How to achieve the best look for your outdoor portraits is somewhat subjective.
There are several factors that play a role in creating beautiful outdoor portraits. In this post I recommend what works best for my style of photography and editing style that I provide for my clients.
My favorite time of day to photograph portraits outdoors is within 90 minutes before sunset. The hour before sunset is called the “golden hour.” There is also a golden hour after sunrise. The sun is lower in the sky, and not directly overhead, which creates longer shadows. And this is good because when the sun is directly overhead with no diffusion, it can cause dark shadows under facial features, and it isn’t flattering for portraits.
It doesn’t matter if it is sunny or cloudy during the hours before sunset. Either way, the ability to position clients in relation to the light, for photos is much easier. The direction the client faces might be affected by whether it is sunny or cloudy, further from the time of sunset. But as the sun lowers, it becomes less of a consideration, making moving through prompts and interactions more fluid.
An example I often lament, is when my family travels for vacation and we visit the National Parks. We saw Crater Lake for the first time on a sunny day after 10am and I wanted to take photos of us standing with the lake at our back. But from that side of the lake, the sun direction was not favorable at that time of day. I still took the photos and tried to position my family the best I could so that they faced their shadows. Even still, the lighting scenario was not desirable, but when you travel, you take the photos in the scenery background you want, regardless if the lighting is ideal. It still preserves our amazing memories!
I won’t photograph portrait clients is this type of lighting scenario, where the background we want conflicts with the lighting during the time of day. The goal is to create beautiful and technically sound portraits. That is why I am very specific when scheduling sessions.
A location with neutral color surroundings is preferable. I like a stone or sandy pathway, trail, or white stone walls. Green color cast is something I try to avoid. I don’t photograph portraits in the woods with trees covering our heads in all directions. I can edit some green color cast, but in the wrong setting, it is impossible to remove all of it.
To my point, I recently edited my own photos from hiking through Redwoods National Park, and this green color cast was of course an issue I already knew I would have. I would laugh as I took photos knowing full well the surroundings were the opposite of what I look for in portrait locations. But that’s okay! I was so thrilled to be there, I adjusted my white balance as best I could and did the best I could in post processing. I just knew in some spots, the color cast was just going to be there.
Photographing on an open green grass field can sometimes be an issue with green color cast, depending on the time of day, lighting, angle of the field, and direction of the client. Sometimes I avoid it, and sometimes it is no problem at all. It just depends on several factors, and I can see right away if there is an issue.
One of my favorite locations is a place with open trails that are surrounded by tall grasses and some trees throughout. This doesn’t present a problem with the green surroundings, since there is no tree cover. To view my client family portfolio, click here.
Clothing is really a personal choice. There isn’t a right or wrong way to dress in general, as photographers have so many different styles of editing. For my type of editing and the look I try to achieve in the portraits I take, I give clients many recommendations. To summarize, I suggest wearing clothing that is lighter in color, such as neutrals and muted color tones. Textures and soft patterns look nice without taking away from your faces. I also suggest avoiding neon or bright colors, too many dark colors, and logos and bold patterns. I like flowy fabrics and dresses and outfits that aren’t too dressy but not too casual.
All things being equal, if I photographed a family in the same setting at the same time of day with one style of clothing and then with the opposite style of clothing, the portraits really will have a totally different vibe. Change the variable to a different location, such as a forest; and once again, the photos will look totally different.
In this family photo session, we checked all of those boxes, with a beautiful location during golden hour. And the ladies wore neutral dresses with texture that complemented the background.
How to achieve the best look for your outdoor portraits involves a few factors. This will vary depending on the photographer you choose and their editing style, as well as what type of look you want to achieve for your portraits. Ready to schedule your Spring portraits? The calendar opens soon.