Outdoor Portrait Photography
Outdoor Portrait Photography

Summer is the season of the photoshoot fiesta in the open air. Every photographer in the city goes for photo walks to make authentic and original portraits. And I bet that every single one pondered the question: how to improve my photography and create something memorable and exciting? 

Outdoor Portrait Photography

This article is more about posing and staging the scene, but many advice’s can be used in lifestyle and reportage photography too. Also, this article is aimed at those who begin their journey as professional photographer

Where to start

It’s best to start with planning the photoshoot.

Let’s take a look at what is better to discuss with your model in advance:

  • The concept.

What image suits your model best? For example, romantic or fabulous, mysterious or daring. The chosen character affects the shooting style directly, for example, if your model is a romantic girl, you probably want to find pastel tones as the background and use wide aperture to blur large details of the foreground.

  • The location.

The chosen place is very important, it dictates the mood and the pace of the photoshoot. If it is a vast outdoor area like a national park, you’d have to expect a lot of walking, meaning that the pace of the shoot will be slow and you’ll visit only known shooting spots. On the other hand, if it is a city centre, you may improvise more with your route and choose shooting spots as you go. Don’t forget to check if you’re allowed to film in this place. It is a good idea to check the place some days before the shoot, it will help you feel more confident when you go there with your model.

  • The story.

This aspect can be interpreted in many ways. But the idea is simple, write on paper everything you can on a character your model will play. What this character is like, what is her job, what she likes to do when she goes for a walk etc. This will help you guide your model through the shoot and you will have more the sense of the beginning, the culmination and the end. 

Things To Remember

Set the timing of the photoshoot, it will be easier to feel the pace of it when you know that everything goes as planned. 

Also, explain to your model when he or she will receive photos (even if the model is your close friend). It is difficult to predict the number of finished photos. It all depends on the circumstances: how lucky you are with the place and the weather or how easy it will be to work with the model. The common mistake beginners do, they give all the raw pictures from the shoot if the model asks. Don’t do that, culling pictures is one of the most complex skills a photographer must-have. This skill should be polished the same way as you improve your other skills like taking pictures.

When discussing future photoshoot, the most important thing is to become friends with the model, even if that is just for a day. Psychological aspect is the key to make exciting pictures, because your model will likely generate many inspiring ideas during the shoot if you understand and support each other.

What Time Of Day Is It Better To Take Pictures 

We are very limited in controlling the lighting outdoors, but with the help of flashes and reflector, we can avoid some nuisances.

It is best to take pictures during morning or evening hours when the sun is low above the horizon and gives a spectacular, voluminous look to your photographs.

 A sunny afternoon is not the best time to shoot. The model will squint, her face will have deep shadows, and the overall lighting will look boring and flat. If there is no way to hide from the sun, try to find some light-colored buildings or walls and use its reflective properties to highlight the model. 

Cloudy days are perfect for portrait photography. When the sky is covered with clouds, which serve as the biggest softbox there is and you can take pictures all day.

What Kind Of Photo Equipment Is Needed

Portrait photography requires a bare minimum of photographic equipment. It is enough to have SLR camera and a light-powered lens.

All SLR cameras have interchangeable lenses. It is important to find the right one for portraits. You can always start with the universal lens, but remember that these lenses are heavy in general. I use 24-120 lens because I tend to shoot dynamic scenes with my models, but when I need to capture close-up, I have 120mm focal length which gives a nice bokeh. Besides, this lens has VR so I always get sharp images. Nevertheless, I advise to start with lenses with fixed focal length. A classic choice for portraits is a 50mm lens (e.g. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Nikkor). It is relatively inexpensive and convenient to use both on crop and full-frame cameras. If you want to shoot your model in full growth and include a part of the landscape, it is better to choose a wide-angle lens 28mm (for crop cameras) or 35 mm (for the full-frame).

Note that when shooting at close range, wide-angle lenses will distort the proportions of the person’s face and body, you can fix this later in post-production.

Classic portrait lenses are lenses with a focal length of 85 mm (e.g. Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G Nikkor). But this one is more suitable for full-frame cameras.

