Fashion magazines, brand-name advertisements, and catalogs of all sorts seek out interesting locations to stage their photo shoots. Some are simply looking for controllable surroundings for privacy and security, but other productions are seeking something special to enhance their photos. Many locations, however, come with a price.
Individual photographers rent studios or hotels by the day for their shoots. No doubt, others search Airbnb to find spaces in homes that might lend themselves to photo shoots. Those are fine choices that can yield compelling images, but sometimes, I like the to search out the unusual, colorful, and rustic for some shots. Other times, I just like to have a reliable location that I can control.
Here are some other ideas for other types of spaces from all over the country to add interest and variety to your shoots. Some photographers don’t like to share their favorite locations, but these sites are too compelling to keep to myself.
Little River Studios (Miami, FL)
This place bills itself as the ultimate production destination in Miami. Little River Studios features not only a conventional photo studio, but also locations as diverse as an original 1880s Cape Cod barn, a Greek villa, two 1920s beach cottages along with an outdoor cyclorama and movable set pieces that rotate with the sun. A photographer could spend a week at Little River Studios shooting at a different location each day. The sets and scene are practically ready to shoot when you show up.
All of the photogenic scenes are constructed and arranged to take advantage of the abundant daylight, and the many pieces of decorative furniture can be arranged to suit various shots. On top of that, there are several classic cars and colorful backgrounds on the site that would look perfect supporting a model. I have enjoyed shooting on the Greek villa set, the beach cottages, and the movable set pieces. It is a veritable amusement park for photographers and has hosted the production for companies like Anthropologie, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Italian Vogue. Photographers must limit themselves to only one or two of the locations in a half-day or full-day shoot and multiple shoots can and frequently are accommodated simultaneously.
Boojum Tree Hidden Gardens (Phoenix, AZ)
This desert oasis started its life as a private garden and floral nursery, then became a popular wedding and event site. The Boojum Tree Hidden Garden is a lush and colorful enclosed site that houses a Mexican plaza, a tropical rainforest, and an English garden. There is an almost endless supply of colorful corners and rustic details to pose models in, on, or around. There are many sets of antique and weathered doors, bubbling fountains, and lush foliage to frame compositions.
The Boojum Tree accommodates photo shoots for an hourly fee in-between weddings and events by appointment. After more than five shoots there, it has been one of my favorite locations at which to shoot, and I still don’t think that I’ve scratched the surface.
Eldorado Canyon Mine (Nelson, NV)
Sometimes classified as a ghost town, the Eldorado Canyon Mine in Nelson, NV is about 45 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip and provides numerous opportunities for interesting photos with several rustic mining-oriented buildings, weather-worn vintage cars, and even a crashed airplane. While I have only shot here on three occasions, I have yet to encounter any ghosts. Instead, I have been able to stage shoots where I could quickly move from background to background to capture a variety of looks in a short period of time. The owners are very friendly to guests and photographers and offer access to the grounds for only a modest photography fee.
All shoots must check in at the general store before commencing. Once that is taken care of, photographers can work with models at weathered buildings like a gas station, wooden barn, and some antique mining equipment. There are nearly a dozen vintage cars, trucks, and buses on the property, which is divided by a two-lane highway. A notable feature is the scene of a crashed airplane left over from the movie “3,000 Miles From Graceland,” which was filmed there. The site can accommodate multiple shoots and walking tours simultaneously and is therefore not a private location and has a strict no nudity policy.
The Neon Museum (Las Vegas, NV)
Certainly a unique location, The Neon Museum in Las Vegas is a famous and popular attraction formerly known as the Young Electric Sign Company Boneyard, housing large-scale neon signs from old casinos. Many of the iconic marquee signs from the 50s and 60s have been preserved by the museum and have been featured in movies and music videos. Photo shoots can be arranged in advance with the cooperation of the museum for hourly rates that vary according to the scale and usage of the shoot. The popularity of the location has led to sharply increased location fees in recent years. The kitsch and color has made the sign boneyard popular with engagements and wedding photos, which can be accomplished in a single hour. Longer fashion shoots can get quite expensive.
Metropolitan Building (New York, NY)
Located in a 1909 pencil factory, the Metropolitan Building in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens has become one of the most sought after settings for high fashion photo shoots in New York City. It began its current life as a warehouse for an antique rental business and quickly became a venue for photo shoots that were welcomed to take advantage of the numerous pieces of furniture and and art. The building has a mundane industrial brick exterior that belies the ornate and colorful surfaces and objects inside. Three different floors are rented individually for photo shoots and events. Each of the more than 6,000-square-foot floors has a different palette and texture.
Several of the wall surfaces have been decorated with lavish mirrors and antique paneling, while other walls show the industrial roots of the building. The numerous antiques can be moved throughout the building with the assistance of the staff without additional fee. The Metropolitan Building has hosted numerous high fashion productions for magazines like Italian Vogue, Marie Claire, and Martha Stewart as well as numerous fashion campaigns. I have speculated that the faded blue sofa found on the third floor is the most photographed chair in the City. I have been fortunate to shoot there on numerous occasions on each of the floors, but my favorite remains the third floor. However, all of this comes at a high cost per day.
Splacer (New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco)
An alternative to traditional photo locations and hotels is a new website called Splacer, which has been called the Airbnb for events and photo shoots, listing personal and commercial creative spaces available for rent. The website displays hundreds of private lofts, industrial spaces, and historic buildings in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. The site displays the cost per hour for each space, which ranges from $25 to over $2,000 per hour. Payment is made through the site and goes to the individual location owners minus a small fee going to Splacer, similar to the structure of Airbnb.
These are a few only a few options to put variety and production value into photo shoots getting out of the studio.