Phoenix—the economic, cultural, and historical powerhouse of Arizona—charms the locals and passing travelers alike for its southwestern vibe and rich Native American heritage.
South of the Grand Canyon, the Valley of the Sun is the gateway to United State of America’s immense work of Mother Nature. But the Grand Canyon is only one of the countless places you must visit when you find yourself in the Southwest. And why not indulge in a little photo op while you are at it?
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Some things to keep in mind when considering this list:
- This is not a list of free places to shoot. Some require fees.
- Many spaces require permits. Arizona does not enforce that law to the same extent that other states do but be aware that many places you want to use may require a permit.
- Before traveling to a location to shoot be sure you do your best to get permission. Speak to employees at the location, make phone calls, send emails or message them on social media.
- I’ve asked for permission, was told yes, did the shoot and was later told by other photographers that they had tried to shoot in that same location and were told no. I don’t know every reason why one photographer would be told yes and another would be told no.
If you want some insight into how others gain access to locations, I’ll share my process.
I start by understanding that no matter the guidelines and rules, you’re dealing with people. And if you can share a vision of what you’re doing with them and get them excited about it, you can often have exceptions made in your favor.
Here is how my introduction might sound, “Hi, my name is Shane Baker. I’m a local photographer. I was (driving by, saw your space online, had a friend tell me about you, etc). What are you guidelines on photoshoots at your location?”
At this point they either tell you to just come out and use it or they tell you what type of permits or permissions you need. Sometimes you need to speak to someone other than them. Always find out if they are the decision maker. That’s the person you want to speak with. Once I’m talking with the decision maker, they usually go over whatever the first person already told me (permits, guidelines, etc). Most of the time it’s straight forward enough that I can just come out and do my shoot. Sometimes they ask to be named temporarily on your liability insurance in case something happens while I’m shooting on their property. It’s cheap, so if you like it enough, just call your agent and he should be able to add them quickly for a small fee.
If they say no or I can sense that they are hesitant I might say something like, “Are you actively marketing the property?”
Almost always they say yes.
“I know that can be expensive. Here’s a thought. I know you haven’t looked at my work online yet, but if you have your cell phone on you or a laptop I’d like to quickly share a few ways I might be able to help you with your marketing goal and get some really incredible images for you. Ok so my website is shanebakerstudios.com.”
At this point they are intrigued. I’ve spend alot of time and made alot of incremental improvements over the years to my website. When they look at it they instantly realize they are talking to someone who is serious about great photography.
“Obviously you want to have great content that matches the quality of your space. That’s something we have in common. If you have a few more seconds, you’ll notice that my IG and FB have a combined following of over 12,000 people. Have you guys been looking for more leverage on social media to get the word out about your place?”
At this point I can almost see them nodding their heads on the phone. This is when the conversation usually opens up and they start sharing more about THEIR goals and what they are looking to accomplish. If I’m asking to shoot clients, I offer to take a few images just for them, either with my clients in it or without. If it’s a personal project I share the concepts with them. I tie their marketing goals together with my ability to shoot at their location.
In the end make sure you’re presenting them with high quality work and help make this a fun experience for them as well. If they are fans of photography ask them to come out and join you. Make it fun and worthwhile for them and you’ll find yourself having doors opened for you that are closed for others. Happy shooting!
1. South Mountain
Home to South Mountain, Ahwatukee makes you live in an instagrammable moment. Visit this place with the early morning or late afternoon light in mind. Experience how the light plays with the surroundings. Everything turns golden. And when it does, you take a moment of solitude and then snap some photos. Better yet, relive this moment by being part of the frame and not behind the camera. At your background are the mountains, hiking trails, and desert characters.
Located in the east of the metropolitan Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains is a popular pick for many locals. The mountain ranges glow at the right time of the day, which makes them an awesome setting for a pictorial.
Located near the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park boasts itself for having varied trails suitable for any trekking enthusiasts. Its wild native landscape provides countless opportunity for photographable, photographic moments.
This is especially appealing for family or kid portraits. Kids are easier to photograph when they are surrounded with something that thrill them. The park has locomotive and carousel rides that the kids surely love. There are pools too. You might need your zoom lens in this case. For family picnic photo ops, the park comes with a manicured lawn by the pond. With a little art direction, your subject will surely make the place extra special.
