In my earlier blog post, I discussed how to shoot portraits indoors without expensive studio equipment. Basically, the same principles apply also for outdoor portraits, but there are some extra challenges to be taken care of, especially about managing the lighting conditions and choosing the background. In this article, I will discuss location scouting for outdoor portraits and how to choose the background and location for a photo shoot.
Carefully chosen background is the key factor in making your photos look like professional portrait captures instead of casual amateur snapshots. Thus choosing the location is an important preparation for the photo shoot. It is tempting to think that you need to travel to some exotic location far away to get outstanding outdoor portraits. However, sometimes it is not worth it to go further than the sea for fish. For someone else, your ordinary looking neighborhood with your normal weather may be the exotic far away land. The above female portrait in the middle of plum trees might be exotic for someone. The picture is actually taken in my home yard with very pathetic looking casual plum tree. (See the picture below). I wanted to go and take portraits next to the blossoming cherry trees as those make more exotic looking portraits. However, I missed the opportunity and had to come up with something else, i.e. a plum tree. To get a good distraction free background I used the hawthorn hedge as background. The trick was to use a wide aperture to blur the background into the nice lime green abstract texture.
Also remember that by using tight framing you may be able to restrict the amount of background visible into quite a small area. By carefully choosing the right angle to shoot, close up of the plum tree or any other tree or a bush can be used as a nice frame. See another example of the same casual plum tree turned into a nice looking image, which could serve as a frame for a portrait photo.
It is worthwhile to do some location scouting in the nearby area where you live in. You know your own neighborhood better than the places abroad so it might be easier to find good locations for portraits. Also, it is good to study your own yard and close proximity so that you are prepared when someone comes to you and asks for a portrait. The trick is to think about the background that has nothing extra on it; a wall, a big fence, a hedge or similar. And to think which angle could be used for shooting the photos. It does not matter if there is something ugly or extra in those directions that are not visible in the photo. The viewer will see only what is fit inside the frame.
For different types of photos, different types of backgrounds are more suitable. For urban settings big industrial buildings may provide interesting looking walls that can be used as background. Many pedestrian tunnels going under roads have solid backgrounds. Some may be filled with graffiti that may provide a nice background for some photos. For more nature oriented and sensual settings you may want to look for trees, bushes or forest backgrounds. In many cases, single tree in a rural area can be used with the right angle and tight cropping so that urban buildings are not visible and thus creating the illusion of countryside. For the photo below, we needed some neutral urban setting preferably with grayish colors. I knew that there are some industrial buildings with big garage doors quite nearby that could be used.
The photo of the little wizard is taken next to my neighbor’s gate. I wanted to get some old looking wizardly props into the photo and I recalled the gate that could add some depth to the photo. Again the key is to make the framing and composition so that nothing extra is visible. In this case neighbor’s house would be visible if the photo would have been taken in the wrong angle.
By practicing a different type of outdoor portraits near your home, you gain knowledge that what kind of backgrounds work and how to use the environment. If there comes a need to do an outdoor photoshoot in the area, which you do not know beforehand, it will be then easier to quickly spot and decide possible shooting location. One trick I have sometimes used is to check the location beforehand via Google Street View to see if there any suitable walls around.
Location scouting and carefully choosing the angle and framing for the photo are something to start with when taking outdoor portraits. Then you need to think about the light and weather conditions, which I will discuss in future posts. After those are set, then it is time to create some candid moments with the subject, and hopefully, you’ll get a good set of photos for some post processing.