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Photography Tips

Outdoor Portraits

Timothy Farmer
April 13, 2022
Take your studio portraits outside to capture spring and a more relaxed look - Tricks and Tips

Why leave the control you have in the studio for the chaos of the outdoors, and if you do, how to succeed out in the wild.

The question is easy to answer. We leave the studio to embrace the chaos and allow for the unexpected to happen, all while planning for it. Studio photographers feel at home in a studio but most subject do not.This adds to the challenge of capturing personality. When you go outside it is easier to feel relaxed and allows their personality to shine through. They are not in studio; they are outside and can intact with whatever may be at the location. Flowers, trees, building, and graffiti all can lead to interring shot. This makes our job of capturing a great exposure and looks easier. We will look at some simple steps to achieve.

Lens selection and settings:

Lens selection is probably the most important choice you can make. We see a lot of people come into the store looking for a mid-range wide-angle lens to shoot portraits. I don’t know if someone on Instagram told them this, but it is not your best choice in a portrait lens for most situations.The classic portrait lens is an 85mm to 135mm fast lens, sat f/2.8. This will give you great compression (make the face look it’s best) and control over your background. With a wide-angle lens, you will have a lot of background distraction competing with your subject. A long lens allows you to isolate the background area you want to use. It will also give you bokeh without having to work hard for it. They naturally have better bokeh over a wide-angle lens.

The other issue we see a lot is people shooting wide open,sometimes at f/1.2. Now this will give you bokeh but it makes focus hypercritical as your depth of field is so small, just the act of breathing will cause you to lose focus. So, shoot with a longer lens and a little more depth of field by using f/2.8 up to f/5.6

Lighting, natural and artificial:

One of the best parts yet also challenging is the lighting. You are either working with the light, or you are fighting the light. Both can work.

When you work with the light you are using the sun as your key light (key light is your main light source giving you direction and shape,)and you are just softening it with either a scrim between the sun and the subject or a reflector to fill the shadows.

A white reflector on the models left side and just out of frame

When you are fighting the sun, you are using the sun as a back light and using strobes as your key light. With modern battery power strobes like the Westcott FJ system and Godox, this is becoming easier. The trick is balancing the artificial light and sunlight to get a natural look.

FJ400 with a beauty dish

There is a third option and it can be very pleasing.Shooting on a cloudy day and using just a little strobe as needed to give a catch light (that sparkle in your model’s eye.) Shooting on a cloudy day allows for a longer shoot and more location options. A shaded area can also be used like this but will limit location and background options.

Shot in the shade without any additional lighting

Time and location:

Simply put, you want to shoot in the golden hour. Period!Really if the sun is out, not behind clouds, this is the best time to shoot. The light is coming at an angel reducing the need to use a fill, strobes, or scrims. In the right condition, you can just shoot using just the sun and it will be gorges. The light color will also be, well, golden. Never plan shoots for mid-day. Even if it is clouded, you will be fighting to light your subject well.

Location is going to depend upon what you are trying to shoot. If it is a senor portrait, urban backgrounds can really work. If you are shooting for a company, they will be requiring a certain feel and location.Being spring right now, flowers and budding trees all make for great background.

Wardrobe, makeup, & props:

These too will be directed by the subject. If your model is a dancer, they will have outfits they want to use. If you are coming up with a concept shot, again this will set the look. Having a second person on location,someone who can do makeup, hair, and keep an eye on the clothing will help.This allows you as the photographer to focus on posing, lighting, and the camera.

Using found items as props. Again, being spring, adding a flower will help tie the subject into the location. It will also give your model something to interact with. Bringing a selection of hats, scarfs, and other object that will fit the theme of the shoot is a must. Spring day, bring a few baskets for lowers…

Get a helping hand:

I always have model bring a friend and I try to have someone with me. This is just good practice and will help your model feel comfortable.But most important, you will have people to help. It is easy to show someone how to hold a reflector that can make or break a shot. And as mentioned in the above section, someone who knows makeup really helps.


Shoot, shoot, shoot, and learn post-processing:

Now you are on location, the model is in makeup and dressed,the sun is just right, and your strobes are all firing. Shoot, shoot, shoot.Then edit, edit, edit.

There is the 80/20 ratio we like to talk about. 80% of your shots are made there where you are working with the model. The other 20% are made when you’re in post-production.

Knowing editing software like Capture One and Photoshop,what you can pull out of an image through retouching when shooting in RAW is really 50% of photography. Knowing what to fix, enhance, and leave alone is a big part in making outstanding photos, but only after you have captured the best possible image in the camera.