Featuring 113 acres of dry habitat and lush marshlands, Veterans Oasis Park is home to various fauna and flora. Whether you have a family portrait or kid’s portrait or an engagement shoot in mind, this park is so vast that you won’t run out of frames and ideas.
There is a rise of rustic farms photo shoot nowadays. And it so happens that Tumbleweed Rach Park has that vibe and feel. There is an abundance of tree canopies that really make a charming background for your portraits. This place is perfect for expecting parents’ photo op, family portraits, engaged couples’, or even a fun fashion photography.
There is a certain appeal in downtown Chandler. It might look too ordinary at first but look harder and you will definitely find old buildings with their unique arches, columns, and textures. Downtown Chandler charms visitors with its vintage-designed lanterns, trellis-canopied pathways, historical City Hall, and many public spaces, and you can always include these elements in your photos.
Home to World Famous Fountain, the Fountain Park is a fun location for your next photo shoot. With a land area of 64 acres, the park has a lake, gardens, trees, dam, playground, picnic tables and benches, and all the modern utilities you need. The park offers various backgrounds that can transform your photos into something more magical.
With 21,099-acre land area, McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a gold mine for photographers. The landscape is simply marvelous. Include the characters of the park in your frames. Be it the gigantic cactus you found along the trail or the wild flowers blooming around.
The trail is very forgiving to the knees. Trekking up here should not be a problem for you or your models. At a certain point of the trail, you can see the World Famous Fountain, which adds an extra dynamic of your photos.
11. Dixie Mine Trail
Another adventure- and outdoor-themed photo opportunity in Fountain Hills is the Dixie Mine Trail. You don’t really have to complete the whole trek if the main purpose is a photo shoot. Along the way, there are several angles and frames that you can work with your clients. Cacti in varied shapes and heights, dirt paths, and wild flowers always work wonders in photographs.
For something more accessible yet equally rewarding, Fountain Hills Botanical Garden is the place to be. With the 8-acres wild garden, you can spot rock formations, desert flora, and animal life that can be integrated in your photos. Coming here early in the morning or late afternoon is always a treat. The soft light makes everything more marvelous in your viewfinder.
A thriving and economically plural suburban community, Gilbert has become an attractive place to shoot. Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch for example might be packed with playing kids on weekends or in summer, but it has some quiet nooks and crannies that you can employ in your frames.
14. Water Ranch Lake
Within arm’s reach from the Riparian Preserve is the Water Ranch Lake. To have the water and the trees in your frame is absolutely stunning especially if you schedule your shoot at late afternoon—that moment when the sky, the trees, and the water borrowed some gold from the sun.
15. Freestone Park
Another favorite destination for locals, Freestone Park can be packed in certain days and hours. But this place is marvelous if you are taking portraits of kids or family. The park has a cascading waterfall falling into a lake; it has trees and manicured lawn that add some depths in your frames. And for some quirky photos, a sports-themed photo op with the kids will be lovely. If you’re shooting fashion or couples, the park has some hidden alcoves that only show themselves up to those who take their time looking.
Thunderbird Conservation Park is a huge 1,185-acre park in the Hedgpeth Hills. Since it is a conservation park dedicated to preserving the desert ecosystem, you can expect that the park has all the natural wonders and biodiversity of a desert environment. When you come at the right season, the blooming wildflowers will make an awesome foreground or framing for your subjects.
Sahuaro Ranch Park is a favorite pick among locals for a photo shoot, mostly engaged couples and families. Well, it is not hard to figure out why. This park has that rustic and quaint vibe that makes the photos pinteresty and instagrammable. It has a grape vineyard and rows of fruit-bearing trees that simply make the photos more charming and layered. And don’t forget to throw in some male peacocks displaying their grandeur in some frames.
A popular pick among family, expecting parents, and couples, Manistee Ranch Park has all the right touches and quaintness for a romantic photo shoot. Orange orchards, vines crawling in the trellis, tree canopies, and massive palm trees make an interesting composition.
One of the easiest places to have a photo shoot is a garden. Glendale Xeriscape Garden for example has so many vibrant and blooming flowers that can really bring out the colors and romance in your photos. With the right angles and compositions, your subjects will stand out among the liveliness around.
