Outdoor Photography

How Do You Prepare for an Outdoor Photoshoot?

Photographing on location is hard work and so worth it!

The secret to a successful shoot is being diligent about preparing for a photoshoot on location. Every time you go back to the exact location, you will encounter new challenges and develop new ways to shoot in that location.

So, you’ve decided on your location, and you can’t wait to use it. Now you need to ensure you cover all eventualities. Well, as many as possible anyway.

At Cosmopolitan Events, we have compiled a list of the Best Photographers in Melbourne to help you choose who captures your magical day.

Below are pro tips that will help you prepare your shoot. And teach you to take unique natural light portraits using daylight as the primary source.

Gear Prep & Packing

When preparing for a photoshoot on location, pack the night before in the same way that you fill to go away on holiday. First, lay everything out to make sure that you have every item that you might need.

Charging And Formatting

Then make sure all batteries are charged, including mobile phones, and all memory cards are formatted.

Check Camera Settings

Check that all settings on your camera(s) are set to approximately what you will need the next day, such as white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focus mode and autofocus area. Starting a shoot frazzled is not ideal. It would help if you began to calm, confident and in control.

Cleaning And Packing

Next, ensure your lenses and filters are clean and ready for use.

Packing Props & Accessories

Preparing for a photoshoot on location involves more than packing your photography gear.

If you’re doing a heavily styled shoot, you need to give as much attention to ensuring all your styling props and accessories are in tip-top shape and well packed to arrive without damage.

When packing, it’s essential to think about how you’ll transport, carry and unpack everything. These points seem obvious, but when you have a million things buzzing through your mind, they’re quickly forgotten.

The first items to pack are the items you will need last. If possible, pack props inside other props to save space.

Consider how well everything will fit into your vehicle/s. Even on a simple family shoot with very young children, you need to consider extra items, such as a rug that you can put down on the ground for the little ones to sit on.

The “What If” List

So many things that can happen on a location shoot, especially if children and animals are involved.

You can’t cater for every eventuality, and sometimes, things that happen are just part of the character of the shoot. When photographing families, a child getting muddy or wet part way through a node is an excellent example of not going according to plan. But since when are children sparkling clean all day long? In these instances, think that it’s just part of real life and bring reality into their photographic memories.

On a commercial shoot, it’s not so endearing if clothing gets marked. If props or gear are damaged, it’s potentially disastrous. For this reason, I like to have a plan b (i.e. backup) for every essential item on every shoot.

The List

Here are some handy extras to pack when preparing for a photo shoot on location. Of course, not every item is needed every time – it depends on the node:

  • Tissues – the handy travel pack type are best
  • Clothes brush – to easily brush away hair, dust, vegetation
  • Lint roller – for fluff and hair on clothing
  • Hand brush and a plastic bag – unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary to sweep up cigarette butts, and if I encounter litter, I clear it from the scene to throw away later
  • Clips – to pin back clothing
  • Clamps – to pin back or hold up more oversized items, including foliage, backgrounds, or fabric
  • Velcro straps and gaffers tape – you never know when something needs fixing, modifying or tying back
  • String and scissors – tie back an errant vegetation frond that is in the way, rather than breaking it off
  • Spare hairbands and hairpins – because when the wind suddenly picks up, it’s sometimes easier to adapt than to fight it, or for a quick look change
  • Towel – because things happen and you need to wipe moisture or dirt away
  • Ground cloth – if you need to lie down to get the shot and the ground is not the best to lie on if you want your subject/bride/model to sit for a picture, and the ground/wall/seat is dirty, their clothing will get messed up, or sometimes you need to pack out some of your gear, and a cloth is better than the dusty/wet/muddy ground
  • Blanket – for young kids to sit on in a shot and to warm your model up in cold weather in between shooting
  • Pop up changing tent – so that a change of outfits is quick and easy anywhere
  • Shade – if shooting in the heat with no shade, you’ll need to bring the shade with you; umbrella or a gazebo
  • Sewing kit – the type you get in a welcome hotel pack
  • Camera cleaning kit – lens cloth and dust blower
  • Spare batteries and memory cards
  • Sustenance – water, snack bars, fruit

Tips For Improving Outdoor Portraits

Outdoor Photography

Never Select All Of The Focus Points For Portraits; Pick One.

When you pick the autofocus option that allows the camera to select focus points, you are doing your portraits a terrible disservice.

