Tips for Dealing with Lousy Locations

How to make a poor portrait location work!

filed in:

I'm Katelyn James Alsop, a photographer, educator and momma who believes any photographer can have a profitable AND purposeful business.


Top Categories

Browse All

read more


Browse All


Browse All


A wintery boston wedding

w/ inside, dark ceremony


Come join over 3,000 other photographers from around the world & become my virtual third shooter! 
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ

Browse Series

 Baby James Story

Our Home

Our Kids

Ask Anything

Have you ever showed up for a wedding or a portrait session and took one look at the location and thought…. “You’ve got to be kidding me!!! How am I going to make this work?!” I have. I have had so many scenarios in my career where I have thought….“Ok, how in the world am I going to make this lousy location work as a great portrait location!!?”.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve learned how to make almost any scenario work! 

I’ve collected some of my best tips for transforming LOUSY LOCATIONS and I’m sharing them in today’s Youtube Video!! :

I hope you enjoy and take away a few tips for the next time you find yourself in a less-than-ideal shooting location! If you didn’t have a chance to watch the video, here are some quick tips that I mention in the video!! :


  • Get creative with your crop:

This means paying attention to ways that you can strategically crop out distractions in the background and foregrounds to make your images appear more high end! You can also use your crop to eliminate unnecessary negative space as well! 

  • Use high compression lenses:

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I love prime lenses and I love high compression! That is why my 85mm is my FAVORITE portrait lens and will always be my top pick! I love how high compression makes the background blurry and almost like it’s RIGHT BEHIND the subject while also creating a creamy, highly compressed foreground! It’s a perfect way to hide elements in your location that you want to hide! 

  • Shoot vertically:

This seems so simple but it’s a learned skill to remember this when you’re working with a poor location and feel stressed! Simply shooting vertically (and closer to your subject) will eliminate distractions and allow you to frame your subject more effectively! This will not only allow you to photograph more intentionally but it will save you editing time and image quality because you wouldn’t be cropping out so much negative space that isn’t necessary! 

  • Create foreground and add visual interest & hide distractions:

You know this is my favorite thing ever. FOREGROUND! It’s just so much fun to photograph and I love the layering that it provides! When I’m working hard to make a hard location usable, this is my favorite trick!!! You can basically use it at any time and you can do it manually! Sometimes I don’t have an actual bush, flower, or branch to shoot through and so I have to hold objects in front of my lens to make it happen!! This technique can hide distractions but more importantly, it softens your images and causes

  • Use bodies to block distractions: 

last but not least, use your client’s bodies to hide unwanted parts of the location that you’re shooting in! If you don’t look at a location and think “could I block that with their bodies?” then you will probably miss out of so many spots that could hold so much potential! This, much like the other tips I’m sharing, is a learned thought! This is a fun tip to implement because it instantly opens up more possibilities! Now, in order to block unwanted things in a location, you have strategically pick a pose that makes this possible! Often times, this makes using a pose where their bodies are close to one another without any space between them!


If you’re wondering about how you can get better at actually taking these tips and applying them to your shooting, here’s what I do. I think about this stuff all of the time. When I’m driving, I’m constantly passing by locations and thinking, “Ok, how could I make that work”? Medians on highways, Target parking lots, random flowerbeds at the mall…. I think about how I would make it work if I HAD to shoot a portrait there. It sounds ridiculous that THAT is what goes through my mind when I’m out and about and not working but it’s just engrained in my head! I encourage you to think about it too next time you’re in town and driving around!!


Thanks for reading, friends! Be sure to check out the rest of our Youtube Channel for more free education! 

Thanks for reading!

— Katelyn

Ep. 11 | We Started A Micro School! Here's What We Learned After 2 Months!

Starting a school for our kids and community was going to be a big undertaking, we knew that! But we have learned so much alongside our kids that has made this endeavor all worth it.

The Katelyn James Podcast

It’s hard for me to remember the last time that I took portraits at the infamous Virginia Tech Duck Pond but I know it had to have been several years ago!


John + Lauren | Engaged Virginia Tech Duck Pond Engagement Portraits


Featured : BRIDES Magazine Paige + Nikhil's Wedding

It’s no surprise that this GORGEOUS wedding was picked up by BRIDES Magazine! Between the perfectly paired color scheme, beautiful florals, an amazing venue, the list goes on. The details that Paige + Nikhil thought about for their wedding day are simply stunning. 

I pushed my R6 to the limit

I Pushed My R6 to the Limit ISO up to 40,000!

I walked into the venue for the welcome dinner.. And I knew it was going to be dark.. But I didn’t think it would be THIS DARK! 


There are several seasons of starting a business and what it looks like to continue to grow and scale as the business changes! We’re on the last episode of the Startup Series and the stage of business that I’m still in.


Ep. 10 | The Start Up Series Pt. 3 Specializing and Scaling

The Katelyn James Podcast
Lens Review: Canon RF 50mm 1.8 vs. RF 50mm 1.2L

Lens Review: Canon RF 50mm 1.8 vs. RF 50mm 1.2L Is it worth the $2,000 price difference?

Can a professional photographer use the Canon RF 50mm 1.8 or is it necessary to have the high end Canon RF 50mm1.2L? We’re going to put them to the test to find out!



"Best money I have EVER spent on education! ... and I've spent a lot!”


"I love all the lessons I'm learning from KJ All Access! Thanks Katelyn!”

- Shannon Drummond, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER

"I find very few educational resources worth it ... this one is!”

- Kate gansneder, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER

"Recently signed up for KJ All Access and it's EVERYTHING!”

- Kassidy Mowery, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER

"Being able to see behind-the-scenes of Katelyn interacting with her clients has been SO impactful!”

- Angie mcpherson, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER

"Recently signed up for KJ All Access and it's EVERYTHING!”

- Kassidy Mowery, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER

"SO worth it! It's amazing the amount of knowledge you get out of them!”

- Brittany Lowe, ALl ACCESS MEMBER

"I learned just as much in one All Access as I did in a whole course! SO GOOD!"

- Joanna Krueger, ALL-ACCESS MEMBER
10 Steps to Starting Your Photography Business
Helping a friend survive a season of Infant Loss
How to photograph a first look in Harsh Light
A Lake Como Destination Wedding - Greg and Kate
A Letter to the Go-Getters fearful of Motherhood

The KJ blog

The KJ Blog is where you get to know me, where you meet our KJ Couples and see their beautiful wedding days, where I have been building an archive of education for over a decade and where I let you see a peek into our life, our home, and hear about our purpose! 
don't miss the
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ
Arrow KJ


Join 65,000+ others and learn, grow and get connected via our Youtube Channel! This is where I'm constantly sharing new content, talking all things gear, business, tips, tricks and letting you into the behind-the-scenes of our everyday life! 

"I have invested in all of KJ’s education!

The way she teaches makes so much sense and I’m so grateful for her! My business will be forever changed!"

- Renee Nicolo

"KJ education has been life-changing

 It has elevated my work so I could quit my day job and work from home with our baby boy!"

- joanna k.


and none compare to what I get from KJ!"