Outdoor photography can be tricky, especially when trying to capture a great shot of a person and the environment they are in. The majority of my professional photo work is portraits of people that are taken outdoors. The two main elements that I need to get right before anything else are exposing my photos correctly and composing them in a way that the viewer sees my subject and their surrounding in the best light possible. So here are a few tips and tricks to make sure your outdoor shots the best that they can be.
Find a neutral tone to focus on. Just like a DSLR camera, your phone’s camera is going to decide how to best expose a photo based on the light metering it reads just before you press the shutter button. In this sweep panorama photo I took with my HTC One in Austin, Texas, I tapped the screen to focus on the gray road on the bridge and the camera balanced the exposure between the highlights in the sky and the shadows in the trees and the river. Had I focused on the sky, the clouds would have looked great, but anything below the horizon would have been extremely dark. Had I focused on the trees, then the sky would have been completely blown out.
Use your camera’s grid function and shoot in the “rule of thirds.” People much smarter than I am studied and determined that we as humans are more receptive to photos where the main subject isn’t positioned right in the middle of photo. Shooting in the “rule of thirds” positions the main subject off-center in the image and gives the viewer a more balanced shot of your subject and the environment they are in. This is especially true when shooting subjects outdoors. Notice in this picture of my son how he is positioned in the upper left of the photo. This would be a completely different picture if I had him smack in the center of the photo. To help, turn on the grid function in your camera settings to easily line up your subjects according to the rule of thirds and your photos will immediately take on new life.
Create a perspective that gives your viewer all the details. In this shot of my daughter walking along the stone ledge I give you, the viewer, a much more robust understanding of the environment we are in. By dropping down and placing the phone just above the stone patio, I create a depth of field gives so much more to the photo then if I took the photo from my normal standing position. In line with steps one and two, I focused on the neutral-colored stone in front of me to create an even exposure from the ground to the sky and positioned her in the upper left third of the photo.
Look beyond the obvious. Daylight gives you a lot to work with when it comes to photography. Technical tips are great, but taking great photos is about being creative. Look for shadows, reflections, silhouettes, sun flares, and so much more. Sometimes, it is the imperfections of a photo that makes it so perfect.
Other Quick Tips
- I always shoot at ISO 100 when shooting outdoors during daylight hours.
- Reduce your contrast settings when shooting on a sunny day to help balance out the highlights and shadows.
- If your subject is steady, try out HDR mode to balance your outdoor photographs.