Shooting on location offers endless possibilities for how you can compose your photos, or how you can pose your model. Back when I started to photograph people, my family and I used to live in Bristol, England. With so many amazing locations for photoshoots, the city makes a perfect backdrop.
However, starting out as a portrait photographer had its ups and downs. After taking photographs of architecture for a while, I struggled to make connections with other people in this field. One day I discovered the online modeling and photography networking platform, Purpleport (opens in new tab), where I met like-minded people and started gaining confidence. I had more and more photoshoots, and I was building my contacts and location database.
• The best lenses for portraits? (opens in new tab)
I would always suggest just starting with a freelance model who is confident to style the shoot, then slowly add on the hair and makeup artist, stylist, retoucher, model agency, and so on. We need to feel comfortable before we do something new.
The good thing about photography is that there is no right or wrong. My camera is my drawing tool; by taking photographs, I am freezing a moment in the past that I will never get back. I shoot on my trusty Canon EOS 6D (opens in new tab) and alternate between the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (opens in new tab) and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (opens in new tab).
See more of Kat J Ehlers' work on her Instagram (opens in new tab).
3 top tips for on-location portrait photography(opens in new tab)
01 Start with the idea
It is important to know what exactly you would like to achieve with your shoot. One way to help everyone on a team to understand your visual aesthetic is to create a mood board. Whenever I plan any photo shoot, I always start with Pinterest (opens in new tab), an amazing online platform where you can gather together so many fascinating ideas with ease.
02 Scout your locations
Once you know what you want to shoot, start looking for an appropriate location – for example, a forest, a sunflower field, a sandy beach or an apple orchard. It is all up to your imagination. When I am scouting locations, I am always taking photographs on my phone to check compositions, and to remember where I want my model to stand later on.
03 Embrace teamwork
When I started to photograph models, I wanted to do everything myself: I wanted to style the shoot, take the photographs, retouch them – I even wanted
to learn how to do makeup and hair. I am so glad I didn’t. Teamwork on a shoot is essential. Everyone thinks differently, and everyone brings different amazing ideas to the table.
Kat’s advice on shooting for editorials(opens in new tab)
Once your mood board is ready, you know who is on your team, and all of you know where you are heading for a photoshoot, the next step would be to take photographs. If I am shooting an editorial on a location, I need to get a variety of close-up, portrait and full-body shots. My favorites are always portraits, but I am also obsessed with the close-ups and full-body photographs.
When I put photographs in an editorial, I want the person who is going to view it to read it as a story. For example, I would start with the portrait where the model is looking into the camera, then zooming in and photographing her makeup.
I’ll follow with a full-body shot where she is static or walking towards me, and then have another shot of her feet and footwear being static, for example if I am shooting for a footwear brand. When I am happy with those four compositions, my team and I will then move onto the next look.
A secret top tip
Always carry a portable pop-up changing tent with you. It makes my life easier: I don’t need to look for places for the model to change, and she feels comfortable. And we don’t need to come back to the car all the time!
Capture the moment
I am human, and there are times when I make mistakes. Not every single shoot will go to plan, and you won’t be happy with the result every time. As long as I get two or three amazing photos from each shoot, I am happy.
This photograph of twins were shot at 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO100. At first I wasn’t happy with the shadow on the face of the model on the left – but later I really loved it. Sometimes we can be in the shadow of our sibling.