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Location, Location, Location {Guest Writer}

Remember Angela’s incredible post (part I and part II) about Props? Well this is her amazing friend Spanki of Spanki Mills Photography, who was the other photographer who’s work stopped me instantly when we did a linky thing last month. As soon as I started looking through her blog I noticed a pattern, this girl was amazing with the urban look and so I had to ask her to write on Go{4}Pro. I’m so lucky to have so many awesome readers who are willing to take a chance (that can be scary and uncomfortable) and share their knowledge and talents so that the rest of us can grow! If you have an idea for a great blog post, I’d love to hear it! Don’t be afraid to email me and share what you’re thinking of. I’d be happy to bounce ideas back and forth with you!

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION… they say it is everything. Well… okay so that is in real estate… but I think it really helps with photography as well.  When I am riding in the car my head is on constant swivel. When I am driving by myself it is a different story… I am ridiculous! I drive a BIG suburban (not the easiest vehicle to maneuver in old downtown areas full of one way streets) and I have a slight case of A.D.D. Red lights really throw me off when I have my eyes set on a back alley. With that being said, we all know it is no surprise that I have gotten very accustomed to funny looks and hand gestures!

What am I looking for?

I look for 3 things. Textures, Colors, and Light.

Texture – anything that will add interest to my pictures, without taking away from the person I am photographing.

I am drawn to urban settings and old downtowns. I love the colors and textures they lend. Around every corner, on the back side of just about any building… you never know what you will find. Although not always the safest places to go, it is always like finding the diamond in the rough!

But do not limit yourself to just old buildings, anything that catches your eye. Here I was driving past a used car lot, noticing the brick wall just beyond the cars I thought it would look great…

*cue internal dialog…

…”WAIT a second… what is that? a stairway to…. to nothing??? I have GOT to check this out”!  I know, don’t hate….with all that thought process going on in there, it’s a wonder I don’t have a PhD…

Look at the texture in the old concrete, and the rust. All of which add color and texture. I also know these will edit great in post processing.

Okay so it will need to be a tight shot because of all the cars and junk, but I have the basics…

…including a ton of power lines, so I fixed that and we got us a great picture.

Same place, just different angle.

Then I walked around it, and noticed a rusted door.


I love the color! (the day I took this picture, the truck was parked a little closer than it was the day I was there with my senior, none-the-less, it was still there)!

All you’d have to do is crop it in a little more and no one would ever know! 😉

Or… pull your subject out from the background and just use it to create interest behind them.

Color – again, kind of like the texture. I look for even the most subtle bit of color that I can later pull out in post processing.

The muted colors of aged buildings, the broken bricks, busted out windows, graffiti  walls, all of which make for the perfect backdrop whether it is a child, senior or family session. My goal is to make my subjects the main focus, and by doing so, I love to have a background that somewhat frames them, makes them stand out! So, although I believe the backdrop is key to a great picture, it really is just helping me keep the focus on my clients.

It doesn’t always have to be bright or bold… just a touch will work.

Here is a before and after of a senior head shot.

I knew that to the eye the wall did not have much color, but I could see it had enough, and I could pull that out to make it pop!

Once you get an idea of how it will look from SOOC (straight out of camera) to the finished product, then all you have to do is keep your eyes open for what works best and fits your style.


with a little edit to show the color:

cropped into the finished print that I’d show:

Here we were in a parking lot and this tiny wall of brick caught my eye. It had color and texture. Just that little change in brick pattern was enough texture to add interest.

This is what we got for the finished print:

I LOVED this picture!

I live in a very small town that has some amazing places to take pictures. But, when I say small I mean SMALL! So when I was booking 8-10 clients a week (something I do NOT advise…and will NEVER do again) I found myself in a rut. Seniors where booking from surrounding towns and coming to my town for their pictures. On the way to a session one evening I was talking to my husband. My exact words were: “ I have no idea what I am going to do with this senior, I have stuck someone in every nook and cranny in this town”. So I had to dig deep, pull creativity out of somewhere. I decided to look at each location that I frequented, in a new light. With a different perspective. I challenged myself to see it for the first time all over again. Instead of placing my senior against the wall, I would pull them out, and just use the wall as a subtle backdrop. Instead of shooting straight on, I’d shoot up, or down on them. I had to make each location “new” again.

Here is the same couple, once right up against the wall.

Then pulling them out and using the wall to add a different feel.

One picture isn’t better than the other, just different.

Once I did, I began to fall in love with the feel it gave to just have the background, be exactly that… the background, NOT the picture. One thing I realized while shooting “new” is that I love height. Things/ backgrounds that are tall, that create interest above the subjects head.

It just gives the image a completely different “feel”.

Light –  Another “backdrop” that I LOVE is the sun! Ha, gotcha there… bet you thought I was going to talk about the “right” lighting… Nope, use the SUN as a backdrop! I play around with the light to give a little fun “flair” to the picture.

Whether it is a soft muted feeling… or it is bright rays peeking around a building, I just don’t think you can go wrong with the sun.

Whatever location you choose…simple or bold. The obvious or expected…

Don’t forget to step outside of the box.

It is funny how easy we all can get into a rut. Taking pictures, every time you go out, can sometimes become habit. I challenge you to challenge yourself. Look at the same locations through a different “eye” and see what else you SEE. Or go somewhere unexpected…

Don’t limit yourself!

