I recently did a portrait session with Kiki in the Mission District in San Francisco. We arrived early, when the streets were uncrowded and we had a clear sky with angled light.

I’d scouted some locations ahead of time, and chose mural backgrounds—ideally, without discernible letters, which could be distracting. There’s no shortage of murals of all kinds in the Mission.

This was one of our first locations. I mostly used ambient light, but sometimes added light from a dialed-down flash, as I did here.

I alternated between landscape and portrait format, depending on how much environment I wanted to show.

Kiki brought different scarves; the yellow one reflects a warmer light onto her face.

This square crop shows more environment—but not as much as a landscape crop would. I decided the stairs on either side of Kiki didn’t add any interest.

Neutral backgrounds are also not hard to find. I felt this one worked best for a close-up.

For all the preceding images, I asked Kiki not to smile. Here she is with her natural and attractive smile. I positioned her so that a ray of sunlight fell on her hair.

The Mission District is an exceptionally good location for a photo shoot, with colorful murals on practically every wall. Kiki was a great model (she’s actually a photographer) who fit perfectly into the environment. Given how well this one turned out, I plan to do more photo shoots in the Mission in the near future.