UPDATE! I’ve moved to the Phoenix area and to a whole new world of locations! Check out my update to this post here if you are looking for Chandler | Gilbert area session locations!
We’ve all heard it, right? Location, Location, Location. Location is everything, and that is certainly true with on-location photography! A beautiful location can turn a portrait session from great to WOW. Although a great photographer can think on their feet and make the best of any situation, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an amazing backdrop.
Yesterday I had a very sweet family inquire about photos in a location I had never heard of, the Anaheim Packing House. Sounds intriguing, I thought! However, having never shot there before, I let the client know that I would need to do a little homework to find out if there was a permit required, what hours they were open, etc.
Wait, rewind! Hold. The. Phone. A permit? You mean we can’t just roll up to any location we please and start snapping away? NOPE! We can’t. And you wouldn’t want me to… here’s why.
Nothing puts a damper on a portrait session like getting kicked out of a location mid-shoot. Yup, straight up, booted to the curb by management or security. I’ve heard horror stories from plenty of friends, clients and fellow photographers who didn’t do their homework and, as a result, didn’t get the shot. Don’t let that be you! If you suggest a location to your photographer, especially one they have never worked at before, be sure to ask that they obtain the correct permissions from the site.
If the location you are eyeing is on private property such as a shopping center, museum, restaurant or hotel, or a private estate, your photographer should always be calling ahead to ask permission and find out what the photography policy is. A lot of locations are happy to oblige if asked nicely, and if the photographer abides by their requests. Some of the most popular OC locations such as the Anaheim Packing House, the Lab Anti-Mall and the Camp and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts require a signed agreement from the photographer agreeing to their policies, require shoots take place only during certain hours, as well as charging a permit fee for the date/time reserved ranging from $75 to over $100.
Have you set your sights set on a beach or park? That’s another permit! In Orange County, the OC Parks department requires an annual film permit for photographers holding sessions at any county-run sites such as Irvine Regional Park in Orange, and Harriet Wieder Park in Huntington Beach. Not exactly a park, the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana is also run by the OC Parks service and requires a county permit. In addition to the fee, photographers must also provide proof of business liability insurance to the county. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach have strict city permit policies for all sessions taking place on Newport or Laguna Beaches including the very popular Little Corona beach which carries a whopping $700 permit fee! Crystal Cove, along with all state parks, has a separate permit for use of their beach.
Is that enough to make your head spin yet? The good news is, your photographer should be well educated in the laws and regulations of the areas they offer sessions at, and will handle all of these pesky details for you. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of your photographer to know the rules and follow them. If the photographer you are thinking about hiring does not seem to be aware of the local rules and regulations, does not carry insurance or a business license, or cannot answer your questions, it may be time to look elsewhere.
So who pays this fee? Many photographers have a clause in their contract that any site fees are the responsibility of the client. This would typically apply to one-time fees for a specific time and date. A great way to save on this cost, and something I encourage of my clients, is to find a another family or a friend to book a session just before or after yours and split the fee with you. For county and state park annual fees, most photographers who shoot frequently in these areas will consider this annual fee a cost of doing business rather than passing it on to their clients directly, as they may shoot there dozens of times per year under one permit.
No matter where your session takes place, whether a permit is purchased or not, always remember to be respectful of others around you. Your photographer should be heeding this advice as well. Most permits require that photographers not block access to other guests, or obstruct walkways, which is just common courtesy. By respecting the facility, you help ensure the privilege of using it remains available for other families after you. Many a location has banned photographers or instituted very high permit fees due to bad behavior by others in the past. One person really can ruin it for everyone.
Orange County, and really all of Southern California, has some of the most unique and beautiful locations for a portrait session. Where else can you go from the beach to the snow in one day, from a world-class hotel to a beautiful gondola in a canal, and find modern architecture alongside historic Missions? We are so lucky to have all of this available to us, so the next time you are planning a portrait session think outside the box, get out of the studio, and find the perfect location that suits your personality and style!