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When you choose (or your client requests) to take your digital photography skills outdoors to shoot portraits, you need to control exposure, white balance and focus at a level that most digital cameras’ automatic modes can’t reach. Human input or judgment is required to determine the precise settings, so you can capture beautiful portraits under a variety of lighting conditions that are constantly changing throughout the day or because of the weather. Part 1 and Part 2of this PhotographyTalk.com article describes the first eight steps you can implement immediately to improve your outdoor portraits. The last five are listed below.
Take Control of Direct Sunlight.
Occasionally, you may have no choice but to shoot a portrait in direct sunlight. Use it to your advantage with a reflector, so you have light coming from two directions, as you would with multiple studio lights. Even though the general rule is to put the sun behind you, ask your subject to turn his or her body or head to one side or the other, so the sun is not hitting him or her directly in the eyes or face. If the weather is partly sunny, with a few drifting clouds, then wait for a large one to create the diffused light of an completely overcast day. Your images will be both bright and have plenty of contrast.
Look for Nearby Reflective Surface.
Scout outdoor portrait locations with white walls, large windows with white drapes or other reflective surface that you can use to light your portrait from two angles. You can also buy photographic reflectors or make them yourself.
Use the Sunny Day f/16 Formula.
If you don’t trust the exposure combination from your camera or you don’t have an incident light meter or gray card, then this formula will help you determine a good exposure under the light of a sunny day. For example, you set your aperture to f/16 with an ISO of 100. Your shutter speed will be the inverse of the 100 ISO setting, or 1/100th. Use f/8 in the formula for shady or overcast conditions. Of course, the best method is your incident light meter or gray card, but this formula will put your images within the acceptable range, which can easily be adjusted once you review the first few photos.
Create an Outdoors Portrait “Diffuser.”
Add a queen-size top sheet (and a coil of rope) to your portrait photography equipment and use it to erect an excellent diffuser. It’s a cheap alternative for an outdoors soft box. Drape one end of the sheet over a tree branch or a horizontal section of rope tied to two different trees or weighted light stands. Attach a clamp to accept a side light. Then, secure the bottom corners of the sheet to the ground, so any wind or breeze won’t move them into the frame.
Check the Entire Image for Distractions.
As a portrait photographer, it’s easy to become too concentrated on your subject and not the complete image. Before you trip the shutter release for that excellent portrait you’ve spent considerable time composing, take a few more seconds to check the other areas of the image for any distractions. These could be horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines that are not flattering to your subject or a single leaf hanging at an odd angle from the tree framing the subject.
There are many other PhotographyTalk.com articles about digital portrait photography. Some are: