Spring is here and we all want to get outside. Winter’s doldrums have taken their toll. Our skin is pasty white. Comfort foods have reintroduced the spare tire of belly fat to our bodies. The good news is that people actually are outside, the greens are vibrant, flowers are blossoming, trees are budding, and it all makes great settings for outdoor portraits. All you need is a camera, a subject, and some decent weather!
Shooting in Natural Light
One of the true perks of shooting portraits outdoors is you don’t have mess with studio lighting, flashes or any of that mess. You’re au naturale. There are just a few things to keep in mind:
The sun is your friend
When shooting in sunlight, keep the sun to the side of the subject. Shooting with the sun directly behind you just results in a squinting model and flat lighting. Shooting with the sun behind the model leaves you either with a correctly exposed background and a face in shadow, or a well lit face and a blown out background. Keep that sun to your side and you’ll get an evenly exposed shot with nice contours on your model. This happy couple on the right wanted an impromptu portrait taken while the cherry blossoms were poking out in Washington D.C.. The sun was a little too harsh and a little too high for my liking, but they were happy.
But so is the shade
Shooting in shade is kind of like shooting in a giant softbox. Your light is soft, you don’t have to worry about highlights that are too hot or shadows that are too dark. You can just focus on your model. What a relief!
Tip: Use a springlike element, such as a flower, to not only bring some cheer to the photo, but distract the subject from forced posing. The boy in this shot wanted nothing to do with flowers, but he really liked that stick. But hey, at least he was smiling!
Using a Flash
Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you can’t use a flash. Sometimes when the sun is high or the lighting too harsh, a flash can be your best friend. Use the sun to your advantage. I like to put the sun almost directly behind the subject, or a little off to the side, and use the sun as a hair catch light. Then, just use a fill flash to brighten the model’s face and you’ve got a dynamic portrait.
That about wraps it up for outdoor portraiture 101. Head outside, enjoy the warming weather, and don’t forget your camera!