I am so grateful that we found a beautiful, stunning really, location to take family photos near Seattle. Holly was dreaming of taking photos in a big grassy field and I was nervous about finding the perfect one. Landscapes change throughout the year so just when you think you have found the perfect place to take photos, suddenly the trees all change, it gets flooded, construction takes over and we’re back at square one, searching on Google maps to find a shoot location. Finding shoot locations is definitely one of the most stressful parts of my job, and my job really isn’t that stressful so relatively speaking it feels like a lot of stress. haha But compared to what most people deal with in their crazy careers, finding a beautiful place to go on a photo taking adventure really isn’t much to complain about.
I’ve been taking family portraits in the Seattle area for over five years now and I feel like an encyclopedia of this area. I have Google maps inside my head with all the locations, parks, neighborhoods, coffee shops, undercover areas, inside a 20 mile radius of the city of Seattle. You want photos at the beach? I close my eyes and I start searching through my memories. Do you want a beach with sand or rocks? A playground nearby? Or train track? A beach on the lake or the ocean? In the city, the suburbs or the rural lands? Do you want a beach with good sunsets or a beach with no people? On and on.
So, when Holly says she wants photos in a big grassy field, the search begins and in a region that is vast but quickly being taken over by traffic, apartment buildings and rain, this request is a semi-tricky one. There’s only so much searching on Google maps that can be done before you need to actually drive out to the spots and see with your own eyeballs what will work. I recommend that photographers consider themselves constantly ‘on-call’ for location scouting. It’s a total waste of time to go out and check places constantly. Much better to keep your eyes peeled at all times. Besides, once you start taking photos regularly, you probably won’t be able to help it. Your brain will become hardwired to spot photogenic locations and you’ll start taking notes in your mind or maybe even on your phone, dropping pins. Google Maps promised me that there would be a field waiting for us beneath Mount Si in the Three Forks Natural Area. We didn’t find the spot right away. We went down a dead end trail into the woods and got back in the car, asked some locals where to go, and finally arrived at the Snoqualmie Off Leash Dog Park which smelled like poop and dogs were running everywhere. I was getting nervous that I was leading the sweetest family in history on a wild goose chase to a grassy field of dreams. And then, we walked over the hill and BOOM it was there. The photo shoot would beautiful and Holly was happy.
I tell this story for the photographers who worry about location hunting. You’ll build up an encyclopedia in your mind overtime and just be open and honest with the families you’re meeting. Tell them you’re exploring new options and you’re going to discover it together. You’re in the search together. This will take pressure off your shoulders so you don’t feel like you have to have everything perfectly planned. When I started my family portrait business in Seattle, I was overly focused on making everything uber professional. I used the word “we” in our emails from the very beginning. I addressed the family by last name, as a group, the way we categorized them as clients. I would never let them see me sweat. I would never over stay my welcome and quickly exit the photo shoots with a quick handshake.
Over the years, I have softened and realized that these people are not paying me money to take their photos and run away. They actually want to build a friendship. They want to feel comfortable with the person who comes into their house each year, who spends birthdays, holidays and monumental family moments with them. It took me five years to appreciate that I’m actually a part of these people’s lives. The kids who I photographed in their mom’s bellies are now jumping on my back at photo shoots. I’ve been there for every single birthday. I’ve seen them cry and I see them snuggle. These moments are so vulnerable and they deserve to be photographed by a friend, not a corporation behind a camera.
I tell this story for the families who want me to be their family photographer. It’s a busy show to run; finding locations, picking the best time of day for the lighting, planning around Pacific Northwest weather, constantly changing camera settings while being fully present with you and your kids, being on alert for photo opportunities or dangers in the scenery, being sensitive to how everyone is feeling and what would make the experience better, being on time, managing the photo editing and emails back at the office. It’s a juggling act that is totally fun and worth it when I love the families I’m photographing. It’s important to me that I can handle the situation and keep your life easy and stress-free AND that I can be open and honest about some of the stuff that happens behind the scenes so I don’t have to be perfect. I’ll take much better photos for you if I feel comfortable and free to include you on my thought process when it’s relevant.
So, we found the beautiful field. Holly is happy. Their photos are beautiful and I am so grateful that I get to play with this family each year. I drove home from this shoot feeling elated and slightly disbelieving of how awesome my job is. I get invited to spend time with families playing in the wilderness, laughing, being kids, dressed up all pretty, and genuinely wanting me to take photos of them (which is one of my favorite things to do). Now, thanks to Holly’s special request and our adventure together, I can add this grassy field beneath Mount Si to our list of gorgeous Seattle photo shoot locations for parents to choose from. And now, I can lead you there with confidence because I know exactly how to get there!
I’m super down to go location hunting for you and with you ;) xx Cha