Following on from a photo shoot yesterday afternoon I got thinking about some of the techniques I use when shooting portraits outdoors and thought it might be useful to write them here on the blog. So, here’s a list of 5 tips/techniques for shooting Portraits in the Great Outdoors that I generally will consider on every photo shoot:
1. Match the Light: If you find yourself photographing on a day as I did recently when there’s very little cloud cover and the sun is doing it’s best to nuke your subjects, to match the natural lighting that will be contrasty with very defined hard light/shadows you may consider using bare bulb and no light softening modifiers if everything is to look natural:
On the flip side of that, if you’re photographing and using off camera lighting on an overcast day with lots of soft natural/ambient light then you’ll want to match that lighting on your subject/s so you my consider using a modifier such as a Large Softbox or Umbrella:
2. Use Free Softboxes: All around us there are natural softboxes. For example position your subject in the recess of a doorway so that the doorway opening itself becomes the light source ie a large light source with the light falling onto your subject from one direction:
Look for breaks in the tree canopy that will again provide you with beautifully soft, directional light:
On most photo shoots I’ll make a point of always taking both naturally lit shots and shots using off camera lighting, which helps me to produce quite a varied mix of final looks.
3. Make use of Reflectors: When I’m taking photos using natural light I’ll always have with me a reflector or two. My reflector of choice at the moment is the California Sunbounce Mini because of the quality of light it produces, the build quality and being so lightweight, however any reflector is better than none at all:
The main thing to remember when using reflectors is that you’re using them to redirect some of the sun’s light back onto your subject so how and where you position it is very important when it comes to producing a realistic look:
Too low down and you’ll be reflecting light under your subjects chin which will look artificial, so look at positioning it so that the light is reflected slightly down on to your subject. In addition to this, for outdoor shots I’ll nearly always use the gold reflector which gives a lovely warm reflected light onto the subject:
4. Shoot later in the day: Do you really need to be shooting in the middle of the day when the sun’s at it’s strongest? Sure you can manage this no problem with top of the range lighting such as Profoto or Elinchrom but not everyone can afford that kind of equipment. The solution…shoot later in the day when your small battery operated strobes will have no problem overpowering the sun. This time of year if I’m shooting using small strobes like my Nikon SB800’s I’ll make a point of shooting no earlier than about 5pm; that way I can control the ambient light using apertures of no more than say f/11 which the SB800’s can comfortably cope with.
Another advantage of shooting later in the day is that what was once possibly a stark cloudless sky, later in the afternoon/early evening when the temperature drops a few degrees you’ll likely start to see more cloud formation:
5. Move Around: Ok so maybe this one is relevant for any shoot, be it indoors our outdoors but move around your subject or take the same shot using different lenses eg a 24-70mm to take in more of the environment:
…and then maybe a 70-200mm to take a tighter shot:
So what tips would you add to this list? What tips could you share with others that help you with your outdoor photography?
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of tips for shooting portraits outdoors so it would be great to ‘hear’ any that you would add to the list, so please feel free to make use of the comments section below.