Outdoor photos of people depend on lighting
How light and camera settings influence outdoor photos
Taking good outdoor photos of people requires an understanding of light and camera settings, among other factors.
With today's digital cameras, even fairly basic models offer different settings and selections. The best way to improve at taking good outdoor photos of people is to read your camera's manual and experiment. But starting off with an understanding of a few key factors and settings will help you make more sense of the process.
How Light Affects Photos
"The biggest difference between indoor and outdoor photos is the quality of the light," said Melissa Wilson of Melissa Koren Photography. "There's very little that beats natural light."
But sunlight can also create problems when you want to take good outdoor photos of people. "I remember the first wedding I shot was in a solarium, and it was a quintessentially 'partly cloudy' day," Wilson said. "Beautiful, puffy cotton-ball clouds littered the sky--and blocked the sun. One shot was bright, the next dark. I had to compensate by setting the camera to maintain a certain brightness level in AV, but even that isn't an exact science. I shoot 99 percent of the time in Full Manual now so I can compensate as I go."
You may think, then, that shooting outdoor photos of people would work better in full sunlight. The problem with this approach is that full sunlight that can cause bright colors to look washed out and dark areas or shadows to intensify. The result is a harsh look. (See the Fine Gardening article at the end for comparisons of the same outdoor shot in different light conditions.)
To adjust to natural light when you're taking outdoor photos of people, you need to understand some camera settings.
"Understanding ISO and its effect on shutter speed is the first place to start," Wilson said. One of her favorite sites when she was first learning was Pioneer Woman Photography.
ISO is expressed in a number, and it relates sensitivity to light. You should generally use the lowest ISO you can because the higher numbers result in grainier images. The more light you have, the lower the ISO you need. As you can see, the time of day and the weather conditions will help you determine what ISO you need when you're trying to take good outdoor photos of people.
Your ISO setting also affects the shutter speed and aperture you can use.
"For one or two subjects, I shoot handheld, with as fast a shutter speed as I can manage and a very shallow depth of field," said Greg Abell of Abell Photography. "The fast shutter speed gets you sharpness, the shallow depth of field gets you pleasing bokeh, both of which are essential elements to a good shot, in my opinion."
Bokeh is the blur
in out-of-focus areas. In contrast, the depth of field is the sharply focused
area. Have you ever seen outdoor photos of people where the people appeared
sharp and crisp, but the background was blurred? This can draw attention to the
subject of the photo or prevent distraction from the background.
Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. The bigger the number after the slash, the faster the speed. Faster shutter speeds prevent blurry images, either from your unsteady hands or the subject's motion. However, increasing your shutter speed also allows less light into your camera, so you may need to increase the aperture or the ISO to make up the difference.
"If you are photographing a group, use a tripod. This is the best way to get a good, sharp portrait," Abell said. "Use a smaller aperture to ensure sufficient depth of field, but don't go overboard."
Aperture is the lens opening that admits light. It plays hand-in-hand with the depth of field, or the focused area in your image. A larger depth of field means the subject and background will both be in focus. A shallow depth of field means the subject will be in focus, but the background will be blurred.
If you want to keep the surroundings from overwhelming the subjects in your outdoor photos of people, you must select the appropriate depth of field. "For the least sharp background, use the longest lens you have and shoot wide open," Abell said. "When I use a 300mm, I use it wide open at f/4 (I have the inexpensive version of this lens), and it works well with a single person."
What if the background is important to the picture? "If you want to include the background more, you can use a wider lens (shorter focal length) or use a smaller aperture, or both," Abell said.
As with other skills, taking good outdoor photos of people also requires practice. "Every shot I compose (hopefully) tells a story," Wilson said. "I'd love to say that every part of every shot is on purpose, but in general I photograph 'in the moment.' Sometimes it's not until I get home and start to cull through the photos and do my edits that I fully see the background as it is."
Jake Miller, "Take Photos that Look as Good as Your Garden," Fine Gardening
Darren Rowse, "Learning about Exposure--The Exposure Triangle," Digital Photography School