Favorite Places To Shoot in Philly

For me, when it comes to location scouting, most of the places I shoot at are found by luck. When I first started photography, I was unemployed and had just moved to Philly so I had plenty of time to explore the city with my camera and my four-legged best friend. At the time, I lived in Old City so I was within walking distance of so many neighborhoods, all filled with hidden little gems. The first location I fell in love with was Race Street Pier. It's where I did my first shoot and it remains one of my favorite spots in Philly in general, not just to shoot. Especially when I was just starting out, I did not enjoy shooting in crowded spots or having people watch me. (Don't worry, I quickly was forced to get over it and now I could shoot in Grand Central Station while still staying in my zone.) RSP is usually not too crowded compared to farther down Penn's Landing and there are tons of elements to incorporate into your work. From the multicolor leaves around the Fall to the harsh shadows created by the metal railings, you really can't go wrong with all Race Street Pier has to offer. 

My next favorite spot was Cira Green and it's still a spot I go to when I can't really think of anything else. It's a location I always keep in my back pocket because, even though I sometimes feel like it's overdone when it comes to photoshoots, there are still so many people who have never been to this incredibly unique green space on top of a parking garage with Center City skyline views. What more could you ask for? If you want to keep the shoot edgy and scenic, there's a side for that. If you want a softer side of greenery and flowers, Cira Green offers that too. I've shot there more times than I can count but I still find new ways to shoot in a limited space. I don't think I'll ever get sick of it. 

Is it considered cheating if this next place on my list isn't really just one place? The alleyways and side street of Philadelphia are by far some of my favorite places to shoot. I absolutely love meeting up with a model at some random intersection and exploring the city. Whether we're venturing down the cobblestone streets of Old City, the quaint little blocks of Washington Square West, or wandering around the cherry blossom lined alleys of Fitler Square, most of my favorite shots are in places we accidentally stumbled on.

I always get out of the habit of doing it in the summer because I don't particularly enjoy sweating or feeling gross while I'm shooting so I tend to stick to one predetermined location when it's hot, but as soon as Fall comes back around, I'm looking forward to exploring this amazing city again. Also, here's a little lazy photographer tip: Google Maps street view can be your best friend when finding locations. When starting my Colors of Philly series, I knew I wanted a bright red wall but wasn't sure where to look so I pulled up Google Maps and ended up in West Philly at a car repair center. The location was perfect and I didn't need to leave my couch to scout it. 

If you've seen even a handful of my photos, you know nature and flowers are my favorite things so it only makes sense that all of the gardens around the city are some of my favorite places to shoot. One of my favorite gardens is at Christ Church at N 2nd & Church St. No matter what time of year, this place is filled with greenery and makes you forget you're in the heart of Old City. Medians around the city also provide some great flowers to immerse yourself. All along Columbus Blvd, the median/train track area is so well landscaped with trees, various plants and brightly colored flowers. After just a short walk down the street, you have tons of options to choose from. There is also a very cool community garden by the Schuylkill River Dog Park that is open to the public and depending on the time of year, it usually has a few flower options to shoot with. 

Another surprisingly underutilized location is behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wow, where do I even begin with this spot? It's right along the water, the rocks and ledges add an element of adventure and you can always find a hidden spot where you're transported into another world. Even when you think you've seen it all, keep wandering around because you might surprise yourself. 

Last but definitely not least, Washington Avenue Pier is my current #1 favorite location to shoot at. I first found out about it last year when a former coworker recommended this lowkey spot along the river tucked away and covered in foliage. When you head as far east on Washington Ave as you can, you follow a trail down to the Delaware River and have a few different options. One part leads you directly to the water, but don't expect a nice sandy beach. The narrow landing is covered in drift wood and logs so watch your footing but still offers the nature vibe I crave. Down a little farther, there's also a little walkway that takes you out over the water. You'll find some people fishing over the side or dogs playing in the water but I've never seen more than a handful of people there at a time so if relaxing locations are for you, check out this spot.

What are some of your favorite spots to shoot at? I wanna know! 

