Top Tips for Photographing Good Outdoor Portraits Part 1 – Maximizing Use Natural Lighting

If you don’t have access to a studio, you can always photograph models outside! You will need a camera, standard zoom lens, flashgun and reflector to make the most of the natural light (as well as to add some artificial light), and of course, a willing model.

A fast prime lens (such as a 100mm f.1.4), a telephoto lens and a flash diffuser may also come into useful.

Maximize Your use of Natural Light

Bright sunlight may seem like the perfect light to photograph in – but it can produce harsh and unflattering light, and deep shadows under your subject’s nose, eyes and chin. There are two hours during the day in which sunlight is at it’s best for portrait photography, these are the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, in which the sun is low, and the light is soft and golden and flattering.

If photographing at the ‘golden hour’ is not an option, there are some steps you can take to minimize the effect of the sun.

1 . Shade

Positioning your model in some shade is a simple way to overcome this problem. If the background is bright, you need to change your white balance to ‘shade’, as the camera will by default expose for the bright area and choose daylight white balance, which could cause your model’s skin to acquire a bluish hue.

2. Wait for Clouds

Waiting for some cloud cover if no shade is available is also an option, as the clouds will diffuse the ambient light. Working in changing light means you need to act quickly however, and regularly change your exposure. Ensure you expose for the model, as the camera may be fooled by a bright or dark background.

3. Use a Reflector

A reflector is one of the simplest ways to add light to the shot. White produces the most subtle effect, silver reflects more direct light onto the subject, and gold gives a strong, but warm light that is perfect for portraiture.

To use, position the reflector on the opposite side of your light source, and light will be bounced back onto the darker areas of your subject.

4. Shoot Into the Light

For a completely different look, ask your model to stand against the light, so you can shoot into the light. This can confuse the camera’s meter, so adding +1 or +2 stops of exposure compensation will avoid underexposure of the model’s face.

Next part of the series coming next week – Controlling depth of Field!