With a large number of photographers constantly emerging in Sonoma County, I feel like there is always an underlying sense of competition. Photographers are nervous about asking others in their industry about favorite locations, favorite presets, and other advice we could all benefit from by sharing with one another. I remember when I first started in this industry 13 years ago; I was so green and had ZERO clue what I was doing. I was shooting in people’s backyards, on railroad tracks, and following the aesthetic of the pins on my “My New Biz!” Pinterest board–Ha! I wanted to badly to reach out for help, reach out for advice and mentorship, but was too afraid that I would be critiqued, judged, and told I wasn’t good. But that’s the thing, I WASN’T good! You’re not supposed to be when you first start, and you have to go through all of the mess-up’s and cringe-worthy moments of looking back to really appreciate how far you’ve come.
Even now, this many years later, I still find myself in a rut at times when it comes to certain things. I want to explore new posing, new prompts for candid shots, and often get stuck on locations. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet searching for inspiration and things to get me moving, and really find most of my motivation and spark from other creatives I know. I have such a strong network of fellow photographers that share the same idea that I do, and for that I’m grateful. Together, we all share the same sentiment: “Community Over Competition.”
I realize that sometimes people may be nervous to ask for recommendations or suggestions on the things I’ve mentioned like presets and location ideas, so I figured I’d create a blog post to really get it out there and truly embody the sentiment my friends and I share. While I can’t make recommendations on presets because this far into the game I’ve created my own to streamline my workflow with my brand’s aesthetic, I thought I’d share some of my favorite photoshoot locations in Sonoma County for other photographers and clients of other local photographers. Some are well-known and often crowded with other photographers and their clients (but hey, there’s room for ALL of us!) and some are what I would consider hidden gems. Let’s face it: Sonoma County is one of the most gorgeous, versatile counties in the state of California and we’re all so lucky to call it home! I hope it brings some inspiration or spark of creativity to others.
That being said, here are some of my favorite locations for photo sessions in Sonoma County:
1) Crane Creek Regional Park – Rohnert Park
Crane Creek started as a favorite years ago, but quickly became too impacted for us all to even find space to shoot without being in each others’ frame. The county decided to capitalize on this popularity, and at one point started requiring permits for photographers to shoot there. I’m not sure if they still do, but I decided to shy away from it after that. BUT, it’s still gorgeous with its lichen-hanging trees and rolling hills of golden (or green!) grass.
2) Flat Rock Park – Santa Rosa
This one is new to me, and I’ve actually only shot there one time. It’s something different from the norm of fields and trees, and offers just what its name implies: a flat rock area along a pretty creek in Santa Rosa. It’s in a neighborhood near homes, but you park along the street at the end near the corner and cross the cute bridge and head down the path to the left. It’s a short 2 minute walk until you see the flat area, and have lots of opportunity to get creative.
3) Dillon Beach – Petaluma
While beaches along Bodega Bay & Jenner are wildly popular (and abundant!) for photographers, Dillon Beach is less used. The drive in offers opportunity OUT of the sand for gorgeous fields with rocks and bluffs with the ocean far in the background. You have to pay to park once you hit the beach, but it’s worth it. Head out at low-tide and you’ll find lots of big pretty rocks and gorgeous coastline where you can head down away from other beach-goers for a little privacy. I had a client even completely change outfits right there in the sand and go unseen. There’s also a cute little market you can’t miss to stop for water or snacks on your way in or out.
4) Riverfront Regional Park – Healdsburg (Windsor)
Riverfront is technically considered in the town of Healdsburg, but I’ve always considered it Windsor since it’s directly East of there and only a 7 minute drive from The Town Green. It offers so much versatility with the large ponds and paths, the redwood grove, and vineyards just on the other side of the park boundaries (trespass at your own risk!). When clients want a look or vibe like Armstrong Woods, I often suggest Riverfront to shorten our drive.
5) Jack London State Historic Park – Glen Ellen
Again, you have to pay to park but I promise it’s worth it. Lots of architecture and old stone buildings and gorgeous skinny tree groves are just a couple highlights of Jack London’s famous original home. There’s also vineyards, fields, trees, paths, and more. I’ve photographed many elopements here, and highly recommend it for that specifically.
6) Corner of Magnolia Ave & Keokuk St – Petaluma
A totally random small corner of land, this is actually property of adjacent St. Vincent’s High School. There are signs that say no trespassing, but I see people walking their dogs along the short trail there all the time. I feel like Petaluma is lacking most of all the towns in Sonoma County as far as session locations are considered, aside from Helen Putnam park and a couple other hidden gems. This area is small, but still showcases lots of potential for impressive, creative shots with the houses obscured by the many trees.
7) Downtown Petaluma – Petaluma
Hands-down the best place in the county, in my opinion, if you’re looking for rugged architecture or urban landscape. I’ve taken headshots here, senior photos, family photos, engagement photos, just about everything. There’s bridges over the river, old brick walls, vandalized old alleyways, and the general rustic charm of an old, still-operating, downtown.
8) Sonoma Golf Club – Sonoma
*Disclaimer: Sonoma Golf Club is a private course in Sonoma County, so you or your client(s) likely have to be members to have permission to shoot there. I’ve never asked without going with a member, so I’m not sure if they’d allow the public to shoot there but I highly doubt it. If you get the privilege to access their gorgeous grounds, you don’t even have to venture more than 100 feet from the clubhouse to find the best spots. We only shot on the two holes closest to where we parked, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. We didn’t see a need to grab a cart and explore other parts of the course, but my mind is running wild imagining what it has to offer. Impeccable grass, gorgeous trees, bridges, open areas and rolling hills are everywhere you look. I promise if you can get in, you won’t be disappointed.
9) My house 🙂
I have a very small house in Santa Rosa, but I’m fortunate to live right along a creek that offers a small but GORGEOUS spot for sessions. It gives Fern Gully vibes (IYKYK!) and has lots of potential both up above in the trees and down below in the water. I’ve yet to go down and shoot in the actual creek, but I’ve been dying to! If any of my past clients want to shoot here, I’m so beyond game. I’ve included an iPhone photo of what it looks like down along the water for reference.
10) Stafford Lake – Novato *Honorable Mention
Since this is outside of Sonoma County and technically in Marin County, Stafford lake gets honorable mention in this post. I shot a small, last-minute wedding ceremony there and was pleasantly surprised. Reservations for “sites” are required, but I vividly remember telling my clients, “I feel like we’re shooting on the set of the TV show Yellowstone right now.” Catch the sun just before sunset and you’ll see (and feel) what I mean.
11) The Presidio – San Francisco *Honorable Mention
Another honorable mention is in the city of San Francisco, a city I shy away from at almost all costs. I can’t stand the traffic of the city, and have seen too many videos and news footage of photographers being robbed of their gear in broad daylight to want to venture here more than I have to. But I have lots of clients in SF and if you’re coming from the North like me, the Presidio is easy to get to and navigate. Head to the top of the “Lyon Street Steps” and head into the park beyond the left gate there. Lots of gorgeous trees and pathways to shoot through and since you never know if you’ll have fog or not in the city, sometimes you can catch the sun and fog through the trees for some breathtaking images.