Better Outdoor Portraits

Get down to their level

If you shoot all your subjects from your level, they might appear disproportionate depending on their height. Instead of shooting a child from your level, get down on your knees and shoot them from that viewpoint. This way they won’t look shorter than they are and they don’t have to look up at the camera, forcing the head into an unnatural position. The same goes for photographing pets. Try it and see what a difference it makes to your photos.

Watch the head space in portrait photos

When shooting close ups in portrait (holding your camera on it’s side), fill two thirds of the frame with your subject, leaving just enough space above their head. This will improve your composition, filling the frame with your subject instead of empty space.

Shoot in portrait, not landscape

This is worth exploring if you’re photographing people on their own. When shooting in landscape there really isn’t any way of getting close enough without still leaving empty space next to the subject. Turn the camera on it’s side and you automatically draw the viewer’s eye to the subject, not to a distracting background. This is relevant with most subjects that fit into an upright rectangle.

Avoid distracting backgrounds

When composing a picture, always keep in mind that the background is just as important as the person you’re shooting. Take a minute to look through the viewfinder, searching for distractions. Watch out for lampposts or trees behind your subject that look like it’s growing from their head. Sometimes just moving your subject a little makes a huge difference. When using flash, don’t position your subject in front of a reflective object like a window or mirror, it results in nasty glare that can be avoided with a little planning.

Avoid direct sunlight

The light is softer early morning and late afternoon, much more pleasing than harsh direct sunlight. Unless it’s overcast, midday is the worst time of the day to photograph people outdoors. People will either squint, or their eyes will be cast in shadow, neither being attractive options. If this is your only choice, have them turn around with their back to the sun. This creates beautiful highlights in the hair. Don’t forget to use a lens hood to avoid flare, and never shoot directly into the sun. If you don’t have a lens hood, cup your hand above the lens, it works just as effectively.

Use fill flash

When the sun is behind your subject, your camera might be fooled into thinking there is enough light hitting the subject and the flash won’t automatically pop up. Override this function manually and use flash to “fill in” dark shadows and balance the exposure. Using flash outdoors will improve photos taken in bright sunlight, and as an extra advantage, ads a sparkle to your subject’s eye.

Focus on your subject

If the background is in focus and you’re subject’s not, you’ve lost the photo. Most cameras have a focus point that’s visible in the viewfinder when you press the shutter halfway down. This will indicate what your camera is focusing on. Play around with this, focusing on different subjects at different distances from your lens. Get familiar with this feature, it could save you from blurry pics.

Get in close

Before pressing the shutter, visually crop your photo, excluding anything that might snatch the viewer’s attention away from the subject. The easiest way to do this is to physically move closer to your subject. In some cases it’s even acceptable to crop out some of the person’s head or hair, drawing the viewer to the subject’s eyes instead of a distracting background.