Portrait Photography

15 Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips to Control the Light

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Written By Nate Torres

Are you looking to take your outdoor portrait photography skills up a notch?

Whether you’re aiming to capture stunning scenic images or flattering photos of friends and family, these tips will help you take your work to the next level.

From choosing the right location to using the right props, read on for 15 tips that will help you produce better outdoor portraits.

1. Pick a Single Focus Point

One of the most important aspects of portrait photography is choosing a focus point.

For any type of portrait photography, it’s crucial to have crystal-sharp focusing.

One way to consistently get a sharp focus is to use single focus point mode. Now in order to activate this setting on your camera, you’ll have to read the manual or watch a video.

Some cameras also have Eye AF technology which is also great.

Once you have single focus point mode or Eye AF technology turned on, you will want to put the focus point on the eyes of your subject.

single focus point on eye photography
single point focus on eye

You may be thinking, there’s only a single point so which eye should I put it on? I personally just like to put it on one eye — the one that is close to you if the subject is turned.

If the subject is straight on, then I’ll still choose one eye.

This leads us to our next point.

2. Focus on the Eyes

When it comes to portrait photography, it’s important to focus on the eyes.

Not only is focusing on the eyes vital for getting a good composition and exposure in your photos, but it’s also an essential element of making sure that your subject looks alive and vibrant.

When you’re photographing outdoors, it can be tempting to just take a photo of whatever is in front of you.

However, if you want to create a great portrait, it’s important to focus on the eyes of your subject.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have the eyes in the center of the frame all the time, but they should be your main focus.

One way to make sure that you capture great portraits is to select an aperture that gives you sharp focus on your subject’s eyes.

If you’re not sure what aperture to choose, a good starting point f-stop is f/2.8 or f/4, depending on the lighting conditions and other factors.

3. Try Different Angles and Perspectives

When it comes to portrait photography, one of the best things you can do is experiment with different angles and perspectives.

For example, instead of always taking the photo from eye level, try getting down low or photographing from above.

Not only will this give your photos a unique look, but it will also help you to capture different aspects of your subject’s personality.

low angle portrait
low angle portrait

It’s also a good idea to experiment with different angles when it comes to group portraits.

Instead of just having everyone stand in a row, try photographing from the side or back. This will help you to capture all of the different personalities in the group.

4. Use a Fast Lens

When you’re taking portraits outdoors, it’s important to use a fast lens.

A fast lens is one that has a large maximum aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8.

Using a fast lens will allow you to take a photo in lower light conditions and will also give you the ability to create a shallow depth of field.

When photographing portraits, it’s often a good idea to use shallow depth of field to help your subject really stand out from the background.

If you’re not sure what lens to get for portrait photography, a 50mm f/1.8 or f/2 is a great choice.

But keep in mind that there are a lot of great lenses out there, so it’s important to do your research and find the one that best suits your needs.

5. Choose the Right Lens

Another important aspect of portrait photography is choosing the right lens.

While a 50mm lens is a good choice for many types of portrait photography, it’s also helpful to have some flexibility in your lens selection.

Another great lens choice is the 85mm. The focal length you choose for your portraits is up to you and is based on your photography style.

I personally love to use the 50mm prime lens which allows me to get a bit closer to my subject(s) and allows me to converse with them and make the session a bit more “personal,” which I’ve found helps relax the client — resulting in better final images and overall experience.

6. Photograph on an Overcast Day

One of the best ways to capture stunning portraits outdoors is to photograph on an overcast day.

Overcast weather offers wonderful diffused light, which will help you to create soft and flattering images.

overcast for outdoor portrait photography

It will also help you avoid harsh shadows or squinting subjects, both of which can ruin your photos.

If you’re not sure when an overcast day is coming, you can use a weather app to track the weather forecast.

This will help you to plan your outdoor portrait sessions and get great results every time.

7. If Sunny, Find Shade

When it comes to taking portraits in bright sunlight, one of the best things you can do is find some shade.

If you don’t have the leisure of picking an overcast day to photograph, then photographing in the shade is a pro tip.

