Taking excellent portraits outdoors requires more than the best digital photography technology. In many cases, you must intercede, and overrule the camera’s system, to select more precise exposure, white balance and focus settings. These are the essential specifications that you must control to capture the essence of your subject’s personality and leave them happy that they chose (or hired) you to take their portrait. This three-part PhotographyTalk.com article includes 13 steps that will help you better control whatever outdoor environment in which you are shooting portraits. Part 1explains the first five, while Part 2 presents steps 6, 7 and 8 below.
Use a Gray Card to Set White Balance.
Not only will a gray card give you a second (and maybe more accurate) white balance reading to compare to your camera’s, but also it could save hours of post-production time. For example, your assignment is to shoot portraits in multiple locations, which results in hundreds of images. With your camera set to auto white balance for all these images, you would have an equal number of different white balance values. It would require hours to select a custom white balance in editing software for each image.
Instead, you can use the editor’s eyedropper or equivalent tool to read the gray card your subjects hold in your photos, and then apply that value to all the photos shot at that location. (Another trick to save you time and capture accurate white balance readings is to ask your subject(s) to hold the card approximately every 30 minutes, since the outdoor ambient light will change throughout the day.)
Find the Best Images in the Shade.
Direct sunlight is no friend of portrait photographers shooting outdoors. It is much too bright and stark and any subject casts dark, dense shadows. Plus, selecting the proper white balance is more difficult. A much better option is to move your subject and camera into the shade. What shadows that do occur are less dense, softer and look more natural. You are also more likely to select the correct exposure and white balance to create portraits that will make your subjects smile.
Schedule Outdoors Portrait Shoots on Cloudy Days.
Even better than the shade on a sunny day is the cloud cover of an overcast day. Not only is the light soft and consistent (within specific periods of the day), but also the clouds diffuse the light, creating lush, deep colors and very acceptable shadows. The light of a cloudy day can also be tricky, so it’s extremely important to pay attention to white balance, and customize it as much as possible. No two cloudy days will render colors exactly the same. Light is also different during the various segments of the day: early morning, mid-morning, high noon, afternoon and dusk. The other factor that many photographers don’t know or remember is that sunlight on a cloudy day must pass through (or around) various particles captured in the clouds.
For example, clouds are already filled with water droplets, which act like a prism, refracting and changing light. Many of these droplets attract particles of pollutants and other substances, which can also affect sunlight in ways that are too subtle for your eyes to notice, but not your camera. This is why a gray card is an important part of any portrait photographer’s gear. A compass is another piece of equipment that will help you on a cloudy day. Often, the clouds are so thick that it is difficult to determine the exact direction of the sunlight, but a simple, little compass will. Once you know from where the sun is coming, you can take control of the environment. Position you and your camera, so the sun is behind you; or use this knowledge to help you find the right balance of light from your flash and the diffused, ambient light.
Read Part 3 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for steps 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.