How do you do an outdoor photoshoot?
It’s actually quite surprising when you stop and think about how much is involved in an outdoor photoshoot.
It’s not complicated, but, aside from knowing camera settings, it does require good preparation and organization. The more people involved in your outdoor photoshoot, the more you have to think and plan ahead, especially if children are involved.
1. Styling an outdoor photoshoot
I think it makes sense to start with deciding on the look and feel of the photoshoot before you get into any other details. After all, with outdoor portrait photography your style choices are limitless, so it helps to narrow down your options before you get carried away.
Style starts with who you’re photographing and the purpose of the outdoor portrait shoot:
- Pregnant woman
- Etc etc
Keeping your subject in mind, decide on the feeling you want in your photos:
- Etc etc
Different locations give different vibes. You wouldn’t do a boho styled photoshoot in an urban graffitied environment.
Photographed at 18.11 with natural light only. Camera settings: 1/200, f3.2, ISO 200
Only now, after deciding on who you’re photographing and the vibe of the photoshoot, should you start thinking about where to photograph.
Match the location to the vibe, or clash with the vibe for interesting juxtaposition in your composition. For example photographing a beautiful young woman in a grungy industrial setting can be quite eye-catching.
Further reading: Master juxtaposition in photography for powerful composition
That said, if the shoot is for me and not for a client and I come across a location I really want to use, I do actually start with the location and then figure out the vibe and who I could photograph there.
More on location in a moment.
Most outdoor photoshoots happen in or near the golden hour, which is considered by many to be the best time for outdoor photography because the light is so flattering. This is equally the case when photographing with natural light only or with flash and natural light.
Further reading: Golden hour photography – when is it and why is it so amazing?
But you really don’t need to limit yourself to the golden hour, especially if you’re planning on photographing in open shade, which you can do at any time of day.
Even photographing in full sunlight is good if you want a cool fashion vibe.
Further reading: 7 quick tips for photographing outdoors in bright sunlight
The only time I’d avoid, if you’re not in the shade, is midday, because the hard sunlight from above causes “raccoon eyes” – unflattering shadows below the eyes.
Midday is a tricky time of day for outdoor photos, even on overcast days. The shadows will be a lot softer of course than on sunny days, but they’ll still be there.
Photographed at 17.36 with natural light only. Camera settings: 1/1000, f5.6, ISO 200
What to wear
Obviously the season is the first factor that determines what to wear for outdoor photos. Aside from that, unless it’s a fashion shoot, the other factors determine the choice of clothing first:
- The photoshoot vibe and age of the subjects also determine what to wear – formal, casual, business, sporty, young, old etc
- For a cohesive image, it helps to choose colors that work well with the environment – either in contrast with complementary colors or in harmony with analogous colors.
- When photographing families colors and clothing style must work well together. An analogous color theme works well to create unity.
Further reading: Why an analogous color scheme in photography works so well
2. Scout the location
Research is key when looking for the best setting for outdoor photography. You need to know what you want and, equally importantly, what you don’t want.
You want your location to add to the photo from a composition point of view. So look for:
- Leading lines – paths, rows of trees, etc
- Frames – doorways, tree branches arching down
- Colors in the environment
You might need open shade if you’re photographing outside of the golden hour, so look for:
- Building shadows
Further reading: Open shade photography the right way – avoid rookie mistakes
What you want to avoid in the background of your photos is:
- Brightly colored bins
Further reading: Portrait backgrounds – 4 photography mistakes to avoid
3. Camera settings for outdoor photoshoots
The best camera setting for outdoor photography depends on the weather and time of day, in other words the quality of light (hard or soft) and quantity of light (how much light is available). So there’s no way for me to tel you what exposure settings you need to use without being there at exactly the same time as you.
But tif you really want a starting point, here’s a quick cheat for camera settings on a sunny day – the Sunny 16 Rule.
Two important camera settings for outdoor photoshoots are:
- RAW vs JPEG
- White balance
Shoot in RAW
If you have the software (Lightroom, Capture One etc) to edit your images, I recommend RAW for all photography, not just outdoor portraits.
When you photograph in RAW your camera captures significantly more data than JPEG, which is particularly helpful for being evening out the difference between light and dark areas, if necessary, in post production.
Further reading: Shooting RAW vs JPEG – image quality pros and cons
Set your white balance to suit the conditions. Don’t use auto white balance, because it will constantly shift with changing conditions.
Sounds like a good idea at first, but when you’re sitting at the computer adjusting the white balance on all your photos, because they all look a little different, it doesn’t feel so good anymore. So, for consistency, set it manually.
If you forget to change it from say sunny to cloudy when the clouds come over it will be easier to correct the first photo and then sync the change across all the photos that need changing. Especially if you use Lightroom.
Further reading: What is white balance in photography and does it matter?
Other camera settings to bear in mind include:
- Shooting modes
- Drive modes
- Metering modes
- Autofocus area modes
- Focus modes
I’ve written about these in detail, so for more information on these camera settings for outdoor photoshoots, click here.
Further reading: Outdoor portrait photography tips for better photos
4. Add flash to outdoor portraits
I don’t think that every photo needs flash, but it certainly does increase the opportunity to photograph anywhere at any time. So I highly recommend getting comfortable with off camera flash.
You can start with a speedlight and add light modifiers as you go.
The differences you’ll notice in your outdoor portraits are:
- Subject’s eyes will always be lively, because of the catchlights created by the flash
- Colors will be more
- If your flash is powerful enough, your skies won’t be blown out
Getting started with off camera flash
This handy little wagon has saved me so much muscle ache! In this shot I’ve loaded it with my camera bag, lighting, light modifiers, light stands, a reflector and a changing tent.
5. Outdoor photoshoot equipment
The worst part of outdoor photoshoots is carrying your gear. So, top of my list for equipment for outdoor photoshoots is a collapsible outdoor utility wagon. You can find a similar one here on Amazon.
Not only is it great for carrying all of my equipment, it’s a great way to ensure that you keep all your stuff together so that things don’t get left behind. That includes my subject’s stuff as well. From a safety point of view it’s also easier to keep an eye on one lump of stuff rather than bits and pieces spread around.
In a wet environment, like the beach, it’s keeps your equipment off the ground.
The photography equipment I take includes:
- Umbrella / Softbox
- Backpack style camera bag with lenses, cleaning equipment and spare camera body
Other vital equipment from a comfort point of view is:
- Changing tent for subjects
Further reading: 7 essential elements to preparing for a photoshoot on location
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