Outdoor portrait photography can be rewarding if done properly. Are you wondering how some photographers shoot amazing outdoor portraits?
Outdoor photography is very different from shooting in a studio and hand out a number of difficulties to portrait photographers. Several factors such as the constantly changing light can’t be controlled in an outdoor environment. As a photographer shooting outdoor portraits you’ll quickly learn how to adapt and work with what you have.
Let’s talk about some of the best tips that can make outdoor portrait photography much easier.
Outdoor Portrait Photography Basics
Having a great digital camera is not going to automatically make your outdoor shoots easy. Sure, being able to rely on a great camera that offers a lot of megapixels and that works well in low light can make your life easier, but there are a lot of different aspects that play an important role when shooting models outdoor.
Knowing how the lighting change in the location you’re shooting, the weather conditions, experimenting with different angles and more factors will contribute to make your shooting session a success.
The long story short is to get your focus right, take advantage of a shallow depth of field and shoot during the golden hour.
But read on to get more insights and useful tips.
Best Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips
1. Focus on the Eyes
The eyes of your subject must be the main focal point of your portrait photograph. This is a basic rule you must follow. The eyes of your models express their state of mind, set the mood of the portrait, and give your photo a much more intimate feel.
For this reason, you want to make sure you capture the eyes of your model at their maximum sharpness. Additionally, in a photograph, the eyes will offer maximum beauty when they are as sharp as possible.
In outdoor portrait photography, when shooting at a wide aperture, and focusing on the eyes, you’ll be able to conceal little facial skin imperfections and instantly enhancing your portrait without the need for heavy post-processing. A huge time-saving.
Related: Beautiful Portraits for Your Inspiration
2. Shoot in RAW
I can’t stress this enough. Always shoot in RAW. Modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras give you a choice of file format between JPEG and RAW.
RAW is an uncompressed and unmodified version of whatever your camera sensor captures. It is the digital equivalent of a film negative. JPEG, on the other hand, stores a compressed version of the photo you’ve captured. RAW is superior to JPEG since it gives you much more flexibility during post-processing.
A RAW file does not lose quality while changes are made to the photo during post-processing. On the other hand, a JPEG file will degrade for every change made to the picture.
For instance, if you have set your white balance incorrectly and shot a photo, you can easily fix the issue in Lightroom if the image was captured in RAW. Otherwise, you may have to spend several hours trying to remove the color cast, which degrades the image quality even more. For outdoor portrait shoots, shooting in RAW is a must.
3. Use a Shallow Depth of Field (create bokeh)
The background of an outdoor portrait photograph is quite important. This is equally true even if the background is blurred. This blurred effect is also known as bokeh.
In many cases, a bokeh can make the main subject of a photograph stand out and catch the viewer’s eyes and this is especially true for portraits. In order to create this effect, you need to use a wide aperture and a shallow depth of field. Try to choose an aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 if possible. Choosing the right background can produce incredibly interesting bokeh. Raindrops, flowers, streetlights, and branches of tres are some great bokeh options you can look at.
If your aperture is f/2.8 or wider, the background will be completely blurred and almost indistinguishable, at f/4 you’ll have a blurred background but the viewer will be able to recognize what’s there. In this case, there is no exact rule, it’s up to you and the type of story you want to tell with your image.
4. Avoid Direct Sunlight
In addition to creating directional shadows and unpredictable white balance, direct sunlight is also harsh and forces your subjects to close their eyes of struggle to keep them open.
You should try to shoot in the shade, where ungracious shadows from sunlight are replaced by softer ones occurring due to the features of the face.
Make sure you properly adjust the white balance and exposure on your camera, when taking outdoor portrait photographs in the shade!
5. Shoot During the Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is the time right before sunset and right after sunrise. The light at this time of the day is soft and illuminates everything in a delightful way.
The visually pleasant colors and delicate contrasts, the long soft shadows created by objects all around make your subject look more visually appealing. All types of harsh or unwanted reflections will be eliminated during these hours.
During the golden hour, you can have a completely different light depending on the weather conditions. If you plan your shoot in the golden hour, it is guaranteed that you will obtain beautiful and delicate photographs.
6. Overcast Days Are Perfect
It’s a common belief that sunny days are better for outdoor photography, but as you might know now, a harsh light is “no bueno”.
Cloudy days are perfect because you’ll benefit from the soft light and easily avoid unwanted glare and reflections. Your subject won’t struggle to keep the eyes open and the colors will look more natural.
Always plan your shoot with the weather conditions in mind.
7. Camera Settings Tips for Outdoor Portrait Photography
In order to get the best out of your camera for your outdoor portrait shooting, you must know how to use some key settings.
- First up, as a rule of thumb with portrait photography, set a wide aperture to separate the subject from the background.
- Use aperture priority mode and let the camera set the shutter speed.
- Then adjust your ISO to around 400. If you notice that the camera gives you a very slow shutter speed increase the ISO to reduce camera shakes from being captured. You want to have your photo as sharp as possible.
- Focal length: use a 35mm for an environmental portrait or a 70mm to 85mm for a close-up shot.
- I don’t like using a reflector and keep things as natural as possible, but you can consider using one if you need to highlight areas of your photograph.
With some practice and fine tuning, soon you will become an expert at taking perfect shots.
8. Use a Prime Lens
When sharpness and wide aperture are priorities, prime lenses are your solution. Despite giving you less flexibility compared to zoom lenses, prime lenses are in general much sharper and allow you to shoot at a wider aperture.
My favorite fixed focal lenses are 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. Your focal lens of choice will depend on the type of photo you want to take. From an environmental type of portrait to a more intimate close-up, a fixed focal lens will also force you to move and understand your composition instead of zooming in and out.
So when you use a prime lens you have to put more thought in composing your shots and this will positively reflect on your outdoor portraits.
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
9. Direct Your Model
Unless you work with professional models that often know what to do and how to pose, you’ll have to give directions to your models to help them know how to stand in front of your camera and give you the best expressions.
From enhancing the jaw line by extending the neck forward to looking more confident by slightly close the eyes, a casual model will likely need your advice.
Make them feel at ease and keep talking to them to make them laugh a bit and stay relaxed. You’ll get the best expressions and your portraits will look more natural.
Related: Beautiful Portraits for Your Inspiration
10. Post-Process Outdoor Portrait Photos
Post-processing forms a large part of great photographs. A great shot can be spoiled by unskilled and bad post-processing. You must be careful to maintain the outdoor photography lighting and look in your photos.
If you are a new starter, a useful technique is to choose a photo from a photographer whose style you admire. Attempt to match the colors and shades of your photo with that of the reference image.
Try as much as you can to keep things natural. Don’t oversaturate or push the contrast too much.
With enough practice and consistency, you will get better at post-processing. Soon you will develop your own unique style with outdoor portraits that people can easily recognize.
Like any other type of photography, shooting outdoor portraits takes practice. With these simple tips and tricks in mind, you can save a lot of energy and time, and work towards becoming an outdoor portrait expert!
Which tip you’ll likely apply to your next shoot? Will you snap during the golden hour or make sure you direct your model to give you awesome expressions? Let me know in the comments below.
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Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.