Does the location make the shot?
I have a philosophy on this that I am about to elaborate on, please bear with me, it's not doom and gloom, but I've learned a lot about it and want to share.
Ahem. Pull out the soap box, if you please.
I can't tell you how many times I dreamed about locations when I first started shooting. Literally. I would put myself to sleep (or keep myself up, rather) thinking about locations. Angles. Colors. Rusty. Vintage. Peeled paint. Old. Middle of nowhere. If you take pictures like me, you know what I'm talking about. You can't drive anywhere, ESPECIALLY back country, without thinking about it, and fortunately I live in a place where if I need to go anywhere, I usually have to drive through some back country to get there, so it was on my mind a lot.
Side note: Believe it or not, Northern Colorado has amazing back country. Beautiful.
But I've learned a few lessons along the way. Lucky (or unlucky) for you I get to share them with you.
Here we go.
1) No location, however barn-ish or colorful or beautifully lit or anything can substitute for a good picture of your subject. It takes time (hate to say it, but it's true, I am the queen of impatience, which is why I have to learn the lessons the hard way over and over) to capture a good picture of someone or someones. For example. You finally got your uncle's brother's dog's cousin to let you in their farm to take some pictures of a family to build your portfolio. It's THE location you've been dreaming of, and you count your lucky stars old Billy Bob let you in just this once. You have to make it count, but you're so giddy with all the cool spots you found, you rush through it and then you bring up your pictures later and surprise: no one is looking at the camera. Everyone has fake smiles. All the girl's hair are in their face. You forgot to double check your settings and everything is over/under lit. Whatever the case: if you can't get your subjects looking good, the location doesn't matter all that much. I always say that a good picture of someone can be taken anywhere, their smile, laughter, character matters much more than the location and will matter much more to your client.
2) Each location has it's ideal subject. The red barn (you know, the red barn) that is 20 miles away from civilization may not work for the family of 5 small children you want to bring out there, and then bring to the old junk shed 20 miles from there, and then back to an ice cream parlor in town for the finale. They will get worn out from changing outfits, traveling far distances, getting kids in and out of car-seats multiple times, bathroom breaks, and having to wait when the stupid ice cream is not being served quick enough to get shots of the last kid when the first's is melting off the cone. Ahem...hypothetically speaking. But it MAY work for the senior girl who has more time, flexibility, and bladder control to follow you around the countryside. Think about your subject and their needs and pick a location that will best suit their abilities. And remember that while a certain one location may look really neat, it's just one spot- are you going to do an entire shoot at that one spot? Be prepared and know your location(s) well enough to get variety in there. If your heart tells you to.
3) Ask permission. I've never been turned down by a privately owned property. Most people are flexible, and often times honored or excited to share their space with you. They may think you are nuts at times, but if you are polite, explain who you are taking pictures of, when you will be there, and how long you will be there, usually they will say yes. If they don't, too bad, but it's better to ask permission then get fined, and then never be able to use that location again. And make sure to say thank you. I find that offering my services to the location owner (by discount or even free depending on the extent and time of use of property) or even just sending a plate of home-made delectables gets the message across. And heightens your chances of being able to use the space again without feeling like a chump.
4) Think the "props" in the location through before you put someone next to it. Sometimes the old rusty gas tank or old elevator or whatever it is you see that just looks SO cool looks much better by itself than it does with someone next to it. I can't tell you how many times I saw something that I thought would just bank my photo, hook, line, and sinker, then I pulled it up later and thought..."okay, what was I thinking putting that little girl next to the old dumpster?? That's just awkward.". Just think it through before you take a few shots. It makes a difference.
5) It doesn't much matter what else is around the location if it's not in the shot. I used to look at photos and think "Woe is me, if only there were lone sheds in the middle of fields with sunflowers growing around it in my neighborhood..." but what I didn't see in the shot was the freeway right in front of the shed or the "Stan's Karate Classes" joint right next door. Know what I mean? If you see a location you like and think you can go with it, don't look at everything else around it, just use it, crop everything else out of your frame, and move on with life. :-) May sound simple, but it was one of those "humps" I had to get over.
6) Make sure you go to your location at the right time of day. All it takes is for you to think beforehand "okay, this place faces west, I need to do the shoot in the morning to avoid the sun". Be in control of your lighting! Nothing ruins a spot when you get there like the realization that you went there at the wrong time of day.
You know, not that I've done that or anything.
Also, before I check out, an unofficial 7) includes your own creativity. Don't go to the locations that every other photographer in your town goes to. Be creative. People will see the unique places you've scouted out and want to know where it was and want their picture taken there. However, again, locations don't make the shot, only you can do that.
May the force be with you.