Outdoor Portraits Photo Tips

By Tim Farmer

It is spring time and everyone is going outside. Mother’s Day is right around the corner, kids are graduating from school and you want to capture the best possible portraits of your family. Here are some simple tips to make life long memories.

The first thing you want to do is look for a good location. Going to the park is often a great idea but even in the front yard or at your graduate’s high school football field can work if you take a minute and find the right spot. A group of bushes, a sea of out of focus, or recent grads all in black with caps can make a great backdrop. Sometimes a mom or grandmother are not up for the hike, so sitting on the front porch surrounded by loved ones can be just the spot.

Here are a few things to think about and watch out for:

  • Is the spot in full sunlight or shadow? This will effect if they are squinting or not.
  • Look before shooting to make sure no telephone poles are not coming out of their heads
  • Make sure you’re not next to a wasp’s nest
  • If it is too hot, move out of the sun
  • Make sure the ground is not muddy (you don’t want your grandmother’s seat sinking when she is in it)

Here are a few things to improve your photos:

Use a shallow depth of field, lower than f5.6 so the background is blurry and your attention is on your subject. If you normally shoot in Program or Auto, try setting your camera in Aperture Priority mode (A or Av on your camera), and set your ISO at 100, then set your aperture for the lowest you can. This will let your camera do the thinking on the exposure while letting you control the depth of field. (Smaller apertures f/1.8, f/2 give a shallow depth of field making the background blurry. Large apertures like f/11 give a larger depth of field; the background is sharp and in focus) Shallow depth of field works best for one or two people, with a full family you want to have a wide depth of field so everyone is in focus. Try f/11.

See how your eye goes right to the model in the photo below.


Shallow Depth of Field Shot at f/4.6


Use a fill flash or a reflector to fill in the shadows. In the example bellow, the flash was set with the TTL set at a -1 compensation (-1 EV). If your flash does not have a TTL setting, set the flash on manual and do a few tests turning the power down until you get a photo you like. You do not want to overpower the light, just fill in the shadows.

If you do not have a speedlight and only have a built in pop up flash, use the portrait scene setting. If you do not have reflector or fill flash, try getting next to a white wall to allow the sun to reflect off of it and fill in the shadows.



If you are shooting in Manual or Shutter Priority mode, you will want to set your shutter speed fast enough so there is no motion blur. A simple rule of thumb is set your shutter speed faster than 1/lens focal length. If you are shooting with the 85mm lens (a great portrait lens), you want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/125sec.

If you are going for a casual portrait, try to have your subject interact with the environment. If they are sitting next to a flower bed, have them hold a flower. If it is a graduation, have them show off their diploma. If it is your grandmother, have the kids jump in.

If you have questions or want to learn more, you can always come up and talk to one of our experts or take one of our classes like the Flash Photography or Photographing People class. And don’t forget to get that portrait printed so you can show it off. Putting it on one of our canvas wraps will allow you to see your memories for a life time.