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Top 5 Tips Portrait Sessions

Top 5 Tips for Planning a Portrait Session

1) Choose a Location

Los Angeles is a goldmine of cool locations. As you can imagine, that is one of the biggest reasons why the film industry calls it home. Within the thirty-mile zone (aka TMZ), you can find a variety of locations from sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, from urban cityscapes to the rural wilderness. One of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles, over 10 years ago, was for the opportunity to photograph outdoors all year round! Where else can you photograph a beautiful sunrise portrait on the beach in January? I have included some of my favorite outdoor and indoor studio spots below. Please note, client is responsible for additional parking and photography permits fees, if required.

If you’re stuck on ideas of where to go for your portrait session, here are some of my favorite places in the Los Angles area:

Griffith Observatory 2800 E Observatory Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90027

  • Option 1: Griffith Observatory is an iconic landmark of Southern California. It was built in 1935 with classic Art Deco style on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above the Los Feliz neighborhood. It is 1,134 feet above sea level and is visible from many parts of the Los Angeles basin. It is the best spot for observing the world-famous Hollywood Sign, downtown LA, and the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. My favorite backgrounds for portraits include the big arches, detailed doors, and winding staircases. Professional photography is allowed but with limited use of additional light modifiers (no lightstands and umbrellas). Cellphone service is unreliable, so I suggest meeting up at a prearranged spot like the tall monument between the Observatory and the paid parking lot at the very top. You also have the option of free street parking and walking uphill. There are water fountains and public restrooms on site for wardrobe changes.
  • Option 2: Another really pretty location is Griffith Park, at the base of the Observatory. It has lots of mature trees, lush trails, a bubbling brook, and bridges (see pic above). One of the most challenging parts about photographing here, is that we loose the sunlight early behind the hills and trees. To achieve the best natural lighting with pretty backlight, we should be ending out session about 40 minutes before the sun actually sets. The best place to meet up is near The Trails Cafe located at 2333 Fern Dell, LA CA 90027 and walk the park south towards Los Feliz Blvd.

Walt Disney Concert Hall 111 S Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90012

  • A modern masterpiece located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. Walls of brushed metal and mirrored walls, full sized trees with lush greenery, and a beautiful rooftop garden. This location provides lots of unique opportunities for portrait sessions. I love the modern style with neutral color palate. This is a good choice for a daytime portrait session. A permit is not required and the location should be avoided on the weekends because of the massive amount of tourists. Additional locations nearby include The Broad Museum, Grand Central Market, and historic Angels Flight. Parking is available directly beneath Walt Disney Concert Hall; enter on Second Street or Lower Grand Avenue.

Pasadena City Hall 100 Garfield Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101

  • Completed in 1927, Pasadena City Hall is a ”baroque fantasy” drawing inspiration from the architecture of the Italian Renaissance with soaring towers, cathedral ceilings, grand staircases, and hallways that make incredible backgrounds for your portraits. This is a very popular spot for engagement and wedding photography, especially on weekends. To avoid crazy crows of photographers, I recommend photographing here on a weekday after regular business hours at least 2 hours before sunset or anytime during daylight hours on the weekend.
  • Photo permits are not required, but staffers reserve the right to ask photographers of particularly disruptive shoots for proof of a business license. Please use common sense, respect the property, and be aware of others around you.

Santa Monica Pier 200 Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica, CA 90401

  • A great beach at the end of Historic Route 66 with sandy beaches, wooden pier, amusement park rides, and the original muscle beach. Take a ride on top of the iconic Ferris Wheel to get beautiful Ocean views. The best time to photograph at this location is sunrise when there are less people and the sun shines bright on the South side of the pier. I suggest meeting up at parking Lot #1 for easy access to the beach. Travel fee $100 for this location.

Los Angeles Arboretum 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007

  • Located in Arcadia, California (close to the Santa Anita Race Track), the LA Arboretum offers an expansive garden setting ideal for portrait photography. This location requires a permit fee of $50+ admission for walk-on access or $300+ admission for a personal golf cart that fits up to 10 people (advanced booking required.) If you choose to get a golf cart, we can cover lots more of grounds than just walking alone. Parking is free.
  • For more information about obtaining a permit you can access their website HERE or call (626)821-3244.

