Outdoor portraits can be among the most challenging shots you'll have to take. Changing light conditions, wind, weather, traffic, bystanders and a host of distractions can push your skills - and your patience - to the limit. Having a few items on hand and practicing a few specific techniques can help get the process under control, for happier subjects, a happier you, and better results. Here are a few simple, but valuable tips for improving your photos of people outdoors.
Shoot in Aperture Priority mode.
Let's start off with one that will probably draw some comments from a lot of experienced photographers. First of all, I'm a firm believer in knowing how to shoot in manual mode. I'm also a big fan of utilizing the awesome technology built into your DSLR to help you get the shots you need before they're gone. If you're shooting for profit, that's doubly important.
It's simple: depth of field is one of the most effective elements in shooting a portrait and you control that with your aperture setting. By setting your camera to let you adjust it with a quick roll of the dial and letting the metering system maintain the exposure, you increase your chances of getting the shot without giving up creative control.
Raise the ISO a little.
This ties in somewhat with the tip above, since your ISO setting will determine the shutter speed your metering system sets when you make adjustments to the aperture setting. Motion blur isn't really what you're looking for in most portrait shots, so higher shutter speeds are important, particularly outdoors, where you don't have control of the environment.
In most cases you're not going to need to make a huge adjustment to keep your shutter speeds up where you need them. Remember that each increase in ISO doubles the sensitivity, so the jump from, say ISO100 to ISO400 will make a considerable difference. Technology has come a long way since the days when 400-speed film was going to give you some unwanted grain in your images, and a little bit of extra noise is much easier to remove in post processing. Don't shy away from increasing the ISO a bit.
Use fixed focus points.
Auto focus systems have come a long way, too and for the most part, you can rely on the AF setting with a modern DSLR and AF lens to help you speed up the process of taking a shot. The disadvantage to this fact is that your camera doesn't instinctively know what it should be focusing on in the frame and that can really blow a portrait shot if it focuses on something other than the eyes or face of your subject.
For portraits, it's much more effective to have only the central focus spot active and use it to prefocus before framing your shots. How you prefocus, i.e. whether you use the half-press or back-button method is up to you, but letting your camera select the focus point(s) is eventually going to fail you.
(Success Tip #2:The secret to selling more photography with less effort)
Have what you need on hand for supplemental lighting.
When you're shooting outdoors, shadows can become a problem in a hurry. Carry a reflector and an external flash, along with an assistant or a convenient way to support them. Don't be afraid to use the fill flash, even in bright sun. Reflectors can be much easier to use, since you can see how the fill light is working. A double-sided one can give you even more versatility by letting you change the color temperature of the fill light.
This is far from a complete list of what you need to know about outdoor portraiture, but these 4 tips should be enough to help you start consistently getting better results from your outdoor portraits. Whether they're quick grab shots of people you meet, event shots, or portraits you've been hired to take, I believe you'll find you're taking more winners by heeding the above advice.