7 Tips for Outdoor Portrait Photography

I love photography and I love being in nature, so putting the two together is like heaven. Outdoor portrait photography can be very gratifying but it can also be challenging. When we are doing portraits in a studio, we have complete control over the light. When we are in an urban environment, I can always find shade from buildings to shoot in and natural reflectors in walls and sidewalks to help with the lighting. We can also find benches to sit on, walls to lean against and urban features that are natural to interact with.

Nature provides gorgeous backdrops, but less predictability in lighting and posing options.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your outdoor portrait shoot.

Beautiful backlit field

1. Position of the sun

The best time of day to be shooting in nature is usually early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Many photographers prefer the “golden hour,” that time of day when the sun is first rising or preparing to set and the light is warm and coming from a low angle. This light is usually more interesting and has some added drama. No matter whether the sun is high or low, in general, you want the sun to be behind your subject. Pose them in such a way that the sun is not in their eyes and gives them a nice glow to the top of their hair.

2. Bokeh

The irregular nature of natural backgrounds makes for really interesting bokeh. When the sun is shining through the trees, each of the leaves helps to create a very cool bokeh pattern. Depending on the shape of the leaves and the way the sun hits each leaf you can get very cool and shimmery looking backgrounds.

3. Wardrobe

Consider the environment you are going to be in. For most subjects, casual wear is going to be preferred. This allows them to get a little dirty and not worry about sitting on tree trunks, boulders or the ground. However, the juxtaposition of formal wear in the forest or at the beach is also a very cool look. Consider photographing your wedding clients in fancy dresses and tuxedos in a natural environment.

4. Wide shots

With a vast landscape, your subjects can be a small piece of the photo. You can emphasize rolling hills or winding roads that lead the viewers eye to the subject. Consider shooting wider to show more of the natural environment.

I like to use bokeh panoramas to create a blurred effect on the background and to bring the subject into the focus of the image.


5. Silhouettes

A sunny day in nature is going to give you a much brighter lighting situation than just about any urban environment. This lends itself to backlit silhouette shots. As the sun gets lower, position your subjects between you and the sun. Expose for the background and leave your subjects dark — creating a silhouette. The best pose for this is typically a profile. For two people (like an engagement or wedding shoot) have them face each other, with their side profile facing the camera.

6. Find water and reflections

Water is usually a good focal point for natural environments. Shooting your portraits near the beach, near the edge of a lake, or on a river bank will add some visual interest to your photos. These are also places where you may be able to find a good reflection, especially if the water is still. Pose your subjects in such a way that you can see them in a reflection.

7. Find the details of the story

Once you have captured the wide shots and the standard medium shots, look for the details that reveal the sights, smells and textures of your nature location. Get in close to show the visually interesting parts of your environment. For an engagement or wedding shoot, this might be a good time to shoot the hands with rings or shoes, along with details of the location.

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