Top 5 Tips For Growing As A Photographer

Once again, let me start this by saying I am not an expert and I'm sure there are a million highly qualified photographers who could give you much better advice than I'm about to. I still have a lot of my own growing to do so I can only tell you what's worked for me and what I try to tell people when they ask how they can improve their skills.  So here's what I've learned along the way that's helped me the most: 

1. GET RID OF FEAR ASAP

When I first picked up my camera three years ago, I strictly took photos of things I saw around Philly. That usually included flowers, buildings, cute dogs, but rarely ever people. If I could sneak in a quick, discreet street portrait, I would but often times, I was too worried they were going to see me taking the photo so I never even tried. That's why my first tip is to get rid of fear when you're behind the camera. Pretend it's an invisibility cloak and no one can see you when it's in your hands. There are soooooo many shots I wish I took after the fact but was too afraid to press the shutter button. This also applies when taking portraits. I would be afraid to ask a model to do a certain pose or tell them specifically what I wanted because I didn't want to be seen as weird or demanding. Ultimately, you just have to say "f*ck that!" and keep it moving. Your art is the only thing that suffers when fear is in the equation. I could do a whole post on just letting fear hold you back because it finds its way into all aspects of your work when you let it. I've let fear hold me back (& still do from time to time but I'm working on it) from reaching out to that model I really wanted to shoot with or shooting at a location where there might be a possibility of someone confronting me. I won't pretend like I'm magically fearless but fake it til you make it. The more I've done things outside of my comfort zone, the easier it's becoming. Use that weird prop. So what if your edit is extra as hell? Who cares if people watch as you shoot at that location? Create what makes you happy and ignore the voice in your head. 

2. PRACTICE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!  

For better or worse, you will see a difference in your work whether you shoot once a day or once a month. Now realistically, life gets busy and shooting every day just isn's always possible. Shoot when you have time to shoot but also make the time to shoot! On a nice day, spent 10-20 mins of your lunch break and walk around the block. Take a few photos, edit them and then repeat the next day. Now that it's Spring, use the extended daylight to your advantage! Shoot after work, shoot before work if you work nights, shoot during your break, just shoot!!! Even if you never post them on social media, I promise you it will help. If you're to the point of shooting with other people/models, don't stick to just one person you're comfortable with. Reach out to new people, even if it's just a quick 20 minute shoot. You'll learn so much more by doing than you will from watching Youtube tutorials (even though they're extremely helpful!) or wishing you were as good as *insert your favorite photographer*. You'll surprise yourself! 

3. ANGLES, ANGLES, ANGLES! 

Most tutorials or photography tips I've read say the most flattering angle to shoot a portrait at is from above with your camera slightly angled down. While that may be great and all as a general rule of thumb, it can quickly get boring so experiment with different angles! Nine times out of ten, I'm shorter than my model so I use that to my advantage. You can also ask any model I've worked with and they'll tell you at some point during our shoot I was on the ground. I absolutely love shooting from lower angles to give the portrait a feeling of power and control. The angle of the shot can change the entire mood, even if the styling and background stays the same. If there's something for you to step on, get higher than your model. Then have them stand higher than you are or hold your camera all the way to the ground. This also ties into the first tip but it's okay to look crazy! People walking by will wonder why you're sitting on the ground or why you're folded up like a pretzel but those people won't matter when you go to edit that fire shot and feel incredible! Just keep trying different angles and distances. Get super close to your model, then step a few feet back. That one shot where you're feeling ridiculous might be your best one from the shoot! 

4. FOLLOW PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE YOU! 

This may sound unnecessary in the world of social media because we're all following tons of people we wish we could be like, right? While that's true, make sure those people are truly inspiring you with the art they create, not just putting out content for followers. It's such an easy trap to fall into because seeing someone with tons of followers and likes, we automatically assume they must be creating great work but for me personally, I try to analyze WHY I follow the people I do. After a few weeks or so, I ask myself, "what about their work makes me want to better my own?" Is it the fact they do a lot of studio work while I tend to shoot mostly outdoors? I want to eventually work on my own studio shoots so seeing their studio work pushes me closer and closer to actually do it. If it's just the fact they work with a lot of models I'd like to work with one day or they have access to resources I'd love to have, I end up unfollowing shortly after because that energy does not inspire me, it only breeds envy and I have to cut that out as soon as I recognize it. Not in a fake deep way, but it's so important to analyze & filter the content you allow to influence you.

5. NEVER STOP LEARNING

This is super cheesy but there's always something new to learn. Whether you're a photographer who things they've perfected their craft, learn how to create videos, or if you only do landscapes, start shooting some portraits. By constantly taking yourself outside of what you already know, you'll find new things to apply to your work, even if you don't start with that intention. If you always edit a certain way, go beyond that and learn a new style. If you always post in color, try to edit a whole set in black and white. Just never settle for good enough. For me, watching youtube videos from my favorite photographers always pushes me to learn more. Some of my favorites include Jessica Kobessi, Jana Williams, and Mango Street. For some reason, I tend to learn better from female photographers but definitely find some channels you like and keep up with them. Even though certain challenges (I'm looking at you, Hobby Lobby) can be overdone and repetitive, seeing what types of videos and challenges these photographers come up with keep me on my toes and I want to try different locations and props for myself. One of my favorite things to incorporate into my photography right now are prisms. Whether it's a traditional prism you'd find in a science class or a crystal you found in an antique shop, I'm constantly thinking of things I can use to create cool effects in my photos, ways to make my photos stand out or things to use outside of their intended purpose. At the end of the day, photography is art and there is no one right way to do anything. There's no magic formula for creating an interesting photo so keep pushing until you stumble upon your own cool technique. 

