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Photography Basics: All about Outdoor Portrait Photography

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Portraiture or outdoor portrait photography is a type of art in which the essence of the character is created with the help of effective lighting, beautiful backdrops, and novel poses. It is a story of a connection that a photographer narrates to his viewers with utmost precision and uniqueness. There are various disparities between portrait pictures like candid, abstract, surreal, traditional portraits, etc. But what helps you to create the perfect portraits of any kind?

There’s an endless list to perfection, but some handy outdoor photography tips are always useful.

Three Prime Aspects of Outdoor Portrait Photography


To tell a story, the basic thing you require is a character; it’s the same with a photograph. The model of the picture must complement your theme, background, lighting, and basically be compatible with any variations your throw in. The portrait can feature an individual subject or you can make a group of models pose for you.

portrait subjects
Choosing the ideal subject is important. Source

Couplets are also highly trending recently. But the search for an ideal subject does not end here. What if you find a good-looking and charming model to pose for you but the artist itself lacks the skill for posing?

Well, it is safe to say that all your other efforts will go down the drain. What will you do if you have the perfect props, location, lighting, weather, costumes, and everything else you need for a picture-perfect shot but you lack a talented and skilled sitter? Hence, it is extremely important that your model should be able to match the surroundings and the efforts of everyone involved by posing right.

For shooting portraits, make your subject as comfortable and possible. Most people get nervous and twitchy and end up looking out of place. As a photographer, it will be your job to make sure that the subject fits in and feels at ease so that you can capture their souls through their eyes and body language.

Settings, Surroundings, and Shadows

The next big step to picture-perfect portraits is your set. Without a catchy backdrop, seamless accessories, and attractive dressings, your picture will be dull. So, make sure you give the framework a good deal of thought! However, this is not the only thing that will result in a beautiful picture. The location is an important contributing factor to outdoor portrait photography.

Every location has something unique and attractive about it. Be it a barn or an open field, if you wish to capture the perfect shot, your keen eyes and photographic reflexes will find you the ideal spot. To get the perfect shot, you can have your subject interact with the environmental settings.

portrait with backdrop
Catchy backdrops make for and excellent portrait

It not only presents a beautiful chemistry between the subject and the settings but also makes the shoot more fun and enjoyable for the cast and crew involved. The backdrop and location play a pivotal role in shaping the perfect picture that sits in the right frame.

Also, it is an important outdoor portrait photography tip that the pictures you click must have a connection between them. If you capture the relationship and connectivity between the subject and the background, your portrait is already enhanced a hundred times. It can be a bit of trouble to find the perfectly contrasting and subtly indistinct locations that complement your subject, but if you manage to achieve just the right calibration, you are good to go.

Lights, Camera, Action

The effects and shades of light that you use should balance the environment of your picture and make a faultless match for your model. The three basic pillars of photography are aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. If you manage to balance all these pillars, then it will not be wrong to say that you are halfway there. Remember, each of the afore mentioned parameters need to be just right. Not a tad more or less.

The camera settings should be right. That goes without saying, but while we are too consumed with the camera and model and lights and poses, it is easy to miss out on finer details like the white balance, the reflectors, and the changes in camera angles. Remember, too much of brightness or extreme darkness will take away the essence of the portrait. So, match it just right!

dark portrait
Right amount of brightness and darkness

Portrait Photography: How to Make Your Pictures Stand Out

However, this does not conclude your quest for a flawless portrait. To get the best shots worthy of a professional, you will have to dig a little deeper, or maybe the right phrase will be, zoom in a little. The following are some deep insights on how to make your pictures stand out and attract the eyes of the keenest admirers or critics.

Keep it Simple

The simpler your frame of picture is, the better the portrait will turn out to be. Too much of complicated and contrasting ideas may result in an unwanted mess. Sometimes, simplicity is the best way to attract attention rather than complexity.

Capture the Soul

To bring a picture to life, you must capture the eyes of the models in your photographs. True emotions are delivered through eyes; if that is captured right, then you are good to go! If emotions are not delivered properly, your picture may lose its worth and make it just that, a picture! Most photographers fail to grasp this concept which renders their pictures plain and dry, void of all feelings! So, make sure you capture it with perfection.

portrait photography
Capture the soul through eyes

The Perfect Lens

In outdoor portrait photography, many things are left to technicalities. Finding the right lens is a pressure point of photography, so select a lens according to your framework, models, exposure to sunlight, environment, etc. and voila! You will get your perfect portrait. But, as in most arts, do not overdo it. That will taint your picture in a bad light. There are few specific lenses that will allow you to get the ideal shot.

