Take Better Portraits Outdoors

By Michelle Ecker on June 7th, 2017
Take Better Portraits Outdoors

If you are a portrait photographer, your technique probably shifts with the seasons depending on whether or not your clients request their pictures be taken outdoors. When you’re working with natural lighting rather than in the super-controlled environment of your indoor studio, you need to learn how to necessarily adjust to accommodate the elements.

Now that the weather is warming up for summer, more clients are going to ask to head outdoors for their photo shoots. Considering that, it is worth going over some creative decision-making changes you might have to make when taking these portraits outdoors. For students enrolled in our online portrait photography course, this would be a great time to head back to Unit 3, Lesson 3 for a completely comprehensive refresher on all great outdoor portraiture techniques. Otherwise, here are some shortened reminders:

  1. Select Location Carefully
  2. This seems like an obvious tip but it is a very commonly overlooked one. The easiest way to wind up with an awkward, uncomfortable-looking photo of people is to put said people in an environment where they don’t feel relaxed.

    So make sure to speak with your subjects about this reality when you’re choosing your outdoor spot. If your subjects are shy, a very busy park might not be a great pick- bystanders will inevitably stop to watch the shoot, and this will probably make your clients uncomfortable. Make sure to remind them of things like this, and do your best to choose the location accordingly- maybe a more private stretch of a nearby hiking trail would work better, for example.

  3. Be Logical With Timing
  4. Time of day is the biggest influence on the natural lighting under which you’ll be working. Shooting midday is the one thing we most strongly advise against. During this time, the sun will be directly above you and your clients and it will cast harsh shadows on every photo you take.

    Try to pick a time a little earlier or later in the day so that you can work with a more flattering, soft light. This type of lighting is not only preferable for outdoor nature and landscape shots, but specifically portraits because of the way it better flatters skin tones.

  5. Look At Your Surroundings
  6. The natural elements surrounding your subjects can really work in your favor if you chose them wisely. If there are trees overhead for example, their shadowy branches can be a great natural tool for diffusing strong light. The leaves will work effectively to soften the sunlight, adding a gentler look to your composition and flattering skin tones more effectively by diffusing harsh light. Pay attention to things like this and move your subjects accordingly if nearby, natural elements can help you take a more flattering photo.

    You should also keep your eyes peeled for things like natural color. Adding a pop of color to an otherwise simple shot is one of the most reliable ways to provide an element of interest to your composition. Is there a beautiful flowering bush nearby? Take that into consideration, apply the rule of thirds, and position your subjects accordingly to take a more interesting photo for them.


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