Taking outdoor portraits

How to take great portraits outside (on location)

How do I take photographs of people outside?

Being able to take a lovely portrait image outside is always rewarding but for many people they can never quite get it right.  More often than not your subject ends up either squinting, becoming a bit too dark or one side of their face becomes overly bright whilst the other is clothed in darkness.


It is a strange fact that the majority of people I ask know one rule of photography and yet that rule is wrong – try it yourself, heres the question. “When taking a photograph of a person outside where do I as the photographer want to stand relative to the subject and the sun?”


90% of the delegates who come onto our courses say that the sun should be behind the photographer otherwise the subject becomes too dark.  In-fact the answer depends upon the style of image you are trying to take however when starting I would suggest that you start by applying the ‘first tree in the wood principle’ which means that I get the subject to stand underneath some overhead cover – not deep in shade but just far enough under that they are in an even light but still have enough light falling on them from the sky to ensure that I avoid camera shake and don’t need to raise my ISO to compensate as ISO reduces quality by producing digital noise.


How to take portraits


When you apply this technique we call the ‘first tree in the wood’ principle then the results tend to be pretty dramatic.  You can achieve this effect in your own home by using a doorway (as long as the door doesn’t face South in which case the subject will be squinting again.  Just ask your subject to slowly walk backwards into the doorway as you keep your eye on their face looking carefully for the moment that they get even  light shade all over their face.


I tend to shoot in aperture priority using the biggest aperture I can (lowest F number) to give me a shallow depth of field and ensure I am shooting a fast enough shutter speed. You can see in the images below some examples of shooting out in bright light and then the final two images shot in the light shade of ‘the first tree in the wood’ principle – give it a go and let me know how you get on.


tomtom-2 tomtom-3 tomtom-4 tomtom-5


In all of the above the harsh light is causing problems to both the photographer and the subject and therefore not ideal at all – digital cameras really don’t like contrasty shots (both extreme bright and dark in the same image).  the shots below were taken in light shade underneath a canopy.


Busy Bees-2-2 first tree in the wood


At Unshaken Photography Training we run a range of portrait courses for both amateurs, hobbyists and professional photographers.  If you would like to know more about our courses or you wish to attend then please visit our portrait photography courses page or call Nick on 01245 494258.  Our portrait photography courses are run in Chelmsford, Essex, Cambridge, St Albans, Hertfordshire  and Maidstone, Kent.

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