Sometimes, what we truly want is a simple, back to basics style when it comes to outdoor portrait photography. And while taking great shots of people is challenging, there are a few things to keep in mind when you wish to take your work to the next level.
Here are some simple tips for outdoor portraits that everyone can benefit from when shooting their next outdoor portrait session.
1. Select a Location
Locations are very important and should be planned out in advance. Look for locations that are of interest and can enhance your session. Parks, lakes, and other open spaces offer natural scenery. These tend to be the first places people think of. On the other hand, don’t forget about architecture. Buildings and other structures bring warm elements into a portrait. Doors, windows, walls, a staircase or pillars will bring wonderful life to your photos.
Choose a location that is not busy and bustling with activity. A quiet area will allow a client to be more focused. Such a peaceful avenue will also allow them to listen to your posing instructions without distractions or loud noises that would otherwise interfere with your work.
2. Repeating Lines
A great way to add depth to your portraits is to find a location with repeating lines. Columns, pillars or other structures add interest to a portrait. They create a portrait that stands apart from others. Even though the main focus of the image will definitely be an expressive face, the background can frame this moment beautifully.
3. Use a Longer Lens
By selecting a longer lens, you can make your subject the focus point. This way, your background will remain soft, and viewers will admire only the key element of your work, which is outdoor portrait photography. This adds to the drama of the portrait and can give you a unique look and style. One of my favorite lenses is a 70-200mm F2.8. Use your longer focal length (150mm – 200mm) to separate your subject from the background.
4. Clothing Selection
To ensure optimal results, consult with your client about clothing selections prior to your portrait. Advice them to stay away from busy patterns (i.e. plaids, polka dots or flowery prints) and opt for darker to medium tones instead.
If you have more than one person in the portrait such as a family, teach your clients about matching outfits. I’m not talking about imposing a uniform for all participants. However, your clients should respect some basic rules of composition. For instance, if one is in jeans, they all should be. Black turtlenecks always work well. Long sleeves work better than short sleeves or tank tops. Put the emphasis on faces, and you will really increase your sales.
5. Pose by Example
Show your subject how you want them to pose, what to lean on or how to sit. I always find that it’s easier to pose by example, so each person can see the poses you’re looking for. It saves a lot of time and frustration on both parts and makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
Usually, people have their own favorite postures. However, these might simply not work for outdoor portrait photography. Don’t forget to smile when you are showing them your moves. Otherwise, your help might look condescending which can create an uncomfortable feeling throughout the photo shooting.
6. Groups – Start with the Smallest
Once you have a setting selected, start with the smallest groups and build up. Usually, members of smaller groups are having an easier time connecting between them than large parties. As a consequence, by starting off with a cheerful gang, the others will try to reciprocate the initial good spirits.
In the end, everyone will have a better chance at relaxing and letting you surprise them in their happy moments. Try and build in triangle formation within your groups (two people on the ground as a base and one behind and between).
7. Use a Tripod
A tripod is an essential part of your outdoor portrait photography equipment. Besides stability, a tripod will also endow you with the ability to move quickly. Your camera will remain focused on a particular area while you move the subjects in and out in different group formations. This tool might look insignificant, but it will ensure you a crisp image, no matter what lens size you are using.
8. Ensure that the Eyes Are in Focus
When the eyes are in focus, you have a guaranteed seller. Clients almost always want their eyes to pop out of their portraits. For the sake of contrast, imagine a family photo album with everyone having their eyes closed.
There are high chances that such portraits would look lifeless and surreal. The eyes possess a unique way to communicate people’s mood. If your photo shooting is joyful, then your images will surely contaminate viewers with the same mood.
9. Choose the Perfect Time of the Day
When it comes to a wedding or any other big event, you have no control over timing. These festivities are planned in advance, and they have too many members to control. However, things are different with a portrait. Always work in the sweet light (or golden hour) – early morning or late evening. By having the sun in the lower hemisphere of the sky, you can work in a variety of situations without dramatic shadows, squinting eyes, and harsh lines.
10. Use a Reflector
I have never been a fan of adding flash outside during a portrait session. With beautiful, natural light, why bring in “fake” light? A reflector can be an invaluable tool for an outdoor portrait photography session. You can easily direct light right where you want it – your clients’ face and eyes.
11. Try a Softbox
Reflectors are great whenever you have directional light you can bounce into place. However, sometimes you are working with much softer light, and a reflector won’t do the trick. Try a softbox instead.
A softbox separates harsh sunlight spots from natural light. You can make your own softbox with PVC pipe for a frame and stretch white material, ripstop nylon or a cotton bed sheet, to fill the frame. I use elastic corners to keep mine snug on the frame. You can make a variety of sizes to tuck in your bags for travel with ease.
12. Capture in RAW
Unlike the larger exposure range that film has, digital cameras have a smaller exposure range. Shooting in a .jpg mode where the camera processes each image into a final processed image limits the ability to adjust during post processing. If your exposure is incorrect, the image will be underexposed (loss of detail in the shadows) or overexposed (loss of detail in the highlights) and could be a complete loss.
Another issue associated with the .jpg format is a loss of information every time the file is saved. This process causes a degradation of image quality. RAW is an unprocessed format, which allows adjustments to color, contrast, and exposure. Once adjusted, the RAW format can be processed into a final .jpg image without image quality loss.
When it comes to outdoor portrait photography, you must first establish a connection of trust with your clients. Regardless of how many techniques you master, the final work will appear awkward if clients are not feeling comfortable. With the above tips and tricks, you can ensure a successful session in a simple yet classic style.