Outdoor portrait photography made easy: tips for pro-quality results

Outdoor portrait photography made easy: tips for pro-quality results

How to make the most of natural light

Bright summer sunshine might seem like the perfect light for shooting outdoor portraits, but these conditions can also produce the least successful results. With the sun high in the sky, ugly shadows will appear under your subject’s nose, chin and eye sockets.

It’s also worth remembering that looking into bright sunlight will make your model squint, resulting in unflattering shots. Use these simple tips to get the most from the light…

01 Find yourself some shade
A simple solution is to position your model in a shady area. Don’t forget to watch the white balance setting though. If the background is still in bright sunlight it can make your model’s skin look too blue, because it will choose a daylight white balance, rather than shade.

02 Wait for some cloud
If you can’t find any shade, and there are some clouds in the sky, you can try waiting for the sun to disappear behind cloud for a natural diffused effect.

Shooting in changing light means that you’ll need to work quickly to get your shots though, and you also need to watch the exposure.

Make sure that you set the exposure for the model, rather than a bright or dark background.

03 Diffuse the light
If there aren’t any clouds to diffuse harsh light, you can get a similar effect by holding a diffuser between the subject and the sun. The diffuser can be as simple as a piece of translucent white cloth or one made specifically for the purpose.

This works very well for head-and-shoulders portraits, but it can be impossible to find a big enough diffuser to diffuse the lightfor a half- or full-length shot.

Even for head-and-shoulders shots you’ll find it much easier if you have a willing assistant to hold the diffuser in position.

04 Shoot into the light
For a completely different look, try getting your model to face away from the sun, and shoot into the light. You’ll need to avoid under-exposure, because the bright background will fool your camera’s meter. Try using 
+1 or +2 stops of Exposure Compensation (download our free exposure compensation photography cheat sheet to learn more).

 

Master the basics of outdoor portrait photography: reflectors

No reflector

05 Reflectors
If you find that there are shadows on your model’s face, or it’s simply a bit too dark, using a reflector is one of the simplest ways to add some light. These come with white, silver or gold surfaces, which reflect light in different ways for slightly different effects.

Master the basics of outdoor portrait photography: reflectors

White reflector

A white reflector gives the subtlest results of the three, while silver reflects more direct light back onto the subject. Gold is similar to silver, but produces a warmer effect that’s perfect for portraits.

Master the basics of outdoor portrait photography: reflectors

Silver reflector

Simply position the reflector on the opposite side to the light source to lighten the darker areas of your subject, banishing ugly shadows in order to achieve a more professional finish.

PAGE 1: Outdoor portrait photography overview
PAGE 2: Master the basics of outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 3: How to make the most of natural light
PAGE 4: Master depth of field in outdoor portraits
PAGE 5: The best lenses for outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 6: Using telephoto lenses for outdoor portraits
PAGE 7: Using wideangle lenses for outdoor portraits
PAGE 8: Essential flash techniques for outdoor portrait photography
PAGE 9: How to set up and use your flash outside
PAGE 10: Easy flash techniques and ways to fire your flashgun

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