Better Outdoor Portraits – 10 Photography Tips

14 09 2009

I’ve been a professional photographer for over 20 years. Even though I have a ton of ideas and styles, sometimes I find going back to the basics creates portraits that clients truly love. Here are some simple solutions that everyone can benefit from when capturing your next outdoor portrait session.

Select a location
Locations are very important and should be thought out in advance. Look for locations that bring interest and enhance your session. Parks, lakes and other open spaces offer natural scenery and tend to be the first places people think of. But don’t forget about architecture. Buildings and other structures bring warm elements into a portrait. Doors, windows, walls, a staircase or pillars will bring wonderful life to a portrait.

Choose a location that is not busy and bustling with activity. A quiet area will allow a client to be more focused, and allow them to be able to listen to your posing instructions without distractions or loud noises that would otherwise interfere.

Repeating lines
A great way to add depth is to find a location with repeating lines. Columns, pillars or other structures add interest to a portrait and create a portrait that stands apart from others.

Use a longer lens
By selecting a longer lens, you can put the focus on your subject, leaving your background soft and out of focus. This adds to the drama of the portrait, and can give you a unique look and style. One of my favorite lens to use is a 70-200mm F2.8. Use your longer focal length (150mm – 200mm) to separate your subject from the background.

Clothing selection
To ensure optimal results, consult with your client about clothing selections prior to your portrait. Stay away from busy patterns (ie plaids, polka dots or flowery prints) and use darker to medium tones.

If you have more than one person in the portrait, teach your clients about matching. If one is in jeans, they all should be. Black turtlenecks always work well. Long sleeves work better than short sleeves or tank tops. Put the emphasis on the face, and you will really increase your sales.

Pose by example
Show your subject how you want them to pose, what to lean on or how to sit. I always find that it’s easier to pose by example, so each person can see the pose you’re looking for. It saves a lot of time and frustration on both parts, and makes the whole experience more enjoyable. It’s easier to make minor moves when they are 90 percent there.

Groups -start with the smallest and grow
Once you have a setting selected, start with the smallest groups and build up. When one person is posed and comfortable, its much easier bringing in the second to them. Try and build in triangle formation within your groups (two people on the ground as a base and one behind and between)

Use a tripod
A tripod gives you stability and the ability to move quickly. Your camera will remain focused on a particular area while you move the subjects in and out in different group formations. A tripod will also ensure a crisp image, no matter what size lens you are using.

Ensure that the eyes are in focus
When the eyes are in focus, you have a guaranteed seller.  The client will not be happy if the eyes are not sharp.

Perfect time of day
With a wedding or event, you have no control over the timing. Not so with a portrait. Always work around the sweet light – early morning or late evening. By having the sun in the lower hemisphere of the sky, you can work in a variety of situations without dramatic shadows, squinting eyes, and harsh lines.

Use a reflectorBetter Portraits With Reflectors
I have never been a fan of adding flash outside during a portrait session. With beautiful, natural light, why bring in “fake” light? A reflector can be an invaluable tool for a portrait session. You can easily direct light right where you want it – the face and eyes.

Softboxes
While reflectors are great if you have directional light you can bounce into place, sometimes you are working with much softer light, and a reflector won’t work. Try a softbox. A softbox separates harsh sunlight spots from beautiful natural, light. Softboxes can easily be made with pvc pipe for a frame and stretch white material, rip-stop nylon or a cotton bed sheet, to fill the frame. I use elastic corners to keep mine snug on the frame. You can make a variety of sizes to easily tuck in your bags for travel.

Capture in RAW
Unlike the larger exposure range that film has, digital cameras have a smaller exposure range. Shooting in jpg mode where the camera processes each image into a final processed image limits the ability to adjust in post processing.  If your exposure is incorrect, the image will be underexposed (loss of detail in the shadows) or overexposed (loss of detail in the highlights) and could be a complete loss. Another issue associated with jpg format is loss of information every time the file is saved causing a degradation of image quality. RAW is an unprocessed format, which allows adjustments to color, contrast and exposure. Once adjusted, the RAW format can be processed into a final jpg image without image quality loss.

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