Some Tips On Making Portraits Outdoors

by William Lulow

This article, inspired by a friend, Sandy Bowen, is about how to shoot portraits outdoors. I wanted to do a portrait of Sandy on a recent visit to Denver. I found a spot where the sunlight was hitting her from behind which would nicely highlight her blonde hair. Problem was if I had simply stood there in the sun with her, my lens would have been hit with the same sunlight that was hitting her. The solution was to position my camera in the shade of a nearby tree while Sandy stood out in the sun. Here is the resulting image:

Sandy(c)

In this particular case there was enough ambient light to make sure that her face was not in shadow. There are instances where when you use the sun as a highlight, the face is often in shadow. When this happens it is necessary to fill in the shadows with light. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to use the built in flash on most digital cameras. This usually requires you to “force” the flash (which often cannot be done with the camera set to AUTO). In MANUAL mode, you can pop up the built in flash manually to make sure it fires to fill in any shadow areas caused by using the sun as a secondary light source.

Here is another example:

Group(c)

In this shot, the group was placed with their backs to the sun so that there would be highlights on the hair. The lighting was then “filled in” with a portable flash mounted on a light stand near the camera position.

Yet another example:

Group(c)

In this particular image, the shadows were filled in by two flash heads powered by a generator which was plugged in to an AC outlet. Sometimes, when you are shooting a large group, you may need more than one fill-in light.

In each of these images, you have to make sure that your lens is shaded otherwise you will most likely get some lens flare which will spoil your picture. For this reason I always carry a simple, black umbrella with me when I’m doing an outdoor portrait and an assistant usually uses it to shade the lens. So, if you are doing a portrait outdoors and you don’t have the benefit of an assistant to shade your lens, simply position yourself with your camera in the shade and ask your subjects to stand in the sunlight!