Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

Brooke 3 in colour LR2

It’s not uncommon for domestic portrait photographer to head outside on a nice day and photograph their model. As a photographer I find that the studio can make people a bit nervous. The large lights and camera lens can make for a nervous experience. For shy people wanting their photograph taken, a studio isn’t always ideal.

Light is very important even in outdoor portrait photography. You must take your flash with you to fill in any shadows that appear. A reflector is a handy tool too. You can place the reflector under the persons face to shoot a very abstract shot, or, to simply get rid of shadows under the nose and chin.

Recently I did a portrait shoot outside. It was of a young lady who wanted photos for her portfolio. She was hoping to break into modelling. After some ideas back and forth it was decided that going to the park was an ideal way to do the shoot.

Lenses for portrait photography

Firstly, one of the most important features of successful outdoor portrait photography is the lens you use. Using the right aperture, focal length and depth of field are crucial factors to an outdoor portrait shoot.

A fast lens is the preferred lens by professional portrait photographers. What is a fast lens? A fast lens is a lens that has a very large maximum aperture. This may be anywhere between 1.8 and 2.8. This means that you can let a lot of light in and use a fast shutter.

Creative portrait photography ideas

You can develop a multitude of creative portrait photography ideas simply by practicing. Practicing gives you something so incredibly valuable: experience. Once you begin to gain more experience in outdoor portraits you will see how outdoor light and flash work, how shadows interact on peoples faces and most importantly how you can do it better next time.

Many of my most creative ideas come from receiving a formal education, but also, from watching the way light works. Light can give you some great ideas about where to position a person, how to angle yourself to get the best portraits.

Outdoor portrait photography poses

It depends on whether your model is male or female as to how you ask someone to pose for you. There are different stances that a man will take to appear more masculine. There are very different poses a woman will take so she looks more feminine. Female models look best when the lines of her body are accentuated. This involves turning on an angle, tilting the head and using the focus on the eyes. You can employ the use of a foot change to accentuate a postural change.


Copyright by Amy K Roberts

High key portrait photography

What does high key actually mean? Well if you go by the technical definition it is all about reducing the lighting ratio present in the scene. What this means, in English, is that the lighting is overexposed with just the main details in focus. This is great fun and a terrific way to create interesting portraits.

Can you use high key photography outdoors? Most definitely. As long as you have a strong light source on one side of the persons face, you can use the flash on the other side. Make sure you lock your focus on the eyes first so detail is maintained on the eyes.

Remember that shooting outdoor portrait photography is a great opportunity to have an interesting background. A park, beach or city street scene can enhance the story of your photo significantly. Here are some suggestions:

Public gardens



City street

Old churches


Rose garden

(Make sure you check that it’s ok to shoot in these places. Always check and get permission first.)



If you would like to get more photography info, you can get all my ebooks for free here.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (14)

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  1. Gary says:

    Awesome photos! Thanks for the video and article. Where do you buy your reflectors?

  2. Candice says:

    Thanks for the tips. I find that reflectors help a great deal when shooting portraits. I wish we could use them in sports photography.

  3. Janey says:

    Thanks for the great advice. :)

  4. Benjamin Ard says:

    I hadn’t thought before that taking someone’s picture outside would be more comfortable for them and help them feel at ease – great insights. Thank you!

  5. Marcia says:

    Thanks for posting these useful tips on taking good outdoor portrait snaps. The lady in the photograph looks like she walked out a Disney animation with the kind of look she has – red hair, fair skin and a bright blue dress, especially in the first image. Perfect lighting for the first image as well!!

  6. Another technical question, sorry! Because indeed I believe that a good portrait is about emotions and feelings rather than technicalities but when combined with perfect technique it’s even better! Wherever I browse, I can never find anything related to group portrait photography. Shallow depth of field, tele lens for a blurry effect, fill-light, wide aperture…. all this is fine when you photograph one subject. What would be your recommendation when it comes to photographing 4 moving children outdoor, sharp, well lit with a blur background and a good ratio between the light on each face and the background? Any ideas are welcome! Thanks!

    • Hi Carole,

      Excellent question. I think it depends exactly how many people are in your photo; 80? 18? or 8? (That number is just an example.) I have photographed a group of people at a wedding and used a 24mm and a smaller aperture, say F18. I’ve also photographed 6 people and used an aperture of F11. I tend to like group shots that are creative and also where you are careful with your aperture and depth of field. If you have an f stop number that is too small, and you are standing a few meters away, you can risk blurring some people and not others.

      Lighting can be a challenge too. Getting light on all of the people in the ground needs to be taken into consideration. If you have an open scene with heaps of light, like outdoors for example you may want to set your camera on a tripod and shoot using a wide angle and a small aperture and use the ambient light only.

      If you can try and get a well lit scene then you will be on track. It can be hard though, especially in low light, like a group of people at a wedding at night can be challenging. Always aim for very well lit scenes if possible.

      I hope that helps :)

      Have a great day! Never appologise for asking me questions, I love it and I love helping people master their photography.


  7. Suzanne Grayette says:

    I think the best lens for portrait photography is the 70-200mm.

  8. Vanessa says:

    Your ebooks are a brilliant starting point for people who love photography and want to learn it in a non-complicated manner. It contains useful basic technical information on choosing settings and manipulating lighting, positioning of subjects, clothing, etc. The book is written in an easy-to-read and well-organized manner. Thanks Amy.

  9. Penni says:

    Thanks for your great tips on portraiture. I didn’t realise that lighting was so important. I thought it was about the pose.

  10. Hey there, You have done a fantastic job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this web site.

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