This camera feature is usually designed to pick whatever is closest to the lens and focus there. In some cases, the camera will choose a cluster of focus points and make a “best guess” based on averaging the selected points’ distance. Using one focus point gives you, the photographer, ultimate control.

Always Focus On The Eyes.

The eyes are the windows to the soul and should be the focal point of any good portrait. Not only are the eyes the most important part of a good portrait, but they are the sharpest element on the face and should be left that way. When you are shooting with an overall aperture value and you’re focused on the eyes, the lens’s bokeh will aid in softening the skin, as well.

Shoot Wide Open For Shallow Depth Of Field

There are quite a few reasons to invest in a fast lens capable of broad aperture values; the most common is shallow depth of field. If you can shoot at ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/4, you should use it. Most fantastic natural light portraits are from broad aperture values, and it is all because of the beautiful smooth background blur we call “bokeh.”

Never Shoot A Portrait At Less Than 50mm; Try To Stay At 70mm Or Higher.

The last thing you want to hear from a client is, “Why does my head look swollen?”

Any focal length below 70mm can distort your subject. However, it doesn’t become very noticeable until you are below 50mm. The compression effect of a telephoto lens will also increase the blur of bokeh. Most of my portraits are done between 120mm and 200mm.

Always Shoot In Raw.

These words have bellowed from my mouth a thousand times, and they will surely come out a million more. Raw is an unmodified compilation of your sensor’s data during the time of exposure. It is your digital negative. When you shoot in JPEG format, everything but what the image processor needs to make a shell representation of the image you intended to capture is stripped away. For every edit you make to a JPG, you lose more data. With RAW, you can make a vast range of amendments before creating the JPG.

How can this make your portrait better? Think about the last time your white balance was set incorrectly, and you tried for hours to remove the colour cast, only to destroy the image with every attempt. RAW would have saved you by allowing you to fix the colour before opening the image for retouching.

Shoot In The Shade (Avoid Direct Sunlight)

Direct sunlight is harsh, makes your subject squint, and creates hard directional shadows and unpredictable white balance conditions. There are no more harsh shadows when shooting in the shade, only smooth, milky shadows created by your subject’s natural features. With proper exposure and white balance, you can make these shots look fantastic.

I Am Shooting Carefully On An Overcast Day.

Nature’s softbox is a giant blanket of clouds. An excellent heavy blanket of cloud cover can help you enrich your colours and make some very smooth and pleasing shadows.

If You Must Use Hot, Hard, Bright Light

Always try to control the direction, use some reflector, and try to mimic a studio light. Putting the sun directly behind your subject isn’t a good idea unless you try to make a silhouette.

When the sun is at my back, have the subject look off-camera (away from the sun) and get very nice results. Another great trick is to wait for a cloud to move in front of the sun; this usually creates a very bright-yet-contrasted look.

Use An Existing Reflector.

For example, I guess that about 75% of the delivery trucks on the planet are white. These big, white delivery trucks can make excellent fill light reflectors as long as they weren’t painted with an off-white. (A yellow tint can change the white balance in your shadows.) Picture framing outlets and craft stores always have medium-to-large-sized pieces of foam core lying around that have been left for scrap. They are usually more than happy to part with these scraps and, if not, the chances are that there are pieces by the dumpster.

Learn The Sunny Ƒ/16 Rule


So you have a baseline for proper exposure in your mind to work with if no other tools are present.

The sunny ƒ/16 rule states that on a sunny day, with your aperture value set to ƒ/16, your shutter speed will be the inverse of the current ISO speed. For example, if your camera is set to ISO 100, and your aperture value is ƒ/16, your shutter speed will be 1/100th of a second. On a cloudy day (or when in the shade), you use ƒ/8 instead. If you own an incident light meter or grey card, use either for the most accurate exposure instead.

Bring A Sheet And A Few Spring Clamps From Home.

Leave the expensive 200-thread-count sheets on the bed. You already got them? Well, put them back. Do you know that cheap old sheet you stuck in the corner of the closet to use as a drop cloth the next time you paint? Get it.

(Another option is to buy the cheapest low-thread-count white top sheet you can find.)

A queen-size sheet is a unique, cheap diffuser—sort of a seven-foot softbox for the sun. Wrap an edge of the sheet around a branch or clothesline and clamp for a sidelight.