You can read about them in the article, Let’s take a dive, deeper into Portrait Photography’ .

Focus Point

Apart from these lens selections, you also need to understand that it is important for you to select a focus point. Most often, when you allow the camera to auto choose the focus point, it selects the one closest to the frame leaving the other essentials out of the picture. To get the best portrait, make sure you, the photographer, choose the best suited focal point.

Depth of Field

For outdoor portrait photography, the Depth of Field (DoF) plays a key feature. The DoF is basically the space in front of and behind the subject. The little sharpness of the picture refers to a shallow Depth of Field, while extra sharpness gives a large Depth of Field. It is best to choose a shallow Depth of Field as it allows you to focus on the subject rather than the background. The slight blur in the background gives a beautiful bokeh effect to your portrait.

DoF in portrait
Bokeh effect portrait Source

The science of Aperture

Aperture is one of the most important pillars of photography. It is the hole in a lens through which light can flow into the camera body resulting in breath-taking pictures. The importance of aperture in photography is such that it can either blur the background and give a magical effect to your portrait or bring everything into sharp focus giving you a high definition image.

The size of the aperture also matters when you shoot portraits. The aperture sizes are measured in f-numbers known as f-stops. A large f-stop means a smaller aperture and vice versa. The right aperture can be determined by the weather conditions and sunlight exposure.

Props, Effects, and Outfits

Only characters will not determine your portrait. The props, lighting and effects, outfits, makeup, and other accessories are equally important for a glamorous portrait. However, do not forget the first point of keeping it simple! Too many effects and props can crowd the frame and lower the caliber of your model and fail to tap the right sentiments.

portrait photography using props
Props, makeup and effect! Source

One key thing to remember while you click outdoor portrait photographs is to carry a gray card or a piece of gray card. Using a gray card will save you from a post-production nightmare. Imagine you have shot at multiple locations with hundreds of pictures at each location all the while keeping the white balance on automatic.

You will have hundreds of outdoor portraits with the same white balance. This will not only make your picture look dull but also disproportionate. If in the first shot of a new location, you make your subject hold the gray card and click the portrait, during post-production, you can simply change the white balance on the first picture and apply it to all. This saves your time and makes sure that the white balance is on par with the time of the day.

Camera Settings for Portraits

To click a professional portrait picture, you may have to tweak a few of your camera settings. Increasing the ISO, balancing the sunlight, zoom in and zoom out functions based on what kind of photo you want to click, glare reduction, etc. are some key points you will have to remember while photographing your model. For outdoor portrait photography, make sure you do not click your pictures under direct sunlight but rather opt for the shady places.

sunlight portrait
Using sunlight the right way! Source

Avoiding direct sunlight may be beneficial to you on more than one account. Direct sunlight can create unpredictable white balance conditions, unwanted shadows and make your subject squint due to glare. All these conditions can be avoided if you click the picture in a covered place. Cool working conditions too, are always a pleasant change!

The Ordeal for A Perfect Picture

To get some of the best pictures, you will have to move around searching for a tangible angle. Shift about, stoop down to the level of your subject, or even climb a rock to get the birds-eye-view shot.

The blessing of an overcast

If you get a chance to shoot outdoor portraits on a cloudy day, do not let go of the opportunity. A heavy blanket of cloud could do more than just keep you cool. An overcast day can help you to click a vibrant picture and give you enriched color quality for your outdoor portrait photography. It also casts pleasant and smooth shadows to give your portrait a complete look.

outdoor portrait photography
Outdoor portrait on a cloudy day Source


The sharpness of an image is often tested by the contrasts of colors in the image. The more vibrant colors a photograph has, the more vivid and attractive it appears to be. White balance is also essential for picture-perfect shots. Do not make your pictures too bright or too dull; manage the white balance and color contrasts and you are on your way to becoming a pro.


As in any art form, photography also needs to have a clear pool of inspiration. Be clear about the message you are trying to convey through your portrait or the story you are trying to narrate, and you are already on the road to becoming a veteran.

RAW Format

RAW is like a negative for digital photography. Images shot in RAW format are unprocessed and cannot be printed without edit. But it records the brightness levels and allows 12-14bit shots as opposed to the portraits shot in JPG format. The JPG images are a shell of the shot you captured because the processors strip away most of the data.

Developing the images post-shoot will also be a bit of a hassle in JPG format as more data will be lost in the processing software. But if you are looking for a bright and vivid picture, then RAW is the best option for you.

Once you know how to take portraits, your desire to click will only increase. So, keep these outdoor portrait photography tips in mind, adjust your camera, get your models, pick your camera settings for portraits, and start shooting. And most importantly, enjoy your portraiture endeavors.