The shade will help to diffuse the sunlight and make it much easier for you to get great results.

It’s important to note that shade isn’t only found under trees – large buildings or structures also create natural shade.

8. Wait for Golden Hour

If you really want to capture stunning portraits, then you need to wait for the golden hour. It is one of the best times for outdoor portrait photography.

Golden hour is the time just before sunset when the light is soft and warm.

This is an ideal time for taking portraits because the lighting is so flattering.

outdoor headshot golden hour
golden hour

Not only will your subjects look great, but the background will also take on a beautiful hue.

If you can, try to plan your portrait sessions around golden hour.

This will help you to get the most beautiful light and the best results.

9. Use a Reflector

When photographing outdoors, one way to add some fill light is to use a reflector.

A reflector is simply a piece of white or silver card that you can use to bounce light back into your subject’s face.

what is a reflector

This is a great way to add some extra light without having to use a flash.

Reflectors are especially useful when photographing in bright sunlight.

If you don’t have a reflector, you can also use a piece of white cardboard or even a white T-shirt.

10. Sunny 16 Rule

Another great tip for taking portraits outdoors is to use the Sunny 16 rule.

The Sunny 16 rule is a simple exposure formula that works well with natural light.

It states that when your aperture value is set to f/16, then your shutter speed should be inverse of your current ISO speed.

So, if your ISO is 100, your shutter speed should be 1/100 or 1/125.

I’ve found that if it’s an overcast day, you should set your shutter speed to 1/(2 x ISO).

So, if your ISO is 100, your shutter speed should be 1/200 or 1/250.

The sunny 16 rule is a great starting point for getting the right exposure outdoors.

Of course, you’ll still need to adjust your settings based on the specific conditions.

But using the sunny 16 rule will help you to get great results, even when you’re photographing in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

11. Plan Your Session Beforehand

When capturing portraits outdoors, it’s always a good idea to plan your session beforehand.

This will help you to make sure that you have everything you need and that you’re prepared for anything.

Some things you’ll want to consider before your session are the time of day, the location, and the weather forecast.

location scouting tips
location scouting

It’s also a good idea to have a general plan for what you want to achieve.

Do you want to capture candid portraits or posed portraits?

Do you want to take a portrait in black and white or color?

Answering these questions beforehand will help you to get the most out of your portrait session.

12. Watch What’s in the Background

When capturing portraits, it’s important to be aware of what’s in the background.

A busy or cluttered background can distract from your subject and ruin your photo.

Instead, try to find a simple background that won’t take away from your subject.

A plain wall or a solid color backdrop are both great choices for portrait backgrounds.

If you’re photographing in a natural setting, then look for an area with some nice foliage or a beautiful view.

Just make sure that the background doesn’t take away from your subject.

The last thing you want to happen is to take a beautiful outdoor portrait photo, and then see ugly power lines in the back (been there done that).

13. Bring a Gray Card

A gray card is a useful tool that can help you to get the perfect exposure.

A gray card is simply a piece of white or silver cardboard that you can use to reflect light into your camera.

photography grey card example
gray/grey card

By using a gray card, you can ensure that your camera is getting the correct amount of light.

This is especially important when photographing in mixed lighting conditions.

The best way to use a gray card is to take a photo of it before you start taking a photo of your subject.

Then, you can use the photo of the gray card to set the correct exposure for your portrait.

This will help you to get the perfect exposure, even in difficult lighting conditions.

14. Photograph in RAW

When taking portraits, you’ll want to make sure that you’re capturing your images in RAW format.

RAW is a file format that gives you the most control over your image settings.

raw vs jpeg

It allows you to adjust contrast, white balance and color saturation after the fact.

This can be especially helpful when capturing outdoor portrait photos in difficult lighting conditions.

If you’re not sure how to photograph in RAW, then check your camera’s manual.

It’s usually pretty easy to switch your camera to RAW mode.

And if you’re using a DSLR, then you can usually just set it to record in RAW + JPEG.

This will give you a JPEG image that you can use right away, as well as a RAW file that you can edit later.

