Portrait sessions can happen almost anywhere. Gone are the days of having to choose between a painted cloudy grey background, or a painted cloudy blue background. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it means that you can have much more dynamic, interesting and meaningful images. But, it also means you have much tougher choices to make.

Your photographer will help you make that choice, but if you want the best results, you should take a little time to consider and brainstorm the options yourself. What I have here is a collection of the kinds of places that tend to make for great portrait locations. In any location, there are three questions to ask: Is it legal? Are there permits or fees? and, Will there be other people around?

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Regional Parks

Regional parks, as opposed to the community park, are usually sprawling. There are often paths that wind through the wooded areas and there are also often historical structures on site, though they might be really far apart. During winter and summer, regional parks are dominated by green and brown. So these locations will look their very best in the spring and fall, when the foliage is in transition and there are a wider variety of colors.

These locations are sometimes limited in their variety, with nature being the dominant feature of the location. Any non-historical structures are typically municipal in their aesthetic, which might not be great for photos.

Look at: Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland, Chesapeake Wildlife Refuge

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Private Parks & Gardens

Private parks and gardens are much like regional parks, but carefully groomed and maintained. They vary in size, but most have a variety of attractions, with paths, and extremely well landscaped scenery. Private parks and gardens usually have a welcome center, which makes a great spot to meet-and-greet before the session.

These private locations will appear more formal, as paths and structures for smooth curves and intentional, well-kept hedging. Structures will also be more interesting and perhaps culturally diverse. On the down side, these locations often require a permit and/or fee.

Look at:Brookside Gardens in Maryland, McCrillis Gardens in Maryland, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Virginia.

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Museums

Museums make great backdrops for portraits because there are museums that reflect so many different interests. Although museums are sometimes dark and unsuitable for photography, during the day, many of them are flooded with natural light. Their surrounding grounds are usually well maintained which adds an opportunity for more variety in the images.

Museums vary greatly in their rules concerning portrait photography. It’s crucial to confirm beforehand what their policy is, but your photographer will be able to do that for you. These locations also often require an admission fee.

Look at:B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, College Park Aviation Museum

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Farms & Vineyards

Farms & Vineyards are a great option for portraits because they can capture the idea of rural life, with a lot of variety, which feels so appropriate to many people. These locations are great for couples and families with children alike. Vineyards carry a naturally romantic feel, although aesthetically not dissimilar to a farm. And children love to look at the equipment and farm animals.

Farms and vineyards also provide interesting and classic structures which further add variety to the scene. The size of the space usually means a fair amount of walking, and so they might not be a great choice for people with limited mobility concerns. These locations are also a mixed bag of requirements. Some will charge an admission fee.

Look at:Agricultural History Farm Park in MD, Kinder Farm Park in Maryland, Boordy Vineyard in Maryland

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Busy Downtown Shopping Districts

The busy shopping district, at first, doesn’t sound like a great spot for portraits. The traffic, the shoppers, the lights and advertisements, all run counter to what people tend to think of as “portraits”. But, they can be great for engagement sessions, as they provide an opportunity to picture the couple in and about the business of life. Families in this setting can also emphasize an enthusiasm for an urban lifestyle. And, they make an excellent defacto option for business and corporate headshots.

In these locations, variety is usually limited to things that look and feel as though they belong in a city. The color grey will be a more dominant force in the images, but so will a lot of other colors that are less likely to appear in natural settings. Parking in these locations can sometimes be a complication, but is usually worth it.

City streets don’t require any permission to use, but if you want to enter any shops, your photographer will need to be prepared to let someone know what you’re doing there–and hope no one has a problem with it, which they often don’t.

Look at: Georgetown in Washington DC, National Harbor in MD, Old Town Alexandria in VA, Silver Spring in Maryland

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Coastlines

Coastlines provide a unique and scenic option that varies from natural to urban. It is a great option for families, engagements, wedding photos and professional and corporate headshots–anyone with a flare for the aquatic. Coastlines look particularly beautiful at the beginning and the end of the day, because the sunlight will sheet across the water in a dramatic fashion.

Although coastlines rarely require a permit or entry fee, parking can sometimes be a challenge, particularly with urban coastlines.

Look at:Tidal Basin in DC, Yards Park in DC, National Harbor in MD, Old Town Alexandria in VA

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Your Home

For some people, shooting in their home is the last resort. But for families with very small children, or during inclement weather, your home might be the very best location. Your home has the benefit of being intrinsically personal. Images created there can add a commemorative element to the space, if you decide to move one day.

If you’re thinking of shooting in your home, take a few snapshots of the space and share them with your photographer and he will be able to advise on whether the space will work and how to best go about doing that.

Your home will offer less variety, particularly in bad weather. But the more personal nature of the images can more than make up for that.