SJP's Top 5 Tips for Portrait Sessions
1) Choosing 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 everything from sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, from urban cityscapes to the rural wilderness. One of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles a decade ago, was for the opportunity to photograph outdoors practically all year round.
If you're stuck on ideas where to go, here's a few of my favorite spots:
Griffith Observatory- 2800 E Observatory Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90027
- Griffith Observatory is an iconic landmark of Los Angeles and one of southern California's most popular attractions. Built in 1935 with classic Art Deco style, it lays on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above Los Feliz. It is 1,134 feet above sea level and is visible from many parts of the Los Angeles basin. The Observatory is the best vantage point for observing the world-famous Hollywood Sign among mountain tops and even sometimes a peek of an ocean view on clear days.
- My favorite features at Observatory include big arches, detailed doors, winding staircases, and even grassy fields, evergreen trees, and hiking trails. For more lush trees and trails, the bottom of the park also offers beautiful spots near the Trails Cafe. Professional photography is allowed, but with limited use of additional light modifiers as to not to disrupt other guest. There is free parking on the street leading up to the top of the hill and paid parking available in lot at the top. Public restrooms on site allow for easy wardrobe changes. No permit required.
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. Exterior walls are made of brushed metal and some are mirrored, full sized trees with lush greenery, and a beautiful rooftop garden with large blooming lotus sculpture. This location provides a perfect neutral background for modern portraits. There is paid street and lot parking. Suggested time for shooting at this location is during the daytime. No permit required.
Paramount Ranch - 2903 Cornell Rd. Agoura Hills, CA 91301
- Giddy-up! In 1927, Paramount Pictures purchased 2,700 acres of land in the Malibu Hills to create a "movie ranch." The land has served as a focal point for several films, including MASH, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and most recently HBO's Westworld with the addition of a cute little white chapel. Even though you can't actually go inside the buildings, the textures and colors make for fun backgrounds for portrait sessions. Additional features I love include bridges, tall California Oak and Eucalyptus trees, grassy fields, and a babbling brook. The location is pet friendly but dogs must remain on leash. Restrooms on site for easy wardrobe changes. Travel and permit fee +$175.
Solstice Canyon - 3455 Solstice Canyon Rd, Malibu, CA 90265
- Solstice Canyon is another beautiful park within the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu, California. Located off Corral Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway, the canyon runs north-to-south about a mile east of Point Dume. In 1865, Matthew Keller built a stone cottage in the canyon, believed to be the oldest existing stone building in Malibu. Some of my favorite features of the park includes hiking trails, waterfalls, creeks and big trees. Travel and permit fee +$175.
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 $60-100 depending on the time of day.
Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Garden - 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
- This is one of L.A. best-kept secrets. It is a unique 127-acre botanical garden and historical site located in the city of Arcadia, at the foothill of the San Gabriel mountains. Some highlights include a wide variety of flora including large agave, a bamboo forest, and citrus grove with lots of walking trails, waterfalls, and peacocks. Parking is free and admission is $9/person. The garden is open from 9am-5pm with the last admission at 4:30pm. Photo Permits are available from 9am-3:30pm at the front office for $50 and Groups over 5 subjects +$200 refundable security deposit. Subjects are not allowed to do outfit changes on site.
Universal Studios, Hollywood - 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
- Universal is a film studio and theme park located in Hollywood. It is one of the oldest and most famous Hollywood film studios still in use. Its official slogan is "The Entertainment Capital of LA." The location offers a lot of camera ready backdrops including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Super Silly Fun Land with Minions, and even Simpson's Land. Admission + parking fees apply.
Santa Monica Pier- 200 Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica, CA 90401
- A great beach location at the end of Historic Route 66 with sandy beaches, chilly Pacific views, the Pier with light up Ferris Wheel and roller coasters, the original muscle beach, and lots of shops a couple block away at 3rd Street Promenade. Photography is allowed on certain parts of the pier, other areas off limits. Paid parking available on both sides of the pier. Travel fee +$60.
