When I first moved to Orlando back in 2015, I was impressed with how many fabulous public parks, beautiful gardens, and picturesque beaches there are in Central Florida. Over the years I have explored many of these amazing spaces and it always brings me joy when I discover a new location where I can photograph people. In this guide, I will share with you a variety of places that I find work well for portraits. It is my hope that with this information you will be able to select a location that suits your family and the vision you have for your portrait session.
Before I share some of my favorite locations with you, I want you to consider a few things. First, I always find that portraits are more meaningful when my clients have a connection to the location they choose. I’ve done family sessions where the father once proposed to the mother years before, and they share this story with their children at the session. Sometimes families have a particular park that they absolutely love visiting together. And I absolutely love photographing people in their own homes! But I also understand that some people like to explore new places and try new things, so if this guide helps you do this, that’s cool too!
Next, I want you to think about how your family interacts with the world around them. For example, taking photos next to a lake or in a city where there is traffic might work for some families, but if you have small children that like to run around, those spaces won’t be safe options. Or if you love the beach, but you have a family member that really hates sand, that might not be the best option either. So think about the landscapes you might be encountering and how those places will affect comfort levels within your family.
Lastly, the location you choose will have a certain aesthetic, and typically you want that to match your family’s style and personality. So if you all are outdoorsy folks, I suggest selecting a natural environment and wearing color tones found in that setting. Or if you really like when things are just so and put together, I would recommend a manicured garden over a sprawling one. And if you are care free and like your hair blowing wild in the wind, by all means wear bohemian clothing to a beach session.
Ok, I think you get the picture. Let’s move on to the different types of spaces you can choose from. In addition to details about each location, I’ve also linked blog posts from past sessions. Those links are in bold & italic font, and when you click on them, you will be brought to a separate tab, so you don’t lose your place within this guide.
With Atlantic waves and marshes to the east and the white sands of the Gulf to the west, Central Florida is home to some truly beautiful beaches. Since beaches typically don’t have any shade, I always recommend scheduling beach sessions as close to sunrise or sunset as possible. The beaches I photograph at the most are in New Smyrna and Ponce Inlet. This is because they are the closest to me and I don’t charge a travel fee. However, there are lots of other beautiful beaches near by like in Melbourne, St. Pete, and Anna Maria Island (pictured above), and I am always happy to visit and discuss those options. But for the time being, let me go over the closer beaches.
New Smyrna Beach is where my family and I typically go when we are heading to the beach. We have found a place that we like to park for free and it’s usually not crowded. This spot is great for our family outings, but I recommend visiting Smyrna Dunes Park (pictured above) for portrait sessions. There is a parking fee and it is a bit of a walk out to the beach, but it is worth it! I like how the beach faces east, north, and south. So depending on what direction the wind is blowing and the light is shining there are options. This beach also has lots of sand dunes, views of the lighthouse over in Ponce Inlet, and you can bring your dog too!
If you want closer lighthouse views and less of a walk, I suggest visiting Lighthouse Point Park (pictured above) in Ponce Inlet. There is also a parking fee and dogs are welcome here too. If you don’t want a long walk there are also beach accesses all along Atlantic Ave in Ponce Inlet like where this sunset session (pictured below) took place.
One of my favorite things about Florida is that no matter what time of year it is you can usually find flowers in bloom. So as you can imagine, gardens are plentiful here in Central Florida. Whether you are looking for a manicured flower bed, rustic green space , or a tropical oasis, I’m sure we can find a garden backdrop for you. There are even gardens dedicated to when all the azaleas bloom here in February and March.
Kraft Azalea Garden (pictured below and on my blog) in Winter Park is by far the most popular location for portraits. It actually has become so crowded with photographers that a permit is required to work there and I don’t book weekend sessions there during the months of November and December. That said it is a beautiful location, especially in the late winter when all the azaleas bloom. And I love all the meandering paths that lead you through the massive cypress trees, past the stone columns known as the Exedra, and along the shore of Lake Maitland.
