Downtown Gilbert’s Heritage District

The Heritage District in Downtown Gilbert is a fan favorite for photography. People love the character and charm. On any given day, you might find a photographer in the Heritage Annex or stopped along the corridor on either the east or west side of Gilbert Road.

The various backgrounds with multiple colors, textures and vibes make for a one stop shop for head shots, couples, and families. Just along the west side of Gilbert Road from Liberty Market to the American Legion are stone facades, weathered wood, a green background and brick. On the east side of the road are columns, steps, benches, arches and wonderfully large light posts.

Most everyone is pretty familiar with the sights to behold around the iconic water tower and along Gilbert Road between Page and Cullumber. Many people use these areas to capture subjects. What about along the north end of the heritage district though? There are some fabulous new amenities along the trail that make for incredible backdrops.

Just south of the trail on the west side of Gilbert Road is a small patch of artificial turf with a curved wall. This spot is perfect to capture a picture with gorgeous bistro-strung lighting and the water tower. You could also use the artificial green as a “lush” backdrop when the rest of Arizona wrestles with being green.

Since the background is to the south, ideal times to shoot would be early in the day and late day to capture the soft low lighting in the sky. Use an online calendar or app to determine first and last light and aim to shoot within the hour of each of those for optimum lighting.
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Along the trail are interesting water features that offer playful and promising possibilities for posing. These features are made of stone, rusted metal and concrete so they have a rooted, quirky, industrial feel to them. The posing possibilities are endless. There is a little wall around one of the water features where subjects can sit, stand, jump from, etc. There is a water feature on both sides of Gilbert Road with running water that can be interesting to have a subject pose against. Try to shoot in even shade if you’re photographing at times not affording that beautiful first/last golden light.

The top of the parking structure is a great spot to capture the water tower and the San Tan Mountains. I suggest taking the elevator so subjects don’t get “glisteny” by the time you get to the top floor. If you take subjects to the top of the parking garage be aware of where the light is. You don’t want it too bright and harsh and you don’t want them looking directly into the light, causing them to squint.

Discover Gilbert Blogger Elaine Kessler

Discover Gilbert Blogger Elaine Kessler

I’m a big fan of finding unique little niches and enclaves for portraiture. The stairwell in the parking garage is perfect for capturing a family. When you shoot in the late day, you can shoot into the light and have the western light filter softly through against their backs.

Even in a place as busy as downtown Gilbert with photographers, you can always find your own take on the environment and the north part of the heritage district is a terrific place to start.

See more of Elaine’s photography at

The Riparian Preserve

The Riparian Preserve, located at Greenfield and Guadalupe, is a delight for both adventurers and photographer. With interesting trees and plants, desert landscaping, water features, meandering trails, wildlife, an observatory, a bridge and a park, there are plenty of aspects to photograph in and of themselves.

For a portrait photographer, these aspects create interesting and dynamic backgrounds for a variety of subjects. I often photograph people at the Riparian Preserve, as it is a fun little oasis in the middle of Gilbert that provides unique and attractive backgrounds.

Visit the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert

Visit the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert

The Riparian Preserve is a popular spot for photographers seeking to capture wildlife in addition to people. It’s a natural environment safe for any age, and entertaining for all. With multiple entry points to the Riparian Preserve, photographers can work simultaneously without worry of being in each other’s frames. Because of its variety of features, the Preserve offers photographers diversity in their portfolios and tremendous possibilities in their posing.

While there are plenty of paved pathways at the Riparian, be prepared to possibly go “off road” in your journey to find neat places to photograph. Wear covered shoes made for uneven terrain. You may even find some places that you might get wet.

One way to photograph people is to make the background a blur of colors. This is a look achievable with any consumer grade DSLR camera, although there are some neat accessories to mobile devices that might make this look possible as well.

Another way is to photograph so the background is more readily apparent. This look is easily accomplished with mobile phones and professional grade cameras. What you choose is completely up to you and your subject’s aesthetic. I personally like offering a mix of the two to my clients.

A basic tenet of portrait photography, for the novice and professional alike, is to try working during the golden hours: the first hour at sunup and the last hour before sundown. There are multiple websites and apps that can make determining this time frame quite simple.

When the light is low in the sky, fewer unflattering facial shadows are cast and the light is warm, pretty and soft – perfect for portraits. If photographing during the golden hours proves impossible, look for even blocks of shade to capture subjects within. This will prevent unseemly shadows and create a nice smooth look for portraits. Avoid mottled lighting – that mixed lighting that branches off a tree or a sparsely flowering plant might cast.

The Riparian Preserve has a wealth of shade, so if working during the golden hour proves tricky, finding even lighting shouldn’t be too problematic. I recommend scouting your locations beforehand at the time you intend to shoot so that you may work efficiently and successfully when you are photographing your subject. The Riparian Preserve is quite large so be prepared to discover many gems in this lovely Gilbert location.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

2757 E. Guadalupe Rd. | Gilbert, AZ 85234
Phone: 480-503-6200
Park open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Habitat Area open dawn to dusk