Venture off to new places, look behind or around old places, and bend down, or move around the same places you go often. Crawl through fences, or behind dumpsters… you never know where you will find your next “diamond”.

Some people see junk and trash…

I see potential…

My clients see a unique piece of art…

Oh and a little side note:

My rule of thumb… (gosh I hope no cops are reading)… I think it is always easier to apologize than it is to ask permission…there, i said it! I am always ready to run… or bat my eyelashes  …whatever works 😉



  1. Amy says:

    Fantastic guest post! Love the idea of seeing an old location in a new light, I too live in a small town and run into this same issue. Oh and the “always ready to run… or bat my eyelashes …whatever works” should be a bumper sticker!

  2. Brandi says:

    And I thought I was the only one who drove around rubbernecking for new locations lol. I’m the exact same way.

  3. These are awesome. I want to be like Spanki when I grow up. I love the idea of pulling your subject out from the background. I’ll definitely try it on my next shoot. Thanks!!

  4. Morgan says:

    Wowzers! This is a great post and great images! Thanks for all of the great ideas!

  5. kristi says:

    I’m sharing this post with my family! They roll their eyes or chuckle to themselves when we are going somewhere and I say, “Oooh! That would make for an awesome photo shoot!” I can’t help myself. I see it all through the lens of my camera. I am delighted to know I am not the only one! Thank you!!!!

  6. Emily says:

    How inspiring!! Thanks!!

  7. awesome post !!
    great style !!
    thanks for sharing ….

    also- have to say – love your name 😉

  8. VSP says:

    I would have to agree, this is a fabulous post with some amazing talent! I am from a very small town in the middle of no where, but there are some gem spots out there. I’m pretty lucky cause there isn’t a whole lot of photographers that “think outside of the box” so I’m really looking forward to busting out there and wowing my new clients. I LOVE this post because she shares her befores and afters…THANK YOU! AND I agree…again…about “always ready to run…or bat my eyelashes…whatever works” should DEFINATELY be a bumper sticker…I might just have to use that one. I am also a rubbernecker and for the most part, probably should never drive for that reason! Haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s a good thing my husband is in insurance!

  9. Stephanie says:

    Great article! I loved the panned view and then the actual photos. Great tutorial. Thank you.

  10. Angela says:

    awesome job!!! Thank you for teaching me to pull the subject away from the background!!

  11. Kristen S says:

    THANK YOU for this post! Thanks for including the before and after shots, and, well, everything about it. I like the bumper sticker idea too! 😉

  12. Sharee says:

    Great guest post! Love her, her beautiful photos AND fantastic location finding tips!!! Spanki has an incredibly inspirational style.. I’m a new fan 🙂

  13. Spanki Mills says:

    wow!! thanks for all the support you guys! this was a challenge for me! you never really realize why you do what you do or how you get there until you have to put it into words! i can’t wait to visit each of your sites to check out your fabulous work!

  14. Rachel A says:

    Great post!! Thank you so much for including the before & after shots. I have been a fan of yours since you took our baby boy’s pics and you have totally inspired me with photography! Love your insight on locations 🙂

  15. Christine says:

    Wow, what a fabulous article! Thank you so much for putting this together with all the samples. I am feeling so inspired right now. THANK YOU!

  16. clair says:

    Very inspiring! Thank you!

  17. Leah Remillet says:

    Spanki, you did a fantastic job with this post! Thank you so much for taking the time and inspiring all of us!!! Would love to have you back ANY time! We will have to show everyone what we do when you, Angela and I get together to shoot!

    • Spanki Mills says:

      leah, THANK YOU for inviting me! i loved the challenge it was, to step back and verbalize the “why” of what i do!
      and i CAN NOT WAIT to shoot with you! WPPI is looking to be amazing!!! thanks again!

  18. stacey says:

    this was a wonderful post and VERY inspiring!! thank you spanki (and leah!) for putting this all together for us! i am also in love with your post processing techniques spanki…any chance we can get you to share a few pointers? like color popping the textures etc.? i would LOVE it! 🙂

  19. The Wife says:

    Spanki ROCKS!! Been a fan for awhile now and just wish I had the “eye” and talent she has. Awesome post!

  20. Krysten says:

    What an awesome post. Thank you so much for sharing with us!!

  21. Becca Hall says:

    LOVED it!!! I wished it went on longer! next I want her editing secrets!!! Many thanks to you both!

  22. Megan says:

    Spanki Nice job! Very inspiring! Love the pictures!

  23. Sari says:

    What a GREAT post! Thanks for sharing!

  24. tamsen says:

    amazing post- thanks for sharing!!

  25. jen says:

    LOVE. THIS. I found the link from your blog–I am a new fan of yours…Thanks so much for posting. I love, also, that you showed them close to the location and far away. Such good direction!!!

  26. traci says:

    thanks for sharing this!
    love seeing the before and after!

  27. kim cunningham says:

    i love your work and the fact that you share your wisdom. some photographers would never show the before and after … i love that . thanks for helping the semi- pro… can you tell me what actions are the best to get or do you just use photoshop to get your look … using contrast and such. 🙂

    can’t wait to hear from you,
    Photography by Kim Cunningham

  28. nita says:

    awesome girl! :))

  29. Andrea Fox says:

    My photography partner and best friend just sent me a link to your blog! I LOVE IT! Thank you so much for inspiring and helping other photographers get out of their comfort zones and create fresh new images with the simplest of ideas! Love your work 🙂

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