On Location in the City of Subdued Excitement

I did a walkabout of sorts this morning around downtown Bellingham, known locally as the “city of subdued excitement.”   I used the time to scout out some new ideas for senior portrait location sessions.

There’s no shortage of great spots for staging a photo session in Bellingham  and its surrounding area.  We have plenty of historic buildings, contemporary new ones, parks, shores and countryside to use as backdrops for a memorable portrait.  But I like to find places where my subject will be comfortable and at ease and not the center of attention for passersby who like to stop and watch us work.  After all, most of my clients aren’t professional models who are accustomed to these distractions.

The spot featuring these local landmark industrial structures was jointly chosen by Sarah and myself for her senior portrait. The timing couldn’t have been better as the train came by to add even more local color to the image.

Sometimes the suggestion comes from  the client.  Often it’s a result of our collaboration.  Sarah, for instance, featured in this image, originally asked to go to a popular local pedestrian bridge for her senior portrait session.  When I asked why, I learned that she wanted a place with Bellingham in the background.  Although the view from the bridge is great, it’s not so great for a portrait because the city and bay are so far in the distance you’d never know it’s Bellingham.  Instead, we came up with this spot featuring a local landmark  structure. There’s no mistaking where she lives.

Working as a journalist in Los Angeles, I got to roam  all over the place and came to know that city better than many who had lived there their entire lives.  It’s a little like that for me now in Bellingham  as a photographer.  Every year, I’m challenged to come up with somewhere I haven’t used before for a portrait setting. Over the years I’ve gotten to know about places that you may have overlooked during your daily life.  And a few very familiar ones as well.

For me, part of the fun of shooting on location is going to new places.  As long as I can get my gear in there without having to bring in a pack mule it’s not out of the question.  (If you can provide one I’d consider it.)  Many times, it’s just a matter of knowing how to make a setting look like somewhere else.  Toronto is frequently substituted in films for New York, for example; Pasadena or Vancouver for a Midwestern town.  If you know what you’re doing, places can look like something they’re actually not in this, the City of Subdued Excitement.

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