Some Quick Tips for Better Outdoor Portraits

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When shooting outdoor portraits I like to measure the light on both sides of a person’s face to determine the lighting ratio. There are all kinds of so-called rules telling you what the ideal ratio for portraiture should be is but Renaissance painters used a technique called chiaroscuro that featured ratios that would make most studio photographer’s hair stand on end but created art that transcended the centuries. For me, the right ratio varies depending on the shape of the subject’s face and the look I want for the final image.

Here’s a few more tips when shooting outdoors:

Talk to your subject. I’ll never forget the advice one of my mentors gave me many years ago. When asking him what was the worst thing I could do when photographing people, I expected to hear about avoiding technical problems but his answer surprised me. “If you don’t talk to the people, you’re never going make a good portrait.” More than 30 years later, I’ve never forgotten that advice and would like to pass it on to you.

Using a hand-held meter provides you an opportunity to interact with your subject. While talking a meter reading you can talk to your subject and reassure them that they look great. Photographing people combines elements of psychology as much camera technology and how you interact with your subject will have more to do with the success of your session than the camera or lens you decide to use.

Watch the background. It’s easy to become so enthralled by the person you’re photographing that you forget about the background where you’ve placed them. One of Farace’s Laws is if you watch the background, the foreground will take care of itself. Nowhere is this more true that in shooting available light portraits. Busy, ugly backgrounds can be thrown out of focus by using longer focal length lenses and wide apertures but it’s not uncommon to have to physically clean up a site before you make a portrait. While you can always digitally remove beer cans and fast food wrappers, taking the time to physically clean up the trash before you make a portrait leaves it clean for everybody else too.

How I made this shot: I photographed Jade outdoors in Phoenix, AZ using a Canon EOS 50D and a Canon EOS 50D and an EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM lens set at 105mm. That lens was affordable, optically quite good and I’m sorry I sold it back when I was wrapped up in a “newer is better” attitude that I’ve since gotten over. Exposure was 1/60 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 100 with a Canon 550EX speedlite used as fill, with a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce, diffuser attached.


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If you’re interested in learning how I shoot  available light glamour portraits, please pick up a copy of Available Light Glamour Photography which is available new from Amazon.com for $17.58 with used prices starting at $13.11, as I write this. The Kindle version is $11.99 for those preferring a digital format.