Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

In the old days of photography, there are only three simple things to remember in improving outdoor portrait photography: white balance, proper exposure and sharp focus. It still remains as the three main things to bear in mind when taking outdoor portraits. In today’s age of digital cameras and advanced settings, a whole new set of techniques came to light. There is now a world of difference between the exposure latitude and the f-stop exposure of a Kodak gold film from the current high-tech digital cameras. The evolution of photography also has uncovered new ways of improving taking outdoor portrait photography. Here are some that will help you take your outdoor portrait photography to a new level of awesomeness.

Pick only one focus points for portraits

The autofocus feature of a digital camera focuses on what is closest to the lens. You are doing it the wrong way if you continue doing this. It is advised for outdoor portrait photographers to pick only one focus point. This way, it’ll give you, the photographer the complete control of your camera.

Keep the focus on the eyes

As the old adage of “the eyes are the windows to the soul” so is being the key to an amazing outdoor portrait photograph. The eyes are the sharpest and most striking element on the face that should not become a secondary focus subject. Try focusing on the eyes with a wide aperture setting; the len’s bokeh effect will create a softened skin tone as well.

outdoor portrait photography
Focus always on the eyes. Photo by Sandra Nahdi

Wide aperture for a shallow depth of field

Experiment with various aperture setting and among the well recommended setting is the f2.8 or f4. These aperture settings give your photograph a natural light needed for an appealing portrait and a smooth background known as ‘bokeh’.

Shoot at 70mm ++

Shooting portraits at 70mm or less in an outdoor location distorts the head proportions of your subject. You don’t want to hear your client asking “why her head look bigger than its actual size”. The blur of the bokeh will increased because of the compression effect of the telephoto lens.

Always take outdoor portraits in RAW

RAW is like the digital negative of modern cameras. It is the unedited compilation of data sensors at the time of image exposure. When shooting in RAW, you don’t lose data when editing making it an ideal format for outdoor portrait photography because it allows you to modify and improve your photograph.

Avoid direct sunlight by shooting under the shade

Direct sunlight creates havoc when it comes to proper colors and white balance aside from making your subject appear ghost-like with hard deep shadows. Shooting in the shade prevents the color and brightness disfiguration as it allows smooth shadows and enhances your subject’s attractive natural features. Complementing this with a perfect setting of white balance and exposure, you can make your outdoor portrait photography look amazing.

Take advantage of an overcast sky

A giant overcast sky help produce emphatic and stunning shadows. It also improves colors and emphasized the facial features of your subject more.

outdoor portrait photography
Overcast sky producing stunning shadow with limited natural light. Photo by B. Barbey

Use light reflectors

You can control the direction of natural light by using light reflector that can imitate a studio lighting system. Experiment by having your subject stand behind the sun to get a striking silhouette. Putting your subject in front of the sun (while your back is turned against the sun) can also get great result especially if you let your subject look away from the camera. Another awesome trick is to wait for a bunch of clouds to cover a part of the sun; this creates a bright contrasting image.

Take advantage of existing light reflector

You don’t have to bring expensive light reflectors at outdoor shooting locations. Try taking advantage of existing reflectors such as delivery trucks painted in white, silver and gray or other scraps of light colored metal. You can also use foam core found everywhere. Be creative in using everyday materials found everywhere as a light reflector.

outdoor portrait photography
Using a silver truck as a reflector. Photo by Fleno.de

Remember the sunny f16 rule

There is an f16 sunny rule in outdoor portrait photography. It basically says that if your aperture is set to f16, your shutter speed should be the inverse of your ISO speed. If your camera sets its ISO to 100, while your aperture is pegged at f16, your shutter speed should be at 1/100th. On a cloudy day or when you are shooting under a shade, you can use an f8 aperture setting.

There you go; these are just some of the basic things to remember when shooting outdoor portrait photography. Have a great time taking images of your subject, take advantage of the great outdoors and try to incorporate the varying levels of natural sunlight in your portraits.


About Kristine Buenavista

Tin oftentimes takes her folding bike and old camera along country roads. Sometimes, she forgets to take pictures (though she never forgets when she finds great photos elsewhere). She narrates through words and images here. Travel, creativity, laughter, cerveza negra, scavenge hunt for beauty, starry-windy nights are among the things that make her feel weightless.

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