With 19,840 acres of desert and mountains in the park, Estrella Mountain Regional Park is a beautiful destination and setting for your photos. You don’t have to trek, rather just explore the foothills around and pretty sure you can find a composition that your client or subject wants. To reiterate, work with the natural glow of the sun, so the photos come out dreamy and intimate.
21. The Ziz
The Ziz was named one of the “Best Public Art Projects in the U.S.” by American for the Arts. Internationally renowned artist Donald Lipski, created it as an homage to 20th century sculptor Constantin Brancusi. The size, 60’6″, is the exact distance between home plate and the pitchers mound. It’s a great choice for baseball lovers who are also fans of incredible public art.
The characteristics of the desert simply add more depths and nuance in your photos. Usery Mountain Regional Park is a vast 3 648-acres park at the western part of the Goldfield Mountains. It is home to a diversity of plants and wildlife that can be incorporated in your composition for a picturesque snap.
A community college for a photo shoot? Come on! Not the campus itself but a romantic nook you can find at Mesa Community College. Its rose garden is the Desert Southwest’s largest collection. It is home to around 9000 rose varieties. You can never go wrong with roses as an integral part of your composition. They make your photos classic and timeless.
A 35-acres of a pump track, kid’s skill track, and hiking trails, Desert Trails Park will make a beautiful active and adrenaline-pumped family portrait. The photo session will be a mix of romantic and dramatic desert portraits and adventurous and fun-loving close-ups.
What makes Coon Bluff Campground spectacular is its dramatic trees and lush marshland. The arching branches of the trees simply coat your photos with more romantic and dreamy feel. Looking for more option? The Salt River runs through the area. Employing it is always advisable.
26. Downtown Mesa
Home to Mesa Art Center, downtown Mesa is a haven for art lovers. Be it the variety of sculptures placed everywhere or the Melting Victorian Wall Mural, downtown Mesa offers endless opportunities for your composition and framing.
Either it is the lushness of spring or the blazing hues of autumn, Lake Pleasant Regional Park provides those beautiful seasonal moments. The hues make quite an impact in photographs. There are over a dozen of viewpoints to the lake, so you can always pick up the right frames and compositions to your liking.
Why West Wing Mountain Preserve makes a good photo spot? It has this beautiful desert characters, winding and curving walking paths, and lots of crowning trees in its property. All year round the preserve transforms into different tone and moods, which makes it a picture-perfect place.
29. Scorpion Gulch
Located in South Mountain Park, Scorpion Gulch appeals to the romantics. It is historical and storied. The ruins make a beautiful Pinterest-worthy background for any kind of photo shoot you have in schedule. It can be a family portrait, fashion, or couples.
30. Downtown Phoenix
Some places have interesting characters that can actually work great in your photo ops. Say, downtown Phoenix. The streets are simply full of characters. The walls are vibrant, artistic, and hip that would make a great background for portraits.
31. Papago Park
Yes, Papago Park is popular for a reason. The stunning boulders look magical once the sun bids good-bye. Don’t worry, along the way you can find some intimate enclaves for a romantic photo op.
32. Phoenix Zoo
You must have the animals in mind. Well, yes, but it can be tricky to have great photos with the wild creatures. But Phoenix Zoo, one of the largest non-profit zoo in the country, has distinct indoor and outdoor ambiance that can add more awesomeness to your photos.
Located in the core of Phoenix, Roosevelt Row Art District is a treasure trove for street art and murals. The area is very walkable, so it is not hard for you to find massive murals to use as the artistic background for your photo session.
One of the Valley’s largest creative spaces, UStudios puts emphasis on you. They have a variety of gallery spaces and studio that you can rent by an hour. If you are looking for a portrait photographer to shoot the best version of yourself, look no further. The resident photographer and director of the studio, Shane Baker, is an award-winning photographer who has years of experience working with some of the most successful creatives in Phoenix. Visit his site here: shanebakerstudios.com
Named as one of top hiking destinations in the country, Camelback Mountain indeed makes you feel awed and wowed for the grandeur of nature. And for this very reason, Camelback Mountain is a popular pick among trekkers and photographers.
36. Dobbins Lookout
Dobbins Lookout is actually part of the massive South Mountains. What makes this place ideal is that there is no need for an arduous trek to go to this place. You can simply drive your way up here with all your gears. Your clients don’t have to sweat it out too. A win-win situation, photography-wise.
