Photography is an art that can transform any location into a stunning backdrop for a photoshoot. However, sometimes photographers are faced with the challenge of shooting in less-than-ideal locations that are far from picturesque. Whether it’s a run-down alleyway, a dirty warehouse, or a crowded street, an “ugly” location can make it difficult to create the desired aesthetic for a photoshoot. In such situations, photographers need to get creative and use their skills to turn a ugly location photoshoot into a great one. In this article, we’ll provide some tips for overcoming the challenges of shooting in ugly locations and creating beautiful, memorable images.

One of the marks of a maturing photographer is their ability to overcome limitations. Whether it’s your skill, your gear, or your creative vision, the road to competence is littered with broken barriers.

The challenge of visualizing a great shot in the midst of a problematic setting requires a combination creativity, and technical know-how, and courage. To help you bring that into your work, we’ll combine our tips with the tips from the incredible photographer, Manny Ortiz, to help you overcome your next challenge.

3 Tips for Better Photos in Bad Locations Video

Let’s Start with Manny’s Video.

Tips for Ugly Location Photoshoots

We’ll now expand on Manny’s tips and add a few of our own.

Darken to Conceal Ugly Backgrounds

Using Flash to illuminate your subject, you can darken the background to conceal any unwanted objects.  See his example below.

Ugly Location Photoshoots

Details, Details, Details

The ability to visualize the possible shots in a setting and detect features, such as patterns or leading lines, will increase your options for capturing a great image in any given location. Knowing how your lens will frame your subject and including those elements will help you make the most of your setting.

Ugly Location Photoshoots

Use a Wide Aperture Lens for Ugly Location Photoshoots

A mid-telephoto to telephoto lens with a very wide aperture help to compress the image and is a life saver when shooting in a setting that contains a lot of distracting or unsavory elements. You’re able to isolate your subject within the composition of the frame while throwing the background out of focus, ideally into a flattering bokeh. To make the most of these lenses characteristics, you need to be able to see what your lens sees before you shoot.

Focal Lengths starting found in a fast 70-200mm range can help you cover this, such as the lenses listed below

Location Scout For Angles and Various Compositions

When choosing a location we look for one that allows us to work different angles. We shot at a lower angle and used the foreground to alter the environment. To achieve the same compression, we suggest using a 85 mm.

When scouting locations, look for areas suitable for wide and tight shots to limit how far and often the couple will need to move. This is also a great trick for getting multiple compositions within one scene by moving around and seeing which angles to photograph from.

Ugly Location Photoshoots

For example, in this scene we positioned the couple in the middle of the trees to eliminate the distracting background and then used the veil to create more interest. You can see 4 creative ways we use the veil in our wedding photography by clicking here.

Conceal with Foreground Elements with Ugly Location Photoshoots

With a shallow aperture at f/1.4 we are able to blur out the distractions and compress the background during your Ugly Location Photoshoots. By setting our white balance to 7000K we are able to achieve warmer tones throughout the image. One of our quick and easy tips to mimic Golden Hour is using a LED light string over the corner of the lens to simulate sun flare – you can see more here!

Don’t Be Afraid

Accept the fact that every shot you take won’t be amazing. In fact, over the life of your photographic endeavors, you’ll reject more photographs than you’ll keep. Know this, accept this, and get back to shooting. Don’t let a setting or images that don’t initially pan out the first time, discourage you from the trying something new.

Check out more great stuff from Manny, here.