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Let’s get ready for some outdoor portraits! Some of the best things about outdoor portraits is that you have a huge variety of settings, backgrounds, and props available to you, changeable oftentimes by simply walking a few feet.
What outdoor portrait tips and techniques will help us get interesting, fun, and professional looking images of our portrait subjects? We will examine three main areas, portrait poses and positions, lighting for outdoor portraits, and what camera settings for portraits will work great outdoors, plus we’ll add in some extra ideas for outdoor portrait techniques.
Portrait Poses and Positions
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One of the things you need on the watch for when shooting outdoor portraits is the image being too busy. There are various fixes for simplifying what the viewer ends up seeing in the outdoor portrait, first we will consider poses and camera and subject position.
Placing our subject in a field of sunflowers gives us some really fun images, but the viewer will be noticing the sunflowers most of all. Same with shooting in a busy city street or on an outdoor porch. Go ahead with the fun and interesting image but then let’s move things around some for the rest of the portraits.
Changing to a higher or lower camera position can radically alter the background and other surroundings showing in the outdoor portrait. Having the subject, squat, kneel, lie down, or lean against something provides us with more options.
Also be on the lookout for those distracting elements that negatively impact the viewing of the final portrait, such as twig or light pole that looks as though it’s coming out the outdoor portrait subject’s head. Sometimes simply moving our camera to one side or up or down by mere inches can eliminate that distraction.
Lighting for Outdoor Portraits
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The Sun and sky are probably the primary light source for most of our outdoor portraits, but we can control outdoor portrait lighting in several simple methods.
Among the most simple outdoor portrait techniques in regards to lighting blends in with the poses and position tips. In broad daylight, move the subject around so they aren’t looking into the Sun. You can even put the Sun directly behind the subject and adjust exposure to lighten the face sitting in the shadow.
Which brings us to a second technique of lighting for outdoor portraits is to add in a reflector to fill in the shadows produced by moving our subject and camera position around. Depending on your lens choice, you could have the subject holding the reflector themselves.
A third technique really opens up some creative options of outdoor lighting, adding an auxiliary light source. A small rechargeable LED light can be used as a key light or a fill light, depending on where you place it.
You can put your small LED light anywhere by mounting it on the OctoPad camera and accessory mount. OctoPad is a unique gadget that takes the place of tripods, clamps, bean bags, or light stands for holding photographic equipment.
It’s a small weighted pad with a rubberized non slip pad on the bottom and a ¼-20 screw thread on top that a bracket or ball head can be attached to in order to hold the light on various types of surfaces up to a 45 degree angle. Perfect for outdoor portrait sessions.
I also use my OctoPad for holding video accessories such as mics or for holding an action cam to shoot B-Roll footage for video projects (such as a tutorial for shooting outdoor portraits).
Camera Settings for Portraits
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Several of the issues raised about distractions in the image or lighting situations can also be solved or accentuated by means of varying camera settings.
When looking in the viewfinder of our camera and seeing that distracting twig growing out of the top of their head or losing the outdoor portrait subject in a busy background or surroundings, we can adjust our camera position, change lenses or zoom to a longer focal length, or open up the lens aperture to limit depth of field for selective focus of the subject alone.
Lens focal length and lens aperture or f-stop are major considerations for creating effective outdoor portraits. A longer focal length (telephoto) lens provides a pleasing apparent perspective without any unflattering distortion. The larger aperture affects depth of focus as well as the exposure triangle.
By the way, you can use the automatic exposure modes of your camera and still do this. Set the camera in aperture priority and pick a wide open f-stop, letting the camera match shutter speed for correct exposure. Some cameras will let you adjust the program mode to favor wide apertures, but avoid the Green Dot auto setting as that surrenders all creative control to the camera instead of the photographer.
You can also manually adjust everything exposure related for complete control if you’re comfortable enough with your camera and the process of photography, which many of you already are, so go for it!
Watch Your Focus
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In addition to using outdoor portrait techniques such as selective focus, varying camera position, and adding lighting, it is vitally important to the finished portrait image to be focused correctly.
One of the most important outdoor portrait tips is the same as studio portraits, focus on those eyes. If the eyes aren’t sharply focused, the portrait image will suffer. Even if the subject’s eyes are closed, being focused on them will draw the viewer into a relationship with the subject, meaning the outdoor portrait will resonate with viewers.
If the eyes are out of focus but other elements are sharp, the portrait will seem to be either tense or unimportant, unfocused if you will, causing the image to be quickly passed over. So, keep those eyes in sharp focus.
Adjust Color Balance
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An outdoor portrait subject will take on whatever color balance the lighting imparts to it. Sky light without the Sun in it will look cool while direct sunlight might be warm depending on where it is in the sky.
If you’re shooting JPEGs, you should adjust the white balance according to the light quality and color tint. You could also let the camera automatically do it, but it’s easy to change yourself, so you should try it out on your next outdoor portrait session.
Another option is to shoot in RAW and adjust or correct in post processing. Many post processing programs have a one click adjustment for white balance. Alternatively, carry a Gray Card or a Color Checker with you and shoot first and last images with them in the image area, also whenever your lighting changes shoot an image with one of these.
Outdoor Portrait Fun
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Try out these outdoor portrait techniques and tips in your next portrait session and enjoy the fantastic results you’ll obtain. It doesn’t take much extra effort to move your camera position, repose the subject, add light, or change camera settings. Try them out for yourself!