5 Tips for Taking Great Outdoor Portraits

Today, we’re thrilled to have Tony Murray guest posting for us.  Tony is an extremely talented photographer who is most well known for his landscape photos.  He has won numerous photo contests and has had several photos featured in Outdoor Photographer.  Although he would never admit it, he’s also amazing at taking pictures of people.  He is incredibly skilled at using natural elements and lighting to enhance his portraits, and we’re thrilled to have him with us today.  I’m sure if the rest of you are like us, you’re always looking for ways to capture the beauty that you see in your family and in nature, on film.  Tony is here to show us how!  He also happens to be Mason and Chloe’s uncle (lucky).
He is currently working on an amazing project that you can read about here.  

As a photographer I am often asked how to take better photos, especially outdoors.   To be honest, there is no one thing that is going to make you a better photographer except taking thousands of photos and learning from your errors.  However, there are lots of tips and techniques that can easily turn a regular snapshot into a great photograph.  Here are a some of my best tips:

#1.  The first and most important thing when taking portraits, no matter if you are indoors or out is to focus on the eyes.  The first thing people look at when viewing a portrait is the eyes and so as the photographer you should always focus on them to make them as sharp as possible, making the person in the photograph appear to be looking out.

#2.  The second thing that can help to make a great portrait is to use a wide-open aperture on your lens to create a shallow depth of field.  When viewing portraits we want the subject to stand out from the background, not blend into it.  For example, if I were at a busy park taking photos of Mason and Chloe I would want to see them in the photos and have the background out of focus. I wouldn’t want to see the crazy family reunion at the same park and have those people in all my photos.  To achieve this shallow depth of field open your aperture to the widest it will go, typically an f/stop of f/1.8-f.3.5.  You can also achieve this look by using a telephoto lens and while standing further back zoom in on your subject.  Either way you do it a shallow depth of field is key when taking portraits.

#3.  When shooting portraits the mid-day sun is typically not your best friend, there are often harsh lighting elements or shadows and too much contrast.  So making the best time to take photos to be in the early morning or late afternoon.  This however is not always possible, especially when you are out with the family and just want to take some photo NOW.   Taking advantage of overcast days or utilizing shade can simply fix this.  Clouds and shade act as nature’s light diffusers, allowing for nice, even lighting that you can take photos in any time of the day.

#4. The fourth, and most misunderstood aspect of outdoor portraits is to use a flash.  For over 90% of my outdoor portraits I use a flash, seriously.  Using a flash, even in the day, can even out lighting, acting as a fill light.  It also helps to separate your subject from the background.  The pop-up flash on your camera is effective to about 15-25 ft depending on ambient light, and can its power output can easily be adjusted in your menu if it is producing too much or too little light.  There are also external flashes that allow for more effective, higher quality light that has the option with most cameras to be fired off camera, allowing you to have a portable portrait studio wherever you go.

#5. The last tip I have is to use the environment.  Use whatever you have available to you to add to the context of your photo.  Whether you are in the city, in the country, or in the mountains you can use your environment to add depth to your photo, giving it a new feel and look.
While all these things will help, the best advice I can give is to just shoot.  In the age of digital cameras it doesn’t cost you anything if you spend a couple of hours, taking 1,000 images, and none of them turn out, but you will learn and the next time your photos will be that much better.

Thanks for sharing with us Tony!  Check back in the next few weeks as Tony shares more great photography tips with us!  To view Tony’s portfolio, visit his website here.  


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