How to take a Beautiful Outdoor Portrait – Choosing a Location

Choosing a Photo Shoot Location

If you have checked out my other “Top Locations” page you will know that I favour locations with a diverse sort of environment. This is useful if you are planning on doing a full shoot. But for this we are just looking to create one great portrait. So here are a few things to stay away from or at least be cautious of:

  • Flash! Especially on-camera! Never EVER use on camera flash (little pop up flash or attached speed light aimed at the subject). It is unflattering and makes the individual look like they have greasy sweat all over face. Gross. I rarely use any flash at all outdoors. Almost never. I don’t feel it is needed and creates an unnatural feel to the image. Don’t get me wrong, there are some crazy ways to use off camera speedlights, but for the purposes of this intro, I will leave that for another more advanced post.
  • Forests. Stay out of forests. The light will be unflattering with harsh shadows and a possibly unfixable green cast on the skin tones. Its gross and I don’t ever recommend shooting in them. If you want to take a shot “in a forest” I recommend placing your subject on the edge of the forest with their back to it so the light of the sky is on their face creating soft, flattering beauty light (as long as it isn’t direct sunlight).
  • Speaking of direct sunlight. Stay away from it. It shouldn’t be on their face at all. Anywhere…at all. The only place the sun should ever be is behind your subject, and even then, only when it is very late in the day. Otherwise, stick your subject in the shade.
  •  The background! Stay away from it. The farther the background from your subject the more blurred out it will be. So when taking a shot in front of a barn/fence/forest/anything, always position the subject four or five feet in front of it at least.
  • Water. Water is tricky. People always envision this epic seascape and beauty when they ask you to take photos of them in front of the ocean or lake. If you are an amateur photographer, you may be envisioning the same thing. We all are actually, it is just that the experienced photographers know better from failing time and time again for many different reasons. Here are a few things to consider. 1. What is the weather? Is it cloudy? If your answer is yes, then go right ahead and proceed to number 2. If your answer is no, then is it sunny? If your answer is no again, then I am confused. It is then either raining or nighttime and you should go home. But if it is sunny, where is that sun? If it’s behind your subject then in order to get your subject properly exposed, you will have blown out the water and the sky. Meaning, all of it will be white, defeating the purpose of having it as a backdrop. If the sun is in front of them and behind you, then they will be squinty eyed and have harsh light and shadows on their face. If it is on either side there will be harsh shadows again. You can’t even find shade for your subject as the water still will be way to bright as it is in direct sunlight and will be blown out. So unless you have a diffuser that you can have an assistant hold over your subject, you will have to wait for a cloud to float over and naturally defuse the sunlight to nullify the sun’s location. Other than that, I would pick a different backdrop or come back on a cloudier day if you’re attached to the water. 2. You have an even level of light across your subject and back drop. Now you take a photo and look at it. You see your subject with a blurry grey line behind them. Hardly the epic shot you were hoping for. My advice here would be to position yourself  at a higher elevation so when you shoot at a downward angle, the body of water will occupy more of the frame. Alternatively, you can choose to position your subject sideways along the water as if walking along the beach. That will show the water and scene much nicer and will be much more powerful.