Advice On The Technical Side Of Portrait Photoshoot

Use Wide Apertures

  • Take pictures using wide apertures, so it is possible to blur the background, separating your model from it. Also, you’ll get better quality pictures in low lighting situations. Don’t use the widest aperture on inexpensive lenses though, because you won’t get a sharp image. For example, if your 50mm lens is widest at f 1.4, then it is better to use aperture starting at 2.0. 

Quick Focus

  • Learn to focus accurately.  This is extremely important when using fast lenses. When your aperture is set from 1.4 to 2.8, it is very easy to miss or to get smeared image.

Shutter Speed

  • You need to monitor the shutter speed of your camera. The slower it is, the bigger chance to capture “smears” from model movements. It is best to take pictures with the shutter speed no shorter than 1/125. Remember this simple rule to get sharper images: multiply your focal length by 2, the result is the shutter speed you need (85mm lens = minimum 1/200 shutter speed).

Use Raw Format

  • Many beginners think that they can start taking pictures in JPEG to save time and to focus more on photography techniques. Don’t do that! It is very important to start learning to edit early.  Use the full power of RAW format to provide yourself with more creative freedom. It can be a simple correction of the white balance, removal of blemishes and other color correction. Start simple, try to achieve clean colors and only then you may learn about film filters and toning.

Use Your Model

  • Many photographers fanatically chase beautifully blurred backgrounds (bokeh) with unique lens pattern. You need to remember that your model is the main character, so pay less attention to technical aspects and leave more time to work with the model and the plot of the photoshoot. No bokeh or gorgeous background will ever work unless you put your soul in your work. 

Advice On The Creative Side Of Portrait Photoshoot

Common Idea

  • Try not to create one awesome picture but instead try to achieve a common idea and style in the series of pictures. Top photographers in the world got their first recognition through a series that was united by one idea. Hold this in your head during every photoshoot. 


  • Posing does not negate life and emotions in pictures. It only determines the plot in which our hero lives. Talk to the model all the time, try to cause the right emotions. Use strictly defined poses as a starting point of action and then try to capture the most significant moments of that action. 

Use Details

  • Any details will only enhance the feel of the series, so don’t be shy to take close-ups of model hands, eyes, smile, etc. 

Give Feedback

  • Praise your model! Point out what you like: action, look, or emotion. This will open up your model and make her more engaging. If she does something wrong, it is better not to criticize, but to explain what is your vision and how you see the picture.

Rule Of Thirds

  • Use the basic rule of thirds, do not “cut” the limbs of your model on the joints, leave more space at the side where the model is looking. 

Position The Shot

  • It is believed that it is most profitable to photograph a person at the level of his eyes. Let this be a starting point for you in choosing a point of view. It is important to take into account that people’s faces are different, so in each case, the point of shooting can be taken below or above. 

Communicate Ideas

  • Try to explain the essence of your idea. Tell your model what you want to see in the photo. If your words are not enough, show it yourself. I do this all the time, it may look a bit silly, but the model will do exactly what you want from her. Sometimes I even prepare sketches on paper or in Photoshop and show it on my phone. The ability to explain your idea is an important skill of the photographer. To improve this skill, you will have to create the layout of the idea beforehand. 


Outdoor portrait photographer should be able to inspire people he works with. I try to involve my clients in the process as much as I can. It can be helpful in choosing the shooting spot, also I can ask to generate some ideas, everything that pops into the model’s head. 

I have a wedding photo where newlyweds walk on the promenade, the bride was already super excited about the whole shooting process, so I just asked her if she was willing to take it up a notch and surprise me. So as they were walking, she suddenly decided to jump in the air to the groom’s surprise. Thankfully, I was ready and the result was perfect. This couple has this picture printed and they hung it on the wall.

My final advice is a common one, but it always works. Do not to be afraid to experiment, if you’re trying constantly (even if you’re failing) you’re going to achieve great results! All good photographers did not immediately find their style of photography. Think creatively, but don’t forget the theory! And you’re going to make it to the top.

Thanks for reading our post on Outdoor Portrait Photography! We hope this helps you become the best photograph you can be.