(Anchor the bottom corners with rocks to keep the sheet from blowing into your image.) Clamp all four corners to anything you can above your subject for an overhead light.

Keep The Power Lines And Signs Out!

We have already discussed keeping your camera focused on the eyes, but you must also keep the viewer’s mind focused on the image as a whole. Powerlines, signs, long single blades of grass, single pieces of garbage, and sometimes even trees can be severe distractions from the overall focus of the image: the person you are photographing.

Work With The Weather Every Time You Shoot.

If you have a session outside, you need to treat the weather as one more subject in your shoot. That doesn’t mean you should avoid anything but perfectly sunny and warm days. Based on where you live, that could leave you very few days on which to shoot. I have shot in hot weather, cold weather, rainy weather, heavily cloudy weather; you name it! Know what you’re walking into and prepare yourself (and your subjects) accordingly.

Treat An Outdoor Shoot Like An Event.

Whenever you prepare to host a big event, you make sure to create a plan for the beginning, middle, and end of the event; every detail and possibility is part of the overall plan. The same should be valid for your outdoor photo session. Orchestrate the opening: where (exactly) you will meet, how you will start when you should break for water or a snack, where your subjects will change clothes. A bit of pre-shoot planning (and excellent communication with the client) goes a long way.

Start Shooting (Almost) Immediately.

Unless you notice an uncomfortable family dynamic or are working with a timid child, one of the best ways to start a shoot is to begin. Chat a bit with your subjects when you first meet but start snapping candids reasonably quickly after that. Many of the looks and expressions you get at the beginning of the shoot won’t show up later, so shooting early is a fun way to document a more comprehensive range of terms.

Bring A Source Of Fill Light.

Even though you’ll be shooting outdoors with the most significant leading light of all (the sun), that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the right kind of fill light to fill in the shadows caused by the leading light. Always bring a simple reflector, a flash for fill, or whatever else you might need to illuminate your subject better.

Remember That It’s All An Experience.

Last and most important, have a great time shooting! Enjoy what you’re doing, and it will show in your work (as well as in the expression of your subject).

Part of the fun of shooting outside is a more exciting and varied experience. That’s a good thing, and it’s worth enjoying! Encourage your subjects to enjoy the experience as much as possible by making the session fun, meaningful, silly, or adventurous. That sense of joy will come through in your photographs.

What’s The Best Time Of Day For Outdoor Portraits

Outdoor Photography

Outdoor portrait photography means at a specific time to avoid harsh shadows on the model’s face. “Golden hour” is the 2-3 hour gap right after sunrise or right before sunset. Try going 2-3 hours before sunset or 1-2 hours after morning to get the best light. The sun at these times is pretty low and doesn’t cause contrasting shadows. It does provide you with great outdoor portrait lighting.

A gloomy, cloudy day produces soft light for outdoor portraits with a natural, rounded look. This light is a little bit harder to manage. If your day turned out to be cloudy, pictures would get a particular, silverish ambience. You have to be careful in this setting as a lot of detail can get lost, mainly if you chose the wrong angle or position the camera straight against the sky.

What About The Best Season For Outdoor Portraiture

Ask yourself: what is the season right now? What is interesting about it? You may even find that using cloudy day photography settings will help get the best from adverse weather. You could make use of snowflakes in winter, beautiful colourful leaves in fall, sunny warm days in summer and beautiful trees in blossom in spring.

Every season presents lots and lots of opportunities for a successful shoot in natural light. Outdoor portraits with camera settings for cloudy day photography can give you beautiful images.

How To Post-process Outdoor Portrait Photography

Taking a great picture is 80% of success. The remaining 20% lies in post-production. Here you can showcase your unique style and get creative, but be careful and do not overdo it.

Even the best shot can be spoilt by unskilled Photoshop use. You want to keep the feel of that outdoor photography lighting.

It is an excellent technique to select a sample picture from a photographer whose style you like. Try to match the colours and the look of your image with the reference.

The more you practice, the better you will get. Sooner or later, you will be able to develop your signature style in natural light portraits.

Tip for copyright. Do not place your copyright horizontally. It distracts attention from the actual picture.

If you want to place copyright:

  • Could you put it in the bottom right corner?
  • Turn it vertically so it doesn’t drive away from the viewer’s attention but is still readable.
  • Never use frames or other decorative elements in your photographs.


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