We filmed the above video pre-COVID, but the challenges of shooting portraits in a parking lot align perfectly with the premise of the #CreateNoMatterWhat campaign. If you’re unable to shoot with clients due to local restrictions on social distancing, ask a family member or someone from your household to stand in as a model while you practice the following techniques.


We’ll use the CAMP framework (Composition, Ambient Exposure, Modify or Add Light, Pose & Photograph) to outline the steps we took to compose, light, and capture the final image.

What Not to Do

We’re going to start this article by sharing with you what you shouldn’t do when photographing a session in a difficult location, like a parking lot with tall grass under midday sun, and then we’ll work our way out from there.

Step 1. Pay Attention to Lighting and Light Direction

Engagement Photography Tips Shoot Anywhere Challenge
An example of what not to do (50mm, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 100)

As you can see in the image above, we’ve placed our couple in front of some tall grass with the sun shining hard light directly into their faces. While the backdrop might seem okay at first, the shadows and expressions on the couples faces are less than ideal, so we need to change the light direction. The easiest way to do this is to find a better angle.

engagement photography lighting and light direction fix
Still not quite there (50mm, 1/1000, f/4, ISO 100)

The second image is better, but we still need to work on our composition.

Pro Tip: After capturing the first image, I mentioned that it looks “legitimately horrible” in regards to lighting and other factors; I would never say this on an actual engagement shoot as it would make the clients uneasy and probably leave them feeling like they are what looks horrible in the image.

Step 2. Look for Creative Composition

After making an adjustment to find better light direction, we can focus on framing out shot. In a difficult location, composition will play a key role in making or breaking the shot.

Find Creative Angles

create no matter what parking lot portraits creative angles

In this particular location, the tall grass can work in our favor, so I want to use it to shoot through as a foreground element to add depth to the image. One of the first things to do for adding depth in the photo is opening up the aperture. I shot the earlier test shots at f/4, so opening the aperture up to f/1.4 should make a noticeable difference. The shallow depth of field combined with shooting through the tall grass and trees will help get the most out of this location.

create no matter what parking lot portraits creative angle conceal elements

After taking a test shot, however, I can see that the 50mm focal length is wide enough to include busy elements on the edges of the frame (such as the sidewalk and cars passing by in the background) that I’d rather leave out. I could always move closer to the subject, but I opted instead to change my focal length altogether from a Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 to Sigma’s 105mm f/1.4.

[Related Reading: Five Creative Portraits in a Crappy Parking Lot]

Step 3. Set Ambient Exposure

I already decided to shoot with a wide-open aperture, so that means I need to set my shutter speed and ISO to dial in my ambient exposure. I want a warm, bright and airy type image, and because I’m shooting in the shade, I adjust the white balance to add warmth to the portrait. It helps to turn on your highlight alert and check your histogram so that you don’t involuntarily clip any shadows or highlights.

Step 4. Pose Your Subjects

create no matter what parking lot portraits pose your subjects

While posing your subjects, it’s important to pay attention to how the light is falling on their face. Be sure to adjust their position until the shadows fall in a flattering way and you get the light pattern you’re after. If you’re using off-camera flash, you’ll have more options for how you want to light the subjects and the scene, but you can still capture great images using only natural light, even in harsh conditions. Hard directional light is still directional light and can be used in your favor.

Step 5. Position Yourself for the Shot & Cue Your Subjects for Expressions

Where will you stand to get the shot? If you’re familiar with the focal length your shooting at, you’ll already have a rough idea based on how you want to frame the portrait. You may have to make some adjustments if objects at the location make it difficult for you to get where you need to be. Luckily, I had no such issues for this shot.

create no matter what parking lot portraits final with crush hard light preset
105mm, 1/4000, f/1.4, ISO 100 – Edited w/ Visual Flow Presets > Crush Pack > Hard Light

After getting into position, cue your subjects and start capturing their reactions. For the above shot, I asked Brooke to whisper into Barry’s ear to get him to laugh.

You can continue to make adjustments to your composition until you get the shot.

[Related Reading: The Power of the Right Lens Choice in Mediocre Locations]

Before & After

photography shoot location anywhere challengeConclusion

We hope you enjoyed this video and lesson on how to shoot incredible portraits, even in a parking lot – catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!