Choosing an Outdoor Photography Location

We often get asked for location recommendations.  Southern California is bursting with culture, energy and various kinds of beauty, but where is the best place for a photo shoot?  There are a few things to consider first:

  1. When is your desired session?
  2. Are permits required?
  3. Will there be pets?


When is your session?

Whether it is a portrait session or a lifestyle session, whenever you are outdoors you have to consider lighting conditions and other people in the area to get the most out of your special day.

When do people typically want a session?  Usually just before lunch or dinner and on a weekend, when it is convenient.  Unfortunately that is also when everyone else wants to come out and play.  In order to make sure that you are not surrounded by crowds, the best times to photograph are during the week or before businesses open on weekends.

The best times of day for lighting are either just after sunrise or just before sunset.  Also known as the "golden hour", this type of light is soft and gorgeous.  As those times aren't always convenient, it is typically best to stay clear of when the sun is directly overhead or is too intense.  This is primarily because the harsh overhead light casts nasty shadows on faces that are not flattering at all.  As odd as it may seem, shade is good.  Shade from trees and sides of buildings can dramatically improve the quality of a picture in the event you have to take pictures in the middle of the day.  The time of year should also be considered as the sun comes out earlier and stays out longer during the summer.  Living in a beach community we often get overcast days which is great for diffused, even lighting, but can also result in a flat photo.

Some areas are also open seasonally or have varying hours of operation.  If you are having your session at a place like the Los Angeles Arboretum, your photographer should call ahead of time to confirm the hours and if there are any events happening that day.

Is a permit required?

Most people aren't aware of this, but permits are often needed for professional portrait shoots.  On any average day, if you are out and about and decided to bring your phone or personal camera, for the most part you are free to take a photo.  However if you have "hired" a professional photographer who has special equipment (i.e. lighting, professional lenses, and tripods), chances are, you are going to need a pre-purchased permit.  This is not a problem with enough advance notification, but it will result in an additional permit fees. 

Several of the ideal areas require either an annual permit or a day permit and a reservation booked in advance.  Below are some of our favorite locations:

Permit required:

  • Los Angeles Arboretum, Arcadia
  • South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes
  • Terranea, Rancho Palos Verdes
  • The Queen Mary, Long Beach
  • Huntington Library
  • Descano Gardens
  • Union Station
  • Greystone Mansion

No Permit (however there is usually paid parking and sometimes entrance fees):

  • Pasadena City Hall
  • Walt Disney Concert Hall
  • Santa Monica Beach & Pier
  • North Lake Park Lagoon, Irvine
  • UCLA
  • UC Irvine
  • Old Poway Park, San Diego (Travel Fee Required)
  • Shoreline Village, Long Beach
  • Abalone Cove, Rancho Palos Verdes
  • Lacy Park, San Marino

Since we often shoot around Orange County we have an OC Parks Permit which allows us to photograph in various beautiful public parks and beaches around Orange County:

  • Aliso Beach
  • Craig Regional Park
  • Salt Creek Beach
  • Irvine Regional Park
  • Laguna Niguel Regional Park
  • Mason Regional Park
  • Carbon Canyon Regional Park
  • Yorba Regional Park
  • Capistrano Beach

Bringing a pet?

Our pets are our family and deserve to be a part of our family photos, we agree!  However, not all places allow pets so you'll want to find a location like a dog beach or a park when bringing your fur baby.  For example in Long Beach we have Rosie's Dog Beach ( and Shoreline Aquatic Park (

We hope these tips help on your next photo shoot.  Nothing is perfect in photography, but with a little planning ahead of time your photos will come out amazing. 

Happy scouting!