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden- Earl Warren Dr, Long Beach, CA 90840
- The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden encompasses 1.3 acres on the campus of California State University, Long Beach. A perfect romantic setting for weddings, portrait sessions, and special events. The site’s privacy and impeccably maintained grounds attract discerning couples seeking a unique outdoor setting surrounded by tall trees, a lush green landscape, arched bridges, shimmering koi pond, and sparkling waterfalls. Permit fee +$200 per hour.
Indoor Studio Rentals
- FD Studios - A great indoor space in the heart of downtown Los Angeles with MANY different sets to choose from. Art 3 , Art 1 are a couple of my favorites, but feel free to explore their website to see all of the different options.
- Peerspace: Unique and Creative locations.
2) What to Wear?
The more time you invest preparing for your photoshoot, the happier you will ultimately be with your portraits. Waiting until the last minute to throw something together will cause stress and takes the fun out of your day. Here's a few of my tips to help guide you in outfit selection to help you look and feel your best!
- CHOOSE 3: Limit your color selections to 3 complimentary colors. I suggest taking inspiration from your location or thinking how you will be displaying your images. For example, if decorating your wedding reception with engagement pictures you can incorporate your wedding colors into your wardrobe. For couples and families, try choosing outfits with colors that complement each other rather than exact matches.
- FABRICS: Flowy long dresses, like maxis, elongate the body and brings a romantic element to engagement sessions. Create textures and layers with statement jewelry, layered knits, bold prints, and interesting fabrics. These things always look great on camera!
- THINGS TO AVOID: wearing oversized loose clothing, solid white on white outfits, logo tshirts, tops exposing the upper arm, athletic running shoes, and shorts/capris as they tend to make the legs appear shorter than they are.
- Try on your entire outfit. Look at yourself in a full length mirror. Adjust as needed.
- If you have new outfits, they may require additional steaming or ironing before wear.
- Make sure to get proper undergarments.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: If you need help with styling, I'm happy to offer some ideas specific to your favored style! Please contact me for your style consultation at least 2-3 weeks before your session to allow yourself plenty of time to shop, order products, or get alterations if necessary.
Where to shop?
- Nordstrom / Nordstrom's Rack
- eShakti - custom dresses made to order (make sure to give yourself enough time for delivery)
- Rent the Runway (Great for special occasions- you can try on outfits at their shop in Topanga Canyon!)
- The Black Tux (rentals)
- Nordstrom / Nordstrom's Rack
- Banana Republic
3) Golden Hour
I just love all the colors of a California sunset. The periwinkle blues, candy pink, and soft purples. It definitely sets a mood for romance, with soft lighting and a warm glow. Golden Hour is my preferred time for natural light portrait sessions. To capture this kind of lighting, you will want to end your session 10 minutes after sunset or start 15 minutes before the sun rises.
Click HERE to check sunset/sunrise times for your session date.
Note, feel free to ask me about your specific location idea for best time for a natural light session.
4) Professional Hair and Makeup
For your session you'll want to look and feel your very best. One of the biggest things that will make a huge impact on your portraits is professional hair and makeup. It can do wonders to highlight your best features and help make you feel super confident putting your best face forward! You can save money by also scheduling your wedding makeup trial with your artist the same day as your engagement pictures.
All of these hair and makeup professionals specialize in special events and offer services on location for your convenience.
- Something New, Corin Cruz (pictured below)
- Kelly Zhang, Pasadena
- RD Artistry, Santa Monica
- Heidi Marie Garrett, Riverside
- Allie Liliokalani, Corona
- Team Hair and Makeup, Santa Barbara
- Rachelle Hali, San Diego
5) Personal Props
Personal 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 / Lanterns / Candles (best for night shots)
Jumbo Balloons (36" with streamers!)
Vintage Chairs or Sofas
Snacks: Cupcakes, Candy, S'mores, Cotton Candy, Ice Cream, Popcorn, Picnic
Numbers or Signs (maybe include your wedding date for an engagement session?)