Summer is one of the most exciting times of the year to take pictures. One of our favourite summer portrait ideas is to head to the beach and make use of the sunshine to create atmospheric outdoor portrait photography.
In this quick guide we’ll show you step-by-step how to set up your camera and direct your subject to make the most of the natural light. We’ll then show you a few simple edits you can make on the computer to give you atmospheric summer portrait a professional finish!
Setting up your summer portrait: working with your model
Head to the beach
The beach is an ideal spot for a summer portrait shoot, but if you’re not close to the coast then consider other locations such as fields with long grasses or flowers, or even your back garden. Aim to shoot later on in the day, when the light is warm and soft.
It’s worth scouting the location in advance so that you know the best spots to head for; look for uncluttered backgrounds, and for interesting landmarks that will complement your subject but not distract from them.
SEE MORE: Outdoor portrait photography made easy
Clothes and accessories
Ask your model to bring along a few outfit changes so that you can get a variety of shots; bold-coloured clothing, such as a red dress, will look striking against a blue sky.
If there’s a breeze, you can also bring along a scarf, and get your model to drape it over her so that it moves with the wind. Wind does make it harder to use a reflector, so face your model into the sun but watch out for harsh shadows on the face.
Let there be light
Turn your model away from the sun, so her face is shaded and the sunlight creates a halo effect around the hair, then bounce the light back onto her face using a reflector.
Your model may find the reflected light a little bright, so get her to keep her eyes closed, then open them when you’re ready to take a shot. If possible, bring an assistant along to hold the reflector; it’ll make the shoot a lot easier.
Shooting your summer portrait: best camera settings and what you need
For a shallow depth of field, set your DSLR to Av mode. If your aperture is capable of opening up to f/2.8 set it to this; if it isn’t, open it up to the widest available setting (this will be around f/4 or f/5.6). Keep to ISO100 if possible, and the camera will select an appropriate shutter speed for the lighting.
If the shutter speed drops below around 1/60 sec you’ll need to increase the ISO up to 200 or 400, but try not to push it too far, as you don’t want noise to ruin your portraits.
Best lenses for summer portraits
We shot with a Canon EOS 7D, and look two lenses along for maximum flexibility. Our wide-angle Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM gives an effective focal length (EFL) of 27-64mm with our crop-factor sensor, which is ideal for capturing wider views that include more of the surrounding scenery.
Our Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens is perfect for close-up portraiture; as it’s a prime lens it gives the highest-quality results, while the 80mm EFL gives a flattering angle of view, and the extremely shallow depth of field produces beautifully blurred backgrounds. It’s important to keep the focus sharp on your model’s eyes.
To do this, select the central AF point and half-press the shutter button to focus on the closest eye, recompose while keeping the button half-pressed, then fully press the button.
Don’t get bogged down in your settings!
Communication between you and your model is key; explain what you’re looking for before you start shooting, so she knows what to expect. Once you’ve set up your camera, try not to get bogged down with adjusting settings, and concentrate instead on communicating with your model as you’re shooting to put them at ease.
Be confident: if you’re unsure then they will be too, whereas if you’re relaxed you’ll help them to relax, and your shots will look much better.
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