If you have one, use an interchangeable lens camera but compact users shouldn't think this means they can't shoot good portraits. Select Portrait Mode as this will tell the camera you want to use a wider aperture to throw the background out of focus. It also helps if you use the telephoto end of the zoom, just keep the camera steady as shake can be emphasised when working closer to your subject.
You want to throw the background out of focus and using a telephoto lens will make this job easier. A telephoto lens also creates a more flattering perspective.
Should I Use A Tripod?
Longer lenses may create a more pleasant and natural looking portrait but when you're working hand-held shake can be a problem. To combat this, don't let your shutter speed value drop lower than your focal length when working hand-held or just put your camera on a tripod.
Soft morning or evening light is good for portraits but sometimes we don't have a choice but to shoot when the sun's more direct and high in the sky. Most people will position themselves so the sun sits behind them, facing their subject but this will only cause them to squint. Instead, position your subject so the sun sits behind them. This will diffuse the light and make yoke subject 'pop' out of the frame by creating a halo of light around their head. Just remember you'll need to meter from your subject's face to get your exposure right as if you meter manually from the background, you'll end up with a silhouetted subject.
Shooting with the sun behind your subject can leave unsightly shadows under the nose and eyes. A pop of flash will remove them but this can look a little artificial, particularly if you're using a compact camera where the flash is more direct, so try using a reflector to bounce extra light into the shot. If you're working alone you'll need to compose your shot and set the camera on a self-time or use a remote release to set the exposure going so you can hold the reflector in place. If your subject's hands aren't going to be in shot you could get them to hold it or rope a friend into be your assistant if you can. If you do want to use flash, take it off your hotshoe (if using a DSLR) and bounce it off a reflective surface to diffuse it.
The light in shaded areas is more even, and is less likely to have spots of bright light and harsh shadows, making them easier to work with.
Even though you're outdoors you don't want the background to overshadow your subject so make sure it's not too busy and throw it out of focus. A wider aperture and putting some distance between your subject and the background will help you achieve this.
You're in the outdoors so use the trees, leaves and flowers around you in your portraits. Subjects sometimes don't know what to do with their hands and can look awkward as a result. To stop this, give them something to hold/lean on. Ask them to lean on a tree trunk or hold a branch. How about getting them to blow on dandelions? Or framing their faces with branches and leaves?
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