Keys to Great Outdoor Portraits

To take outdoor photos, you need to take several factors into consideration, such as frequent movements, variations in lighting and diverse background colors. While you can more easily create a setting with indoor photos, you need to be more aware of the surroundings when taking pictures outside. The keys to great outdoor portraits are carefully planning your location and timing and, more important, knowing your camera settings.


It would be nice if every location had a majestic oak tree or shimmering pond as a backdrop, but this is rarely the case. Before gathering your subjects for your outdoor portraits, scout out your location. Take into consideration everything that may show up in your portraits, including buildings, fences and vehicle traffic. It is always best to choose an outdoor portrait location that is free of power lines and road signs and one that has minimal distractions -- including people and traffic.


The timing of your outdoor portraits coincides with good lighting. Contrary to what many believe, direct sunlight makes outdoor photos appear harsh, and the subjects of the portrait tend to squint their eyes. Making use of shady areas, such as under large trees, can make outdoor portraits appear more professional. The bright sun should be to the back of the portrait subjects (but not shining into the camera), which prevents shadows and lends to the subject's natural features.

Camera settings

Most cameras have a variety of features and settings. Some cameras will automatically use certain features that aren't necessarily good for outdoor portraits. It is important to understand your camera's features, the best use for each feature, and how to change them depending on the location and available lighting. The more important ones to understand when taking outdoor portraits are the auto focus and RAW/JPG settings.

A camera's auto focus does just as the name implies: It automatically focuses on one location, which is generally whatever is nearest to the lens. For good portraits, especially close-ups, a photographer should focus on the subject's eyes -- not the entire face. By taking control of your camera's focus feature, you can hone in on what you want rather than what the camera thinks is the main focal point.

If you are like most computer users, you have heard of or used a photo in JPG format; however, many people have never heard of or even used RAW mode. Digital Photography School contributor James Pickett describes RAW as "an unmodified compilation of your sensor's data during the time of exposure." Using the JPG mode limits how much you can adjust photos before you have the final photo. Pickett explains that by using the RAW mode, "you can make a vast range of edits before creating the JPG."

Taking photos outside is a process of trial and error. Although these important keys will help when taking great outdoor portraits, it's important to understand many more aspects before you master the process. With time and experience behind the lens, you will gain an abundance of knowledge that will ultimately lead to stunning outdoor portraits.

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