15. Consider Using a Flash

Although you might think that flash is only useful for photographing indoors, it can also be a useful tool when taking portraits outdoors.

If the lighting conditions aren’t ideal, then using flash can help to brighten things up and fill in some of the shadows.

However, if you do use a flash outside, make sure you’re using a diffuser.

This will help you to get softer, more balanced light and avoid harsh reflections or unflattering shadows on your subject.

In general, it’s best to use as small of a flash as possible so that it doesn’t overpower the natural light in the scene.

Using fill-flash can be a great way to get beautiful outdoor portraits, even in difficult lighting conditions.

Just make sure you’re using a diffuser so that the light is soft and flattering.

What Settings Should I Use for Outdoor Portraits?

There’s no one perfect setting for taking portraits outdoors.

It all depends on the lighting conditions and the look you’re going for.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when setting up your scene.

First, you’ll want to make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to avoid camera shake.

This will vary depending on the focal length of your lens, but as a general rule, you should aim for at least 1/125th of a second.

You’ll also want to consider using an ISO setting that’s high enough to capture the scene without introducing too much noise.

In general, it’s best to keep your ISO as low as possible.

But if you’re photographing in low light, then you may need to increase your ISO to avoid getting blurry photos.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your aperture is set to a value that will give you the depth of field you want.

If you want a shallow depth of field, then you’ll need to use a large aperture (small f-stop number).

But if you want a deep depth of field, then you’ll need to use a small aperture (large f-stop number).

Keep these things in mind when setting up your scene, and you’ll be sure to get the perfect exposure.

What is Outdoor Portrait Photography?

Outdoor portrait photography is a genre of photography that involves taking images of people in natural surroundings. This can include anything from pristine landscapes to city streets.

Portrait photographers often choose outdoor locations because they provide a more natural and relaxed setting than a studio.

This helps to capture genuine expressions and emotions. Another advantage of outdoor portrait photography is that it allows for a greater range of background possibilities.

Whether you want to focus on the person or the environment, outdoor portrait photography gives you the opportunity to create unique and personal images.

Which Mode on the Camera is Best for Outdoor Photography?

There is no one “best mode” for outdoor photography.

It all depends on the look you’re going for and the type of lighting conditions you’re photographing in.

However, there are a few settings that you may want to consider using when taking portraits outdoors.

For example, if you’re photographing in challenging lighting conditions, then you may want to consider using Aperture Priority mode.

This will allow you to control the depth of field in your photo while the camera takes care of the rest.

If you’re photographing in low light, then you may want to use ISO Priority mode.

This will allow you to control the ISO while the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed and aperture to match.

Another option is to use Program mode, which will allow you to control both the aperture and shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusts everything else.

Ultimately, there is no “best mode” for outdoor photography; it all depends on your preferences and the specific photographing conditions you’re facing.

However, by understanding the different settings available to you, you can better control your camera and get beautiful outdoor portraits every time.

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Final Remarks

In conclusion, there are many things to consider when taking outdoor portraits, including the use of flash and different camera settings.

To get the best results, make sure you’re using a diffuser with your flash and experimenting with different modes on your camera.

And above all, keep in mind that there is no one perfect setting for photographing outdoors; it all depends on the look you’re going for and the specific conditions you’re photographing in.

With a little practice, you’ll be taking beautiful outdoor portraits in no time!

This article is also a part of our Portrait Photography Resource Hub, so be sure to check that out for more portrait photography tips.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best light for outdoor portrait photography?

The best light for outdoor portrait photography is often considered to be during the golden hour, which is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. During this time, the soft, warm, and directional light creates a flattering and beautiful glow on the subject, providing a more balanced and pleasing exposure for outdoor portraits.

How do you make outdoor photos look professional?

To make outdoor photos look professional, pay attention to the composition and framing of your shots, ensuring a balanced and visually pleasing arrangement. Additionally, consider the lighting conditions, utilizing techniques such as shooting during the golden hour, using diffusers or reflectors, and avoiding harsh shadows or blown-out highlights to achieve a polished and professional look.