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Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

While portrait photography is traditionally done in an indoor studio, outdoor portrait photography can be even more rewarding for both the photographer and the subject. The landscape around your subject can visually impact and appeal in a photograph. It can also mean more to your subject than a studio backdrop. In this article, I will explore different aspects of outdoor portrait photography and share my tips for better outdoor portrait photography.

Sunset and Sunrise

Sunset and sunrise are the most popular times of day for an outdoor portrait session, and for good reason. When the sun is low on the horizon, there will be warmer, softer, and more even light. This type of light makes your photographer’s job easier. The golden hour light doesn’t last long, so coordinating all aspects of the shot can be a bit difficult. Make sure you have plenty of time to get in position and plan your shoots in advance so you know exactly what to do in a limited amount of time. Set realistic sunrise goals. Make sure you have a flashlight, safe transportation, and location prepared in advance. People often have a hard time waking up early, so make sure your audience knows what they’re doing! Otherwise, you might be prepared for some sleepy or grumpy expressions, especially if they’re not professional models.

Sunset is an easier way to take advantage of this type of light, but both work well. I usually don’t choose one or the other based on differences in lighting (although there may be differences) but simply based on what works best for my subject.

Backlit Conditions

One of the best ways to capture artistic backgrounds and remove harsh light is to shoot against the light. The backlight also has the advantage of preventing direct sunlight from hitting the person’s face. While you can certainly take good photos with sunlight hitting your subject’s face directly, that’s often a recipe for harsh shadows and distinctive highlights. Backlit portraits are not difficult to shoot. First, line your subject between you and the sun. I recommend keeping the sun out of the frame, otherwise, it might draw too much attention to the image. Depending on how many flares you want in your photo, attach your visor or leave it on purposely. Next, most importantly, expose the subject’s face! This may mean adding positive exposure compensation. Once done, you’re ready to shoot backlit portraits.

Making the Most of Shade

Another way to avoid direct sunlight is to shade your subject. That might just mean taking pictures on a cloudy day, but usually finding a shady spot on a sunny day. Find trees, fences, porches, or the walls of a building. Even if your subject is in the shade, pay attention to its opposite direction. If they stand in the shade but look towards the sun, the light on their face can look very interesting and sculptural. Either way, consider your subject’s position and notice how the light changes as you move (even if you’re always in the shade).


Reflectors are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy-to-use modifiers for altering the natural light in a scene. It is simply a large shiny surface – usually silver, gold, or white – that can be used to reflect light back to your subject. Often they are used for fill (increase shadows) in outdoor portrait photography, but sometimes they can also be the main (main) light source. I recommend placing your subject in the shade, near direct sunlight, and bouncing the light directly away from them.

This way, the scene is evenly lit, except for the light introduced by the reflector, which you can adjust to your liking. It is sometimes possible to use a reflector to balance out direct sunlight hitting your subject, but this is much more complicated. Instead, I recommend moving your subject into the shade, most of the time. It is possible to overdo it and end up with too harsh reflected light contrast! If this happens, you may need to switch to a more diffused white reflector, rather than a shiny silver or gold reflector.

Another important concern is that the reflector needs something, or someone, to hold it. I used my tripod in a pinch, but it can get annoying as the reflectors are also great at catching the wind. It will be easier if you have friends or assistants with you. When used properly, the additional light from the reflector will accentuate your outdoor portraits and make your subject stand out completely! I’ve used the reflector for most of the photos in this article, and I wouldn’t lack it for my outdoor portraits.

Bokeh Balls

The “bokeh shadow” comes from heavily defocused light sources in your small and isolated photo. They are said to be a bit too popular, but are very popular with customers and have a very high aesthetic when shooting portraits. Matte foliage is a good choice for capturing bokeh shadows outdoors; the same goes for string lights if you’re in an urban environment.

Using Props

Props can tell a story, complete your shot, and make your subject feel comfortable. It can work with many things like bouquets, books, tools, candles, cars, rings, hats, picnic blankets, balloons, railings, public art, yard games, and animals. Props can tell a story, complete your scene, and define your subject. Comfortable. It can work with many things like bouquets, books, tools, candles, cars, rings, hats, picnic blankets, balloons, railings, public art, playgrounds, and animals.

Being Aware of the Mood

Everything from the color in your photo, the expression of your subject, and the literal content of the scene affects the mood of the photo. Forests in winter, for example, can evoke feelings of cold dampness or absolute gloom. Portrait sessions for an interaction might not work well in a spooky woodland setting. However, the scene may be full of fog and swaths of mist, but your couple is illuminated by the warm glow of lanterns, revealing interpersonal warmth and security. Don’t just pick a place because it’s cool or interesting, but think about what it conveys. Also, think about how your subject might feel in an environment. Some people accept bad weather just to get some good photos. Others will probably stare at the camera as if they’re ready to kill you if you don’t finish quickly!

The Mood of Structures

Man-made structures such as churches, bridges, barns, and other structures tend to have a certain atmosphere. And yes, I am referring to their exterior, to stick to the concept of this article! Buildings have symmetry, shapes, and patterns that can be useful for framing your subject or drawing the viewer’s eye where you want it in your photo. Building exteriors can also be used because of their light quality. For example, buildings with lighter colors can act as reflectors, filling your subject with light. Windows, vivid paint colors, and deep shadows also cast light on your subject. It’s a good reminder of how important light is when it comes to outdoor portrait photography (or really any photography). I will present that next.

Finding Open Locations

Open locations – such as fields, grasslands, rooftops, or parking lots – are typical outdoor portrait settings. These areas allow for good subject isolation or negative space in an image because there are few background elements. In addition, they provide ease of movement for the photographer and the subject. These settings tend to create a feeling of minimalism, cleanliness, or lightness. Finding these places isn’t difficult, but I recommend looking for open spaces near other types of environments – like fields near forests or rooftop parking near a street with neon signs. The minimalist look of an open venue is a great classic look, but you might want to add some variety to the photos you offer to your clients.

Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo

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