El Matador State Beach 32350 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265

  • One of the most beautiful beaches in Malibu, with sea caves and large rocks on the beach. There is a steep dirt trail with stairs leading to breathtaking views of the Ocean from the upper cliffs. Along the beach, you will see deep blue water filled with kelp forests. A very popular spot for photography at sunset and on the weekends. Paid parking lot is available from 8am to sunset and limited free parking on PCH. Portrait photography is not allowed on Sundays. Portable restrooms on site for wardrobe changes. Travel fee +$100.

Union Station 800 N Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90012

  • The largest passenger train terminal West of the Mississippi. Built in the 1930s this is a historic California monument with garden patios, terra cotta tile floors, and nearly a century old design. The train station is open to the public and has lots of visitors each day. This location is recommended for the daytime on a weekday

Indoor Studio Rentals

Downtown LA @ FD Studios is my favorite spot for indoor sessions. Sets are available for rent by the hour (additional fees apply):

ART 1 White Stairs is a large, bright studio with both concrete and wood walls, white piano, large northwest and southwest windows with white corner stairs.

ART 3 Flower Wall is a gorgeous, romantic studio featuring a large rose wall, big windows for natural southwest light, clawfoot tub, luxe white leather furniture with gold trim, and an ornate full length mirror.

Hill 4 Jungle Room with neon and tropical vibes. You can enjoy the wide windows, crisp natural light, fun props like a blue Vespa scooter and woven chairs. They also have a yellow textured wall with ivy and moroccan flooring.

2) What to Wear

Here’s a few ideas to help guide you in your outfit selection.

  • If you are looking for an affordable stylist, try Stitch Fix! I have tried it and loved the outfit they sent me! You can order as often as you like and for specific occasions. Perfect for women, men, and children. Click HERE to use my promo code for $25 OFF your first order. Note, you should know your sizes when ordering and give yourself at least 2 weeks for a shipment to arrive.
  • Bright colors look lovely! For couples and families, try choosing outfits with colors that complement each other rather than exact matches. Avoid wearing solid white on white or solid black on black.
  • Limit your color selections to 3 complimentary colors. This helps you look coordinated without being overly matchy.
  • Loose and flowy fabrics bring a romantic element to engagement shoots.
  • Create textures and layers. This is easier to do in the fall and winter months with bright woven scarves, faux furs, knits, bold prints, and interesting fabrics. In the summer and spring, you can create layers with accessories like statement jewelry, scarves, ties, bags, fun shoes, wraps, and hats.
  • Avoid items that detract from the scene like white socks, oversized watches, big logo t-shirts, and fashion sunglasses to name a few.

If you’re wondering whether a certain item is a good idea, just ask! You can text me pictures of your ideas or bring a few options with you and arrive early to discuss.

3) Golden Hour

I love all the colors of a California sunset. The periwinkle blues, candy pink, and soft purples. Golden Hour is my preferred time for natural light portrait sessions. To capture this kind of lighting, you will want to start your session an hour before sunset or right before sunrise.

To check sunset/sunrise times click HERE.

Even though golden hour is preferred, I am not limited with lighting conditions. Sometimes we do get a gloomy overcast evening or have no choice but to photograph in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead. I have solutions to these problems with additional light and CTO gels.

4) Professional Hair and Makeup

One of the biggest things that will make an impact on your portraits is professional hair and makeup. For your session you'll want to look and feel your very best. The average cost of women's hair and makeup is $150-250+ tip. One way I recommend saving a little money, is to schedule a hair appointment and makeup trial the same day as your portrait session.

Here's some of my favorite artists who offer beauty services on location.

5) Props

Personalized props can be a great way to express your personality. It also helps break the ice of awkward posing and gives you something to do with your hands.

  • sparklers
  • giant frames
  • bubbles
  • jumbo balloons (36" with streamers!)
  • vintage chairs or sofas
  • treats like cupcakes/ candy/ s'mores/ cotton candy/ ice cream/ popcorn
  • hobby things like football/ surfboard/ yoga
  • board games/ lawn games/ picnic
  • tandem bikes, or regular bikes
  • numbers or signs (maybe wedding date?)
  • lanterns / candles / chandelier
  • smoke bombs


If would like to book the best Los Angeles photographer or if you have questions, CONTACT me now.

Sherri Johnson | Los Angeles Photographer
Portraits | Weddings | Events | Real Estate | 1106 S St Andrews Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90019
(657) 203-1327 - sherri@sherrijphotography.com - Privacy Policy - Terms of Use