Who doesn’t dig a photo op amidst rows of olive trees? That makes Queen Creek Olive Mill a popular pick for couples or for families. This gourmet market and restaurant offers day tours to its property. They even hold events. And guess what, yes, they hold weddings.
38. Pecan Grove
Oh yes, another tree-centered destination. Queen Creek’s Pecan Grove is simply magical. Schedule your photo shoot in this area in autumn. The hue of autumnal leaves gives another layer of magic in your photographs.
39. MD Ranch
How about a horseback riding-themed photo shoot? Riding a horse in a beautiful desert landscape is one for the books. There is something beguiling about photos with horses. They make your photos more dynamic, layered, and storied. If you are in Queen Creek, don’t miss the opportunity of a horse-related photo op. You must call MD Ranch in advance for your booking.
San Tan Valley
With the Superstition and San Tan mountains teasing the horizon, Encanterra Country Club marriages the allure of holiday-themed and nature-centered photo op. Its Tom Lehman-designed golf course is a perfect setting for couples who dig some swings.
Whether you shoot a couple, a family, or group of fashionable friends, San Tan Mountain Regional Park provides the right elements for fun, romantic, and engaging photographs. The park has some gorgeous views of the Sonoran Desert. Massive cacti, various trees and shrubs, and dirt paths make this place an ideal place to shoot.
42. Taliesin West
Open to the public, Taliesin West is an architectural delight that makes a great setting for your photo op. The interior is sleek and elegant—an awesome place for couples looking for a location for their prenuptial shoot. Outside, it has several themed gardens. There is the Sculpture Garden and the cactus and floral gardens around that can surely turn your photos more vibrant and appealing.
Well, this resort and spa is very well-placed. Its surrounding is an oasis. There is a lot of natural movements going on around: the trees, the desert shrubs, the garden, the manicured lawn, and the beautiful boulders at the background turn this resort a core setting for a romantic photo shoot.
A massive protected and sustainable destination, the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve prides itself for its multi-use and non-motorized trails. This very character of the place makes it ideal for photography. It is easy for you to find a beautiful scenery or intimate landscape that you can use as your background or as your subject. Be warned though that this place can be excruciating in summer. The perfect time to visit is early morning or late afternoon, the golden hours for outdoor photography.
Get ready to be surprised at Surprise! Just 45-minutes away from downtown Phoenix, this city is recognized as one of the safest city in the United States and is awarded as Global City of the Year. Within its border is White Tank Mountain Regional Park, which offers 30 000 acres of photographic possibilities and opportunities.
Really, a community park for a photo shoot location? Oh, yes! Remember what Aaron Rose said, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” Surprise Community Park has some romantic nooks and crannies. This place is best for family portraits. Or if you have kids as your subjects, the pond is an awesome place for them to play around while you are going nuts with your shutter release.
47. The Marley Park
What makes the Marley Park, also known as Heritage Park, appealing and charming is its manicured lawn and tree-lined paths. The greens definitely make your photos more vibrant and romantic. This is an alternative too for clients who don’t want to do long walks for some photos. A picnic-themed photo shoot is definitely not a bad idea.
Otherwise known as “A” Mountain, is located in the southeast of Rio Salado Parkway and Mill Avenue. With a quick hike, you can reap your reward in no time at all. Ideally, it is best to trek the mountain at sundown, so you can two views: the city swimming in the sunset glow and the city glazing in metropolitan light. Don’t forget your aperture around 10 and your shutter speed and ISO low. 😉
49. Mill Avenue
Want to combine the classic art of people-watching and street photography? Then Downtown Tempe is the right place. Mill Avenue district teems with al fresco drinking and dining places. It is not hard to spot some quintessential and quaint shops that will make a beautiful backdraft of your photos.
50. Tempe Town Lake
Bustling with tons of activities, it is not hard to find a good spot to photograph. But if you are looking for some stillness in a place of clamor, Mill Avenue Bridges and the nearby Pedestrian Foot Bridge at Tempe Beach makes a great contrast of the hubbubs around. Practice your slow shutter speed with these two as your subjects. For the tasteful marriage of architecture and art, Tempe Art Center offers some delightful frames for art lovers.
Are you still breathing? That’s quite a long list of places that makes your stay or visit in Phoenix photographically memorably, memorably photographable.
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