So you’re planning to set up a session. That’s excellent. Perhaps it’s shoot with your family, or your best friends. Maybe it’s a graduation portrait, or sprucing up your dating profile. Maybe you’re done with dating and you’ve just had your first, or second, or fifth child. Whatever the case may be, one of the most important questions decisions you’ll have to make is where you’re going to hold the session.

You have two broad options: Indoor or outdoor. We’re going to leave the indoor options alone for now—we’ll discuss those in another post later. For now, lets look at the major benefits and drawbacks of the other option, shooting outdoors.

The Pros:

Outdoor sessions have more variety

When you plan to hold your session outdoors, we’re able to make use of the plethora of options in backgrounds, colors, seating options, natural landmarks and more. When we visit outdoor locations for sessions, we move around a lot. An outdoor session will result in more images that look substantially different from each other.

If you have lots of places to put framed prints, or lots of profiles online that need photos, an outdoor shoot will give you more over all diversity among your images.

Outdoor sessions can take advantage of places that are already important to you

An outdoor session opens up a near endless list of options for where to hold your shoot, and that means places that are important to you for whatever reason are on the table—for example, the place where you first got engaged, or the park the kids used to play in when they were little, make for images you’ll have a deeper connection to.

If you grew up in this area, an outdoor session can open up new dimensions of meaning in your images. More deeply meaningful images can have a longer ‘shelf life’ before you feel the urge to update them.

An outdoor session may help you loosen up more and make you look more natural

Being under studio lights makes most people feel uncomfortable. Although most eventually loosen up, an outdoor session often cuts to the chase more quickly. The feeling of ‘being in the spotlight’ is diminished in outdoor sessions, and the back and forth with your photographer is more casual. Relaxing in photos helps you look more natural, and getting there more quickly also helps to increase the overall variety of the images.

If you’re having images created for a dating profile, an outdoor session is probably a must, if you want people swiping right more often. Likewise, if there are small children involved, an outdoor session, since it is less rigid, helps to keep the lid on until the session is finished.

The Cons:

Shooting outdoors comes with a risk of rain delays

Mother nature is fickle. Rain and snow are both obvious reasons an outdoor session may be reschedule. But extreme heat, cold, and even severely cloudy days can also be cause for a change in plans. If the plans for your session absolutely forbid a change in the schedule, an alternate indoor option is a big must.

For the majority of sessions, a change in the schedule is not earth shattering and we are always looking to be as flexible as possible.

Unexpected crowds can spoil the shot

It goes without saying, if you go to a public place, you might find the public there. It can be hard to gauge how busy a public location will be prior to the session. In most cases, a crowded public space limits options, but doesn’t ruin the session altogether. Your photographer may even find a way to make use of the crowds for your images.

Crowds limit options, and therefore reduce the variety of your images. If you want a photo in front of the Washington Monument, but a lot of tourists are crowding the shot, there is nothing we can do about that. Instead, we’ll look for a shot that isn’t spoiled by the tourists, but it might not be the shot you have in mind.

Light is not under your photographer’s direct control

Outdoor sessions are shot primarily under natural light, sometimes with some basic light modifiers (e.g., those big reflectors you see photographers carrying around). Unfortunately, a lot of public spaces limit the use of light modifiers and much more the use of full scale lighting equipment. In effect, this means we usually have to use the light as it is. The result is a more permissive use of ‘imperfect’ light, or a reduction in variety in order to only shoot in locations where light is ideal.

If you’re looking for perfect light, most outdoor session will not provide your photographer with the control them need. If your session needs perfect light, you should discuss those needs with your photographer beforehand so the session can be arranged to meet your expectations.