast was also rainy and the market is a covered area so that was a good option for shelter.

The main idea was to walk the streets in this part of town and find pockets of photo spots that appealed to them. I know the area well as I shoot quite a few weddings in the city, so I was able to lead them to areas where I thought there were interesting spots to make portraits.

It’s a nice experience walking the streets, being part of the everyday goings-on, the mundane and the special alike.

5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

We were also specifically on the lookout for British icons and landmarks as the couple was visiting from America. So we asked Waterstones, a British book retailer if we could take some pictures inside. They agreed. This leads me on nicely to my next tip…

#2 Incorporate icons and landmarks

We chose boutique shops and food stops that were traditional and well-known in the area and used their shop windows as backdrops. Incidentally, the guy’s name is Tom and we passed this quaint Bar called Old Tom’s Bar – just a perfect location for him.

It’s important that you know a little about what your couple likes so you keep your eyes peeled for anything that appeals to them. In this case, Tom is English and he likes his beer so we stopped by the Tavern for a drink!

5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations5 Tips for Doing Portrait Photography in Busy Locations

Get permission

There are places where it would be wise for you to ask permission first before going in for some photos. Usually, the shopkeepers are helpful and allow you to do so if you are quiet, non-disruptive and quick. However, others refuse and that is perfectly fine – don’t take it personally.

In the market, there was a lady shining shoes. She had a traditional shoe-shine set-up which would have been perfect for some photos, but she refused consent so we didn’t push. Other places are public and open and you can take snaps, just like any tourist would, to your heart’s content. The spot on the left is one such place. The photo on the right was taken from across the road, a fair distance to the building as permission is needed if you go too close!


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