Outdoor photography comes with its own host of quirks and challenges. From choosing the right photoshoot location to timing the shoot to get the right light, knowing the following tips can help you take world-class photos outside.
Choose the Right Photoshoot Location
Any outdoor space has the potential to become a fantastic photo opportunity. Every photoshoot location comes with its own interesting features and unique flavor. The location should be thought of not as a constraint on your shoot, but rather a feature. Interacting with the location is a great way to get some awesome action shots and to add a little fun to the shoot.
Explore every angle you can as you move through space. Shoot from high up or crouch down and get an interesting angle there. The right photoshoot location should enhance the subject of your shoot. Whether you’re doing outdoor portraiture or you’re shooting a landscape, keep in mind how the features of the location can help you tell a story, evoke an emotion, or capture a moment.
Choosing the right location also comes with choosing what kind of lighting you have to work with. An open field in the middle of the bright sunny day will be filled with strong directional light. Shooting with your back to the sun can keep your subject well-lit. Asking the model to look away from the sun, off to the side, can create some really awesome images and prevent them from having to stare into the sun all day.
Using a polarizing filter can help keep snowy mountains and dark forests from becoming too over or underexposed. The vibrant colors offered by an outdoor shoot can also be used to enhance your image. Shooting in a colorful street market? Try to keep the image simple and focused on one thing. The right photo shoot location will offer a ton of possibilities that a studio shoot just can’t match.
Bring the Right Gear
Be prepared. There’s a reason that’s the Boy Scout motto. Make sure you have all the right gear with you when you go out for your shoot. Now, it goes without saying you’ll need your camera and lenses, but it’s always good to double check they are in working order before heading out to the photoshoot location.
Some other essentials include:
- Extra memory cards with more than enough room
- Extra batteries for your camera and all other equipment.
- Battery charger to keep your camera topped off.
- A tripod allows you to take stellar photos and to get the right angle you need. It is a must-have on any shoot.
- Cleaning kits for your sensor and lenses. Dust and dirt are a given circumstance when it comes to the outdoors, so it’s best to be prepared.
- All necessary cords and cables.
- Flash units and lighting. Be sure to bring battery packs!
- Light stands, umbrella heads, and ankle weights to keep it upright.
- Reflectors and diffusers are necessary when working with natural light. A cheap white bedsheet is perfect for this
- Clamps to hold down fabric. You never know when you’ll need one!
- Food and water. Bring snacks and plenty of water bottles to keep yourself and your model hydrated and to keep from getting hungry.
- Sun protection. A good, wide-brimmed hat and some good sunscreen are also must-haves to a successful shoot.
Shoot When the Light Is Right
Sometimes called “the magic hour” or “the golden hour”, the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset is a period during which daylight is redder and softer than other times of the day. This time of day reduces the chance to have your pictures be overexposed. Many photographers use the warm color of the sun to enhance the colors of a landscape, drawing out the contrasting colors.
There is also “the blue hour” which is the period of twilight in the morning and evening. The indirect sunlight creates a very diffuse blue light which can also make for extremely dramatic compositions. Shooting outside of these time periods can also create fantastic photos. Using tools like reflectors and diffusers, or even bringing your own lighting is the best way to help keep your subjects lit, even in dim or harsh light. Reflectors come in a range of tints and sizes so you can add warm light or cool light whenever you need to. They also help you see how your photo will turn out before you shoot. Simply hold it up and angle it toward your subject and you’ll get something very close to the end result. Clamp it to a lighting stand, or to a branch, or even have the model hold it, and you’ll always have a well-lit shoot.
When scouting the photoshoot location, try to go around the time of the shoot so you can be sure to get the best lighting possible. A few clamps, a white sheet and something to attach it to, make a really fantastic diffuser at little cost.
Avoid Shooting in Direct Sunlight
Shooting in direct sunlight brings along a whole host of difficulties: it is harsh, makes hard directional shadows, causes squinting, and unpredictable white balance conditions. Shooting in the shade creates softer shadows and it is easier to control the lighting conditions. Proper exposure and good white balance help create fantastic shots.
If you have to shoot in direct sunlight, try to control the direction of the light. Use a reflector and try to mimic studio light. Stand with your back to the sun, or wait for some cloud cover to create a very bright yet contrasted look.
Focus on the Eyes
Humans will always bring an interesting point of focus to any outdoor shoot. When doing outdoor portraiture keep the focus on the eyes. The eyes are the first thing people will look at in a portrait, and they are the sharpest thing in the photo. Keep them like that, and you’ll have a great portrait.
The eyes don’t have to be looking straight in the camera for every shot, but keep them focused. The eyes are the first thing that tells the story of the shot, use them to establish mood, tone, and emotion. A simple shift in where a model’s eyes are looking can be the difference between an okay shot and a fantastic one.
Keep these tips in mind as you find your next photoshoot location and you’ll be sure to have a fantastic shoot.