When planning a photo shoot, don't rule out the ugly part of town, says Shelly Perry...Every time you’re planning a photo shoot, one of the very first questions to answer is “Where?” 

Unless you have a highly-functional studio at your disposal, you likely have some favorite locations where you like to shoot. But sometimes I like to explore new places. 

I love the synchronicity of finding unique locations and working the shoot around them—even if at first glance they seem ugly.

I mostly photograph people. But whether we’re shooting people, animals, flowers, or objects, photographers are always on the hunt for that cool setting, neat background, perfect color, etc. 

Let me give you a few examples from my own work …

This derelict building was the location we stumbled upon. To make the most of it, I shot from a very low vantage point to take advantage of the cool industrial roof with its interesting lines and structure. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

When planning a photo shoot, even the ugliest of settings can make a great scene

Tip: Watch for interesting backgrounds, even if they are up (or down).

A parking lot was the scene for this next shoot. I took full advantage of the window near the corner. The colors of the wall go so naturally with what the model is wearing and the violin in her arms. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

Tip: Watch for color and textures.

Here’s an example of a pretty standard, ugly industrial scene. What could be redeemable here? I went for the texture of those rolls by the wall. I had to shoot through the fence to get them, so a shallow depth of field was needed to make the fence lines disappear from view. Now, I can’t say this is a “beautiful” picture; however, it does have a nice texture to it and could possibly find a use or two on a stock site. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

Tip: Get in close and shoot for texture. 

Now, check out this ugly scene—not one I would normally stop for (it was actually kind of gross walking around there). However, I wanted to see if I could create a decent shot in the ugliest of locations. I got in pretty close, as you can see, and used a super-shallow depth of field to blur out the background as much as possible, so the poles on the ground, the fence, and the graffiti would all go soft in the background and therefore be less distracting. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

Tip: Use a shallow depth of field. Blur, baby, blur!

This gravel lot (which is just looking the other way from the graffiti shot) is pretty plain and boring, but that gravel is fantastic as a portrait background. I watch the ground all the time for cool and interesting textures and patterns that can be used exactly this way. 

The trick here is to have enough space to have the texture stretch out behind your subject far enough to fill the whole background. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

Tip: Textured ground (gravel, bricks, stone, boardwalk, etc.) can be fantastic portrait backgrounds. 

This last one, shot in exactly the same place, is different only in that I used a longer zoom and shot slightly up, rather then down, with my friend farther away from me. This way, I could pull the cityscape behind her “closer.” Still, I used a shallow depth of field to keep the focus on her and have the city soft and “supporting,” rather then distracting. 

When planning a photo shoot, ugly places can be just as useful...

Tip: Work the scene to get as many varieties and differing shots as you can. 

All of these examples were shot within four blocks of each other. Whether traveling overseas or out and about in your own city, you can discover interesting settings everywhere you go—even if they first seem uninteresting or even ugly. With your camera, you can make them beautiful.   

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