Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

It seems strange, but did you know employing a flash when taking photos outdoors will give you sparkling, vibrant images? Well, it’s true. Back in the days when I was starting out as a photographer, I learned that using flash for daylight pictures really improved the quality of my pictures.

outdoor portrait photography

“Melissa 1” captured by Levi Tijerina

I practice this method in different sun light conditions. I’ve always been a Canon shooter, so I have a Canon flash head. Although I was using my flash outdoors, in the sunlight hours I noticed that only a few of my pictures where good shots. The shoots where very creative, but not what I was looking for.

I realized that as a way to take good pictures in the sunny hours through the day, you should prepare the shot. What exactly is meant by preparing the shot is using the right equipment and that old real-estate quandary: location, location, location.

The best equipment is a portable flash head. This is the flash that sits on top of your camera. I own a Canon Speed light and also a Quantum Trio. I prefer my Trio a lot more than my speed light outdoors. The key reason why I use my Trio more often than my speed light isn’t because the speed light doesn’t work for the outdoors. It has to do with preference. I’m keen on my outdoor pictures possessing a great deal of sharp color and sparkle. To accomplish this, I need a studio-style transportable flash head.

To get great outdoor pictures, I meter beyond my subject and obtain the ambient light readings. Then I set my flash to be 2 stops higher, meaning you’re going to be brighter than the sun. Utilizing a powerful outdoor flash head like Quantum Trio, it’s possible to accomplish beautiful light. This is just one step to great outdoor portraits.

The second part is that old quandary from the real estate industry, which is location, location, location. Here it is plain and simple: DON’T MAKE IT HARD ON YOURSELF. Scout your location before your subject arrives. Select locations that have shade. That is it. Shade is the key. Your flash head will provide the sunny rays, but you control how much sun you want.

So to round up my expert advice, this is what you should get from this article:

  1. Use the shade when possible and reflect light on your subject.
  2. For creative shoots, you will need a very powerful flash.
  3. Face your subject outside the sun.
  4. Use large light diffusers.
outdoor portrait in tall grass

photo captured by Vesna Tiricovska

While practicing my own advice, I was able to manipulate the light as I pleased and produce great images. It’s my job to look in my models’ eyes and position them to find the best light.

About the Author:
Mark Sarria (marksarriaphoto dot com) has been a professional photographer for 15 years specializing in quinceanera photography, wedding photography, and family portraits. I attempt to use natural light in the most creative way possible.

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5 Comments

  1. bycostello says:

    nice tips thanks…

  2. Stephanie says:

    Can you clarify what you mean by “face your subject outside the sun?” Thank you! I can’t wait to try these tips even though I don’t have an external flash yet.

  3. Erika says:

    I’ve always been a little hesitant to use flash outdoors but I think I’ll try experimenting with it. Sounds like a really good tool for portraits. Shade really is some of the best lighting next to overcast days.

    Great tips, thank you!

  4. Pat says:

    Good advice, but, …. Looked up the Quantum Trio and found bad reviews. It has good light but bad connections. Damages easily, doesn’t recognise camera, flimsy construction for high price. Not worth the hassle. People who recommended it initially ended up changing their minds and saying how horribly built it was. Otherwise, lighting advice in article is great.

  5. Rotor says:

    Pat, I agree with you. My friend and I had bad cables twice

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