How to turn ugly or boring location into a great photography location

If you’ve ever looked at other photographers’ work and thought that it’s alright for them, they live in a beautiful place, you’re not alone. BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t get great photos outdoors. Besides, how do you know that they weren’t taken in an ugly photography location?

Every single one of us has access to fantastic looking photography locations!

Notice I say fantastic looking. That’s in the photo of course, even if in real life it’s uninspiring at best or down right ugly at worst. You just need to work a little harder if you don’t have easy access to the ultimate outdoor photoshoot locations.

fashion photo shoot in car park location

I chose this location for the leading lines – it was the car park between an indoor bowling club (the brick wall) and tennis courts out of shot to camera right

Is location important in photography?

Yes, I’d say location is really important if you want to photograph outdoors. Actually, it’s really important for indoor photography too, but that’s a discussion for another time, because it involves a different set of criteria.

The background, or foreground for that matter, of a photo sets the mood and can take up most of the photo. So you need to make it look good, even if the location doesn’t.

How can I find a photography location near me?

I’m always on the lookout for potential photography locations. Even when I don’t think I’m looking, I actually am. If I see something that I think could work for a photoshoot location I grab a few shots on my phone.

Top tip – when photographing a potential urban location, make sure to take a photo of the road name as well, if possible, to help you find it again.

I think the best way to find a good photography location nearby is to head out on foot. Or at least park up somewhere and then walk. You see so much more when you’re on foot.

  • Take photos with your phone of everything that strikes you as having potential.
  • Get a broad shot of the area and then if there are pockets that could work, go in close and grab those shots too.
  • Make sure you also photograph it from different angles, but don’t get stuck for too long in one place. You can scroll through all your photos when you get home rather than waste time taking the perfect shot of a doorway or shrub.

Later on you can figure out if it is indeed a good photography location and if so, how you’ll use it in your photoshoot.

How do you take good pictures in bad places?

1. Planning!

Planning is key to a good photoshoot anywhere – in a studio or on location.

I found this location a few months before I set up the shoot. Some might consider it a bad photoshoot location, but when I walked past it I knew that it would make a great location!

So, the plan was to find a model with dark hair, wearing red and black to stand out against the light gray of the bars.

I planned to photograph on the outside of the wall of bars, as well as the inside and use the large window to play with reflections.

The opening hours were advertised outside, so I set up the shoot for a day when they’d be closed. I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded, but it was just easier to avoid a confrontation.

Further reading: 7 essential elements to preparing for a photoshoot on location

Location scouting buildings for outdoor photoshoot

Pull back view of the photography location
Here’s a pull back of the scene.


Using a building exterior as a photography location
We started on the inside using natural light only, because I really liked the way it channelled through the bars.


Portrait using a big window as a photoshoot location
Still on the inside, but just a step to the right of the image above.


Portrait photography locations in cities
And then we finished up on the outside of the wall of bars. At the right angle you can’t see through the bars.

2. Knowing what you want

It’s particularly important to know what you want if you’re “running and gunning”. So, the opposite of planning, but not everything can be planned. Either way, you’ll save yourself time and stress if you have a clear vision of the shoot when looking for a location.

You’ll see a great example of this further down, including behind the scenes images.

Further reading: 14 tips for choosing good places for a photoshoot outdoors

3. Depth of field

If the location’s background doesn’t look good and you have no other option, just blur the background with a shallow depth of field.

A pull back of what the photography location actually looks like

In the behind the scenes image above you can see that the location is a bit run down, complete with a broken bit of fence lying on the ground.

Looking at the photo below, you wouldn’t have guessed that, or noticed it, if you hadn’t seen the photo above.

Blurred background for ugly photography location

How do I find photo shoot locations?

Okay, so you’re all set to head out with your phone to photograph possible photoshoot locations near you.

But what makes a good location? This is what I look for…

  1. Texture
  2. Color

Old buildings with texture for portrait photography shoot

1. Texture in possible photoshoot locations

I love different textures in backgrounds so when I come across a slightly rundown building or something with interesting texture, it’s a winner in my book.

Examples of building details for photography backgrounds
Close ups of the textures at this photoshoot location – ugly photography location, but those textures got my heart racing! Check out the photos below using these backgrounds.

Studio photographers (myself included) often spend hundreds of dollars on backdrops for the studio that look like old brick walls, peeling paint on worn out wood, fading concrete or rusty metal.

If you’re lucky and look hard enough I bet you can find something like that in your area to use as a background. For free!

Blue textured wood on building exterior for outdoor photoshoot
The blue of the wood was a great match for her outfit – planned ahead of time.


Rusted corrugated iron background for photoshoot
Paint flaking off rusty corrugated iron shed. I find backgrounds like this irresistible… and look how well it photographs!


Old corrugated iron shed photography location
Again, the outfit was chosen to work well with the location background. Photographed on a very sunny day, using flash in the open shade of the building.

The added advantage of looking for buildings with interesting texture is that if you plan the shoot for when the building is casting a shadow where you want to shoot you’ll have open shade to photograph in. Great for both off camera flash photography or a natural light photoshoot.

2. Color in the environment

If we want a colorful background in the studio we need to:

  • Paint a wall
  • Use seamless paper
  • Fit gels to lights aimed at the background

Outdoor photography locations offer us all the colors of the rainbow for free. It’s just a matter of choosing the one you want.

Outdoor photoshoot location in city

I knew that I needed a black background and a purple background.

We were in the center of London, so I also knew that it was just a matter of time before we found the right urban photoshoot location. As it turned out, we found both within 30 seconds of stepping out of the door… and they were almost next to each other!

If you hadn’t seen the behind the scenes photos, you wouldn’t believe that the next two photos were taken in a busy, narrow London street.

Painted wall in city for photoshoot location

Shop roller door as backdrop for photography location


Leave a comment

If you have any questions about photography locations, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my photoshoot location tips have helped you, share that too.

6 thoughts on “How to turn ugly or boring location into a great photography location”

  1. I always appreciate your insight and the easy way you present information. You help open my eyes to possibilities and those are endless with photography.

    • Thanks, Ellen. Great to hear you find the information helpful – you’re so right about endless possibilities in photography!


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