Member, Professional Photographers of America

Top 5 Tips for Taking Outdoor Portraits

I recently began scheduling all my sessions during the "Golden Hour," which is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset.  The sun during this time is absolutely beautiful!  It is low in the sky and has a beautiful golden color to the light.  However, some families - especially those with little ones - cannot have a session during those times due to sleep schedules.  Those sessions must be held when the sun is high in the sky and honestly, difficult to work with.  For those times I have a few tips that I'd like to share with you so you too can capture beautiful portraits of your family.

1.  Find some shade!  When the sun is very bright and high in the sky, harsh shadows are created on your subject (think "raccoon eyes").  You don't want to photograph someone standing in a dark cave, but rather someone standing in a shadow created by a tree or building.  You want the light to light the image, but not create harsh shadows. 

This senior session was a little bit before "Golden Hour" so the sun was still too high in the sky and it was creating shadows on her face so we found some shade to eliminate the shadows, but kept her in the sun for the natural light.

This senior session was a little bit before "Golden Hour" so the sun was still too high in the sky and it was creating shadows on her face so we found some shade to eliminate the shadows, but kept her in the sun for the natural light.

2.  Find light colored walls to bounce light.  Sometimes the shade makes your subject too dark, especially when there are a lot of buildings around.  Look for a wall or other large object that is white or light in color to reflect the sunlight onto the subject.  Large white objects aren't everywhere so this is somewhat difficult to do unless you know the area well.  

This senior session was held in downtown Groesbeck, Texas in an alley.  While there is plenty of light, the shadows from the buildings do make it a little dark.  This issue is remedied by using the light colored door to serve a reflector and bounce the light back onto the subject.

This senior session was held in downtown Groesbeck, Texas in an alley.  While there is plenty of light, the shadows from the buildings do make it a little dark.  This issue is remedied by using the light colored door to serve a reflector and bounce the light back onto the subject.

3.  Golden Hour.  Many clients question me when I suggest photographing during this time because they assume we will run out of sunlight.  I schedule sessions about an hour before sunset so I can utilize the shade, light colored walls, etc. and then take advantage of the beautiful "Golden Hour."  During this time the sunlight is a beautiful golden color since it is lower in the sky.  

This family session was taken during the "Golden Hour."  Notice how the light is a beautiful golden color?

This family session was taken during the "Golden Hour."  Notice how the light is a beautiful golden color?

4.  Look for unique locations.  Have you ever heard the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover?"  The same holds true for photography locations.  Often times when we think about locations for portraits we think of parks or other scenic locations.  However, there is beauty all around us!  There are so many unique structures that surround us and many of them make beautiful backdrops.  I urge you to think out of the box when looking for the "perfect" location.  

This senior session took place on his family's ranch in Normangee, Texas.  These were the old cattle pens.  They could use some work, but they looked great in this session and provided that rustic feeling to his senior portraits.

This senior session took place on his family's ranch in Normangee, Texas.  These were the old cattle pens.  They could use some work, but they looked great in this session and provided that rustic feeling to his senior portraits.

5.   Backlighting.  If all else fails, use backlighting - that is place your subject in front of the sun essentially.  Their back will be facing the sun.  This can be tricky to do correctly, but don't be afraid to experiment.  You might get some fun glares or a beautiful light haze in your photographs!  The backlight from the sun will create a rim of light around your subject and this looks especially beautiful when the sunlight is leaking in through the hair.

Backlighting!  The sun is behind this senior and the sunlight is leaking through her hair, which creates a beautiful accent to her image.

Backlighting!  The sun is behind this senior and the sunlight is leaking through her hair, which creates a beautiful accent to her image.

Feel free to share your top tips for taking outdoor portraits if you'd like...or ask me any questions you might have about taking outdoor portraits.  The teacher in me likes to share ideas :)

You can find more information about these tips here.