Outdoor Portraiture

Been seeing this topic come up on a few photography boards this week as the weather gets warm and sunny.  People start to get outdoors with family and friends.  The photographers bring their cameras ready to capture special moments and portraits of loved ones.

Sadly, many are not happy with their results.  Most think they should put people right out in the bright sun.  This is a no-no.  Bright sun causes people to squint and deep shadows appear under their eyes.  This is termed raccoon eyes and is none too faltering.

As all wedding photographers know, you move people into the shade.  I can bet you have never seen a wedding party photographed in bright sunshine in the middle of the day.  At least not from a good photographer.  The shade gives a more pleasing light and people open their eyes.  Getting everyone to not blink is a whole other story. 🙂

The background is very important for portraits.  Open up the aperture to soften the background focus (see Bokeh).  Make sure the background is pleasing with not a lot of bright and dark areas.

The last secret to a good outdoor portrait is using fill flash to further open up the shadows, bring out the color of a person’s skin and clothing and create those lovely catchlights in the eyes you see in fashion magazines.

Of course, you know me.  I tend to use different subjects for my examples.  Last year, I was fortunate to come across the lovely and narcissistic DiVine in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.  Using the Nikon 18-200VR zoom lens and Nikon SB-600 Speedlight flash, I got just the kind of outdoor portrait I aim for.

DiVine in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World.  Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/60 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 200mm focal length.

DiVine in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World. Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/60 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200, EV +0.3, 200mm focal length.

Flash notes: The SB-600 was set to Balanced Fill Flash mode with the power setting at -1.

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21 Responses to Outdoor Portraiture

  1. Carsten says:

    Well done Scott.

    There is a danish phrase about being ‘green of envy’. Perhaps she is ‘green of Ivy’?
    And thanks for the portrait lecture. I can always learn from other peoples experience and good advice.


  2. Deanna says:

    Thanks for the tips as I will be doing some outdoor family photos this weekend. I’m not good with the flash, but maybe I’ll give it a try.


  3. Gerry says:

    Outdoor portraits of those of us who have spent the winter here tend to feature bright sunlight, heads flung back, eyes closed, big grins . . .


  4. milkayphoto says:

    Hi Scott – Good information here. Although, to me, DiVine looks a bit over flashed. I would have dialed it down a tad more and also, what WB setting did you use? Flash can look cold and that is also what I am getting here. I like WB=flash in these instances. You could have even used WB=shade since, from experience, DiVine hangs out in the shady areas of the park. Have you heard of the Gary Fong Lightsphere? I use that on my SB800 and it has done WONDERS for my shots needing flash. Diffuses and softens the flash so nicely.


    • I wasn’t expecting to shot in the shade and turned down my flash. She moved backstage soon after I took this one. I have a similar thing as the Gary Fong but, of course, that was back home. 🙂

      Never played with the WB for flash. I usually let the AWB do it’s job. Something to experiment with.


  5. flandrumhill says:

    Thanks for the tips Scott. You even managed to get the glitter on DiVine’s neck. Nice.


  6. kanniduba says:

    You know me and my hate hate relationship with flash.
    However, I just borrowed an off-camera flash with diffuser for the week, so I’ll be playing a bit and seeing if I can learn anything. Interestingly, my friend said, “Be sure to go outside and play with it! I think you’ll be surprised!” So, we’ll see if my opinion can be swayed. 🙂


    • Flash is not hard and is a great tool. Off camera flash? Which one? My little Nikon SB-600 can be used as an off-camera flash, too.


      • kanniduba says:

        Wait…sorry…I mis-spoke. (See what a dolt I am about flash?!) lol
        It CAN be used off camera, but I have it attached TO the camera. It’s a Sunpack something-or-other. Figure if I like it I’ll save up for the SB-600…so far, not thrilled, but then again, I am clueless. 🙂


      • Sunpaks were the mainstay of wedding photographers years ago. Inexpensive but still pack a lot of power. Having it off the camera is still better than on the camera whether it’s tethered or not.

        I’ll have to delve into using a speedlight for some Friday posts someday.


  7. Great, amazing baroque portrait ! Thank you for all the advice, I have hardly ever done portraits, maybe it’s the time to start ? 😉


  8. Nye says:

    Thanks for the tip Scott, I took picture of people out in the bright sunlight before and their faces looked real dark. I like the late afternoon-evening hours, perfect natural lighting to photograph people.


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