How to Take Outdoor Portraits

woman taking photo
Get tips for shooting outdoors.

Developing good outdoor portrait photography habits can elevate your photographing skills to a new level. Learn how to impress your family and friends or turn your photos into income by capturing portraits in stunning outdoor settings.

Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

If you're an avid amateur photographer, chances are you may have captured fantastic portraits outside without ever knowing how you pulled it off. By studying the techniques below, you'll learn how those accidental accomplishments fell into place and more importantly, you'll be able to do it again with greater purpose. Even professional photographers benefit from regularly reviewing the latest tips and tricks for outdoor portraits.

Equipment

Other than a good quality film or digital SLR camera, the items listed below can make the difference between good portraits and fantastic ones:

  • Tripod: Reduces blurry photos caused by camera shake.
  • Light reflectors: Help you control the natural light and direct it more accurately onto your subject. If you can't afford a reflector kit, learn how to make your own.
  • Long focal length lenses: Are perfect for outdoor portraits. They make your subject pop while minimizing and slightly blurring the background.
  • Film: For use with 35mm cameras.
  • Extra batteries and a spare memory device: Important if you are shooting with a digital camera.

Settings and Backgrounds

Not every location is appropriate for outdoor portrait photography, which is why it's important to scout out the best natural photography spots in your area prior to your shoot. Keep the points listed below in mind as you search for good locations:

  • Natural scenery such as lakes, parks, rivers, and forests are popular portrait locations. These settings give the portrait a traditional feel and provide an interesting yet unobtrusive background.
  • Depending upon your location, structural elements lend either a contemporary or old-time feel while highlighting perspective. Good choices are walls, doors, staircases, barns, fences, and windows.
  • Stay away from settings that have power lines, signs, crowds, construction, garbage, busy activity, and loud noises. These elements detract from the subject and may make models anxious.
  • Don't let your background overwhelm your subject. While it's good to shoot interesting scenery, never forget that the focus of a portrait shot should be a human subject.

Natural Lighting

Having unlimited access to natural light is the single greatest reason to shoot portraits outdoors. No other source of light provides the versatility that natural light does. Depending on the way you and your subject want the finished image to look, there are two options for natural lighting:

Diffused Sunlight: An overcast or cloudy day provides light that is even and softly diffused, which makes faces of all ages glow. If the day is bright and sunny, shoot your portraits under a shady tree or awning. The best times to shoot outdoor portraits on a cloudless day is morning or evening. If possible, avoid midday when the sun casts harsh shadows and causes your subject to squint.

Direct Sunlight: Occasionally, hard, bright light is exactly right if you're aiming for dramatic or stylized portraits. Tips for shooting in bright sunlight include using reflectors to direct the light, having your model look away from the camera and the light source, and avoiding poses that put the sun behind your subject.

No matter which kind of natural light you use for your portraits, take a few minutes to study the landscape before you start shooting. Avoid hot or bright spots that might appear in the background because they will distract from your subject. To ensure that you get great portraits, take a lot of photos and experiment with camera settings, poses, and light direction.

More Tips and Tricks

Other photo tips to consider when shooting outdoor portraits include:

  • Get comfortable talking to your model as you shoot. This will distract her from what is going on, which will put her at ease and result in a more natural photograph.
  • If you live in a city, find a location with repeating lines in the background. They will give the photograph depth and interest. Columns, pillars, or rows of lamp posts are good options.
How to Take Outdoor Portraits