Outdoor portraits, keeping it simple.

With outdoor portraits, keep it simple. What do I mean by this? Out of the studio we have one light, the sun. It might seem obvious but how we use it matters a lot. What I will say here is that my way is not the only way but it is not a bad place to start from. It works and is very simple.

My favored method for outdoor portraits is to have the sun behind your subject. This puts a back-light on the hair. Once there is back-light on the hair it gives a separation between the subject and the background. Even in woodland you will find areas where the sun shines through. Use these areas as your place to shoot and think of them as your starting point for a shot. 

When you have to sun behind the subject it gives a lovely soft light on the face. It is a very flattering light with no black shadows cast across the face.

The other thing to say here is to use your lens at the widest aperture, f2.8 to f5.6, this puts the background out of focus. It adds to the effect of separating subject from background. 

The first image of Sarra is shows the effect that you get clearly. The light on her coat particularly gives great separation from the background. The light on her face is just stunning.

Sun, outdoor portrait
Using the sun as a back light.

What isn’t as obvious in the first image is the use of a reflector. I always use a reflector to put a little light back into the face. This has the effect of brightening up the face and especially the eyes. It also gives a massive bonus of creating some catch lights in the eyes. This does make a massive difference to any portrait. 

What are reflectors? Basically they are something that will reflect a bit of light. They can be silver, try aluminium foil stuck to a board, a white sheet, white paper stuck to a board. I have used a white shirt that I was wearing. Very easy, very simple. You can buy silver or gold reflectors but I find white is perfect for what I want.

I personally find the Lastolite tri-grip reflectors perfect for my needs. These flip up and fold down very easily and so easy to carry. My kit includes a regular size one and a large on. Both have a white/silver side. 90% of use is the large one on the white side.     

The second shot of Sarra, you can see the catch lights in the eyes whilst still having a lovely soft light on the face. 

outdoor portraits
Catchlights in the eyes.


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