Ultimately, you have to figure out what works best for you. Maybe when I'm shooting with Beyonce and traveling the world as her personal photographer, I'll be able to tell you exactly what works and what doesn't but until then, I'm just winging it. That's the secret tip. Just wing it. 

To collaborate or not to collaborate?

When it comes to any creative industry, collaborations are a natural part of what we do. It doesn't matter if you're Pharrell collaborating with Adidas to create the latest sneaker line (ok I'm obsessed with them and want them all in my closet asap) or a local stylist collaborating with a local photographer to create a photoshoot, the world runs on people meshing their ideas together to create something greater. Sure, you can do great things on your own and come up with the best ideas in the world, but there's a reason two heads are better than one. 

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good collaboration. To me, it simply comes down to both parties mutually benefiting from the project. I, by no means, consider myself an expert when it comes to collaborations or photography in general. I don't have years & years of experience but I'm learning as I go. I've done collaborations where I left the shoot feeling used and unhappy with the work we've created but the majority of the collaborations I've done have me feeling empowered and unstoppable. 

I can't even pretend I've never collaborated JUST to collaborate. There are two reasons why I've done collabs I hated. The first one is, It's easy to get caught up in follower counts or what the other person believes they can contribute. My thought process was "Oh, they have 10k+ followers and access to this, this & this? I would be stupid to not work with them!" I quickly realized that someone's follower count doesn't mean any of those people will start following me or support my work in any way. I've had accounts with close to 100k followers repost my work and maybe gain 2 followers from it. Basically, the number means nothing if their audience isn't similar enough to your audience for them to be interested in your work. Quality over quantity, always. The second reason is, especially when I first started, I felt like I should be grateful for any opportunity thrown my way and happy that anyone would want to work with me so I ended up shooting with anyone who asked. Models would message me to shoot and even if I could tell they were only looking for a free shoot or I didn't particularly see their look working with my style, I would agree to shoot anyway because the number of models I had shot at the time was extremely small. After a time or two of walking away from a shoot hating the work I had just creating and feeling like I had just been used for a free shoot instead of them actually valuing my work, I began to get selfish with my time and work. It wasn't an overnight mindset change though. It took close to a year and a half to finally realize that if I was good enough for people to reach out to me in the first place, I was good enough to prioritize my time and effort on things that actually helped me grow. If one opportunity came my way, it wasn't going to be the last. If that one wasn't a good fit, maybe the next one would be but I didn't have to jump at every chance just because it was there. I've had self worth issues when it comes to my abilities as a photographer (along with feeling inadequate in general) but that's deeper than this post is going today. Anyway, know your worth and don't compromise your standards for your work just to collaborate. Don't settle for anything less than you deserve! 

Over time, I've learned a few red flags that usually turn me off from collaborating with someone. The very first thing is when someone hits me up with "let's shoot".... no details, no explanation of who they are, what they can provide, what we're even shooting, NOTHING! Suddenly, I'm supposed to be psychic and know what's on their mind. Sorry but I'm not Raven Baxter, I can't see the future. I'm gonna need a little more info to base my answer off of. Okay this is going to sound conceited but most of the time, if there isn't some sort of compliment or reason you want to work with me, I just assume you're searching around for any photographer who will shoot with you for free. When reaching out to anyone to collaborate, whether it's a stylist, photographer, brand, model, ANYONE, it's best to give as much detail as possible to give them an idea of what you hope to accomplish during the collaboration and why you chose that person to reach out to. Make them feel special, appreciate their talent and skills, show that you value their work! 

Collaborations can be so rewarding if you're smart about who you choose to work with. For example, I recently collaborated with makeup artist Tomarra Buckner, someone who has supported my work & vision from day one (literally! she was the first model I ever shot!), and Dina Baez, an amazing model & one of the sweetest people ever, to kick off a new series titled Colors of Philly. The idea popped into my head one morning on my way to work as I was walking through a side street in Philadelphia and I was inspired by the rainbow of homes along the street. The streets of Philly are what made me discover my love for photography so it felt right to highlight their beauty through this series while also showcasing the incredible people who call Philly home. This project would not be possible without collaboration. I suck at doing makeup and I can't model to save my life so I depend on the talent and skills of others to bring my vision to life. I couldn't do it without them. I'm excited to grow this project with even more models, makeup artists and eventually capture all of the colors Philly has to offer. We all can shine together.