In portrait photography, composing and creating outdoor portraits requires several important factors.
When shooting portraiture, you will need to consider the framing of your background, adhering to changes in light and the intended composition of your subject.
When planning a shoot outdoors, you should always be prepared for unexpected circumstances that may occur. As long as you take into consideration the time of day, suitable gear and weather conditions – you can shoot beautiful outdoor portraits.
Here are five outdoor portrait photography tips to elevate your work:
1. Shoot During the Golden Hours
The Golden Hour is often referred to the time of day that produces soft, golden light – this is often found in the early mornings of sunrise or in the evening right before sunset.
Shooting at the golden hour not only offers spectacular lighting but is visually complementary to any subject you are photographing.
Such light removes harsh or unwanted shadows that can be created while shooting in the harsh sunlight. This time of day produces a golden flair that will frame your subject’s figure as seen in this image above.
Choosing to shoot in either of these time slots will guarantee images that are delicate, visually pleasing and compelling to your viewer.
2. Use a Reflector to Control Your Light
Shooting outdoor portraits can be challenging when your light is constantly moving.
Depending on which time of day you are shooting will determine the effects of your lighting and how you can use it to illuminate your subject.
In order to help you control your light, you can implement the use of a reflector. Reflectors are affordable, lightweight and easy to use tools that can drastically improve your outdoor imagery.
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Most reflectors come with multiple color options that will each play with your light differently.
For example, if you were to use the gold side of your reflector – you would essentially create a golden effect on your subject’s figure. While using the white color option would produce a neutral color that works essentially as a fill light.
Reflectors are essential to controlling your lighting and can also reduce the appearance of shadows on your subject. Reflectors should be held in close proximity to your subject while shooting to maximize their effectiveness.
You could have an assistant aid you in this process or purchase stands that can hold your reflectors while you are shooting.
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3. Use a Fixed Focal Length Lens
As a photographer, you already know that certain lenses are more optimal for creating great portraits.
In order to compose and shoot your best portraiture, you will need to use a lens with a fixed focal length.
The most popular lens option for portrait photography is the 50 mm. While you can use a 85 mm lens as well, you must remember that using fixed focal lengths in your work is the key to effective framing, composition, and depth of field.
Using a fixed focal length lens with a low f-stop capability allows you to create the soft, delicate bokeh that many photographers crave in their portrait images.
In order to create this blurred effect and establish a shallow depth of field, you will want to shoot wide open to allow the greatest amount of light to enter your sensor. This calls for an f-stop anywhere from f/1.2 – f/2.2.
When shooting portraits, avoid using a wide angle or zoom lenses. When using such adjustable focus lengths, you will create distortion around your subject. In order to capture your subject in a proportional and flattering matter, always aim to use portrait focused lenses.
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4. Avoid Direct Sunlight
Another tip for creating quality outdoor portraits is to avoid shooting in direct sunlight. Apart from it being a burden to your subject’s eyes, harsh sunlight can create strong contrast and unflattering elements in your images.
Additionally, shooting in direct sunlight gives you little to no control over your lighting conditions. With this, you can lose the perspective and detail that make up the essence of your subject.
Instead of shooting with the sun directly overhead, choose to move your subject into a more shaded and covered area. Use the light to illuminate the features of your subject while keeping them framed in the shadows.
For example, in the image below the woman is situated within the shaded trees, but is being delicately illuminated by the sunlight as it peers through the pockets of foliage.
Capturing such portraits that effectively manipulate and alter the direct sunlight, are guaranteed to be stronger and more defined.
5. Consider Using a Flash
The final tip to creating stronger outdoor portraits is to integrate the use of a flash.
You may be wondering why a flash, which is a form of artificial light, would be necessary in a setting where the natural light is readily available and present?
Using a flash while shooting outdoor portraits is the most effective way to remove any shadows that may appear on the face or figure of your subject.
In this process, the external flash acts as a fill light for the pockets of your image that are dominated by dark points. You can even use an external flash in unison with reflectors to fill, bounce and manipulate light to create your ideal image.
You will want to avoid using any kind of pop up flash capability that your camera may have and stick to an external flash that would be mounted on your camera.
Pop Up Flashes are not as advanced technically as their external counterparts, which will show in the manner in which they cast unflattering light onto your subject.
One crucial element to pay attention to when integrating flash is to always properly expose your background and subject.
In order to do this, remember that your camera’s shutter speed affects the background and the setting you assign to your flash is what will illuminate your subject. Focus on utilizing these two components in unison to produce optimal portraits.
Do you have any tips or tricks you use to create visually compelling outdoor portraits? Share with us your feedback in the comments below.
Outdoor Photography Tips: Infographic Summary
Bonus Video: 10 Quick Portrait Photography Tips
1. Use Exposure Compensation: To brighten up subjects dial-up to +1
2. Aperture Priority Mode: Set a wide aperture to blur the background
3. Shutter Speed Settings: Set the shutter speed higher than the focal length
4. Increase your ISO to 400: Increase your ISO to 400 and avoid camera shake
5. Use a Telephoto Lens (70mm): To knock the background out (create a bokeh)
6. Use a Reflector: To brighten up your portraits
7. Manually Select a Single Autofocus: To keep your subjects in focus
8. Use a Fill Flash on Sunny Days: That’s precisely when you should use it!
9. Make the Subject Comfortable: Get the REAL expression out!
10. Choose Complementing Colors: For the clothing and background of the subject
Watch our short video covering the “10 Portrait Photography Tips”
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Shannon Ciricillo is photographer working with digital and film formats, she is currently based in New York City.