5 outdoor photoshoot tips for professional looking photos

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, outdoor photoshoots 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. So here are my top outdoor photoshoot tips to help you.

1. Styling an outdoor photoshoot

For outdoor photoshoots it makes sense to start with deciding on the look and feel of the photoshoot before you get into any other details. With outdoor portrait photography your style choices are limitless, so it helps to narrow down your options before you get carried away.

Outdoor photoshoot tips

Who is the outdoor photoshoot for

Style starts with who you’re photographing and the purpose of the outdoor portrait shoot:

  • Family
  • Newborn
  • Pregnant woman
  • Model
  • Couple
  • Seniors
  • Etc etc

Vibe of the outdoor shoot

Keeping your subject in mind, decide on the feeling you want in your photos:

  • Wholesome
  • Dreamy
  • Energetic
  • Edgy
  • Etc etc

Different locations give different vibes. You wouldn’t do a boho styled photoshoot in an urban graffitied environment.

Outdoor portrait photography

I captured this image during an outdoor photoshoot at 18.11 with natural light only. Camera settings: 1/200, f3.2, ISO 200

Where is a good place for a photoshoot

Once you’ve decided on who you’re photographing and the vibe of the photoshoot, you can start thinking about where to photograph.

Match the photoshoot location to the vibe, or clash with the vibe for interesting juxtaposition in composition. For example photographing a beautiful young woman in a grungy industrial setting can be quite eye-catching.

Small confession… If 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. However, I don’t do this for client shoots

More on choosing a location in a moment.

Best time for an outdoor photoshoot

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 applies to both natural light only photography and flash photography with natural light.

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.

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 when photographing on overcast days. The shadows will be a lot softer of course than on sunny days, but they’ll still be there.

Family outdoor photoshoot

I captured this image at 17.36 with natural light only. Camera settings: 1/1000, f5.6, ISO 200

What to wear for outdoor portraits

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 determines 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.

2. Scouting photoshoot locations

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:

You might need open shade if you’re photographing outside of the golden hour, so look for:

  • Shelters
  • Trees
  • Building shadows

What you want to avoid in the background of photos is:

  • Wires
  • Text
  • Brightly colored bins
  • Litter

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 outdoors

If you have the software (Lightroom, Capture One etc) to edit your images, I recommend shooting in RAW file format for all photography, not just outdoor portraits.

When you photograph in RAW rather than JPEG your camera captures significantly more data, which is particularly helpful for being evening out the difference between light and dark areas, if necessary, in post production.

White balance settings

Set your camera’s 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.

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 and you’ll find more information on these camera settings for outdoor photoshoots here.

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 outdoors.

You can start with a speedlight and add light modifiers as you go.

The differences you’ll notice in your outdoor portraits are:

Outdoor photography equipment

This handy little wagon has saved me so much muscle ache on outdoor portrait sessions! In this image 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 portrait photography 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 keeps your equipment off the ground and therefore dry and sand free.

The photography equipment I take includes:

  • Reflector
  • Lighting
  • Lightstands
  • Umbrella / Softbox
  • Backpack style camera bag with lenses, cleaning equipment and spare camera body

Other vital equipment from a comfort point of view for your subject is:

  • Changing tent for subjects
  • Towel
  • Wipes

You can read more about preparing for a location photoshoot here.

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about how to do an outdoor photoshoot, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my outdoor portrait photography tips have helped you, share that too.

1 thought on “5 outdoor photoshoot tips for professional looking photos”

  1. First I want to say a huge THANK YOU for all these resources posted on this website. I found you on Saturday morning a few hours before my first outdoor family shoot. I have been photographing non-portraiture subjects for decades, but have shied away from portraits due to soft eyes and not-tack sharp images until recently. I was still wondering that morning whether or not my equipment would be good enough, I have 2 Canon L series lenses but their max aperture is F/4. After reading your articles on outdoor portraits and getting sharp images with children and pets I FINALLY got my camera settings correct on both of my cameras and ended up with 85 percent great images from the shoot. Previously I would have cheered if even 50% ended up sharp with wiggly kids. I also turned off JPG and dove back into the RAW end of the pool because I didn’t realize that Lightroom was actually a RAW editor with preserving all the layers! Yay!

    Long story short, I have one humble request. I love that you include your shooting data in your articles. Any way to know and add in the focal length as well? I’m still learning the exposure triangle and it would be so helpful to see that a photo with great detail was shot at 2x’s the SS to the focal length or 1x’s etc. Thanks!


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