Dickson Azalea Park (below) located near downtown Orlando offers a lot of shade, a variety of bridges, and of course azaleas. One of my favorite features is the Washington Street Bridge that cuts thought the park. I often pose clients on the bridge for portraits. This location does get very busy the closer you get to the holidays, so my favorite time to shoot here is October and in the late winter. Here are examples of both:
If you are looking for a larger space with sprawling gardens, waterways, and live oak trees adorned with Spanish moss than Mead Botanical Gardens (below) in Winter Park is your place. I love this location because it never feels crowded, there are a variety of gardens offering different backdrops, and the parking lot and bathrooms are super easy to access. Here are a couple of sessions that I took place there that are on the blog:
If you are looking for a green space with some artistic flair, the Mennello Museum Sculpture Garden (below) located in Orlando is a fabulous place for photos. I love the giant oak trees and their limbs that touch the ground. There are also giant sculptures and walkways running everywhere to make the property easy to access. Here is a mini session I did there last year:
It is the Leu Gardens (below) though that is the largest and most impressive in the area. This 55 acre tropical oasis is located just north of downtown Orlando. It was once the home of Harry P. Leu and his wife, Mary Jane. Their historic home sit at the middle of the property surrounded by lush gardens and majestic trees. There is an entrance fee and there is a fair amount of walking involved. However this place is magical and a great fit for longer sessions where we have time to roam the many pathways. My favorite time of year is winter. The camellia trees begin blooming in January, followed by other flowering trees, and by March all the azaleas are in bloom and there is so much color. Here are a few sessions I have done here:
State Parks & Conservation Areas
If you are looking for a more rustic and wild scenery than there are plenty of options for you here in Central Florida. There are state parks with wilderness areas, springs with crystal blue waters, and large conservation areas. Most people have to drive a bit to get out to these locations, so if you have little ones that don’t like long car rides, I highly recommend Lake Baldwin (pictured below and on my blog). In the fall the tall grasses around the lake turn a gold color and there are many spots along the shore that are easy to access and makes you feel like you are out in nature rather than a city park.
However, if you are up for an adventure and want to photograph in the great outdoors let me share some ideas with you. First up on my list is Kelly Rock Springs. There is a small entrance fee and this spot is really busy during the hot months with tubers, but in the fall and winter months this location is gem. The springs are so blue and sometimes when a cold front comes in the cold air meeting the warm water creates a magical misty experience. I do not recommend this location for very small children as there are many spots where they can fall in.
The two state parks that I have visited the most are Lake Louisa (below) with it’s rolling hills and wooded lakeside views in Clermont and Wekiwa Springs with it’s blue waters and pine forest in Longwood. Both have entrance fees and are quite large. If you choose one these locations we should definitely chat before your session to plan logistics.
And there are so many more parks I have yet to use for portraits, but would love to. For example, Twin Oaks Conservation Area in Kissimmee and Lake Runnymede in St. Cloud. Both have massive oak trees, golden grasses, and lake views, and would make stunning backdrops for portraits!
If you are looking for a cityscape backdrop there are many charming and historic cities in the area including Winter Garden, Celebration, and Mt. Dora. My favorite of course is Winter Park. Home to Rollins College, Winter Park was designed by it’s founders to be laid out like a small New England town. Park Ave is a cultural hub offering a variety of fancy eateries, boutique shops, and tree lined streets. This area has so much to offer in terms of scenery, so if you are interested we should definitely set up a time to discuss your overall vision and discuss logistics of your session. Here are some example of Winter Park sessions on my blog:
At Your Home
Finally, if you are looking for a space that is very personal, makes your family feel comfortable, and matches your style, your home might just be the perfect place for photos! If you are interested in this option, let’s set up a time to chat about the lighting in and around your home, so we can determine the best time to capture you all there!
Well, that’s it for now! I hope this helps you select a great spot for your upcoming portrait session. I’ll be updating this list periodically, so if you have any suggestions for places I missed, be sure to let me know!