Nature Portrait Photography: How to Improve Outdoor Portraits (2021)

What is purer than nature and more natural than photography? What can be more charming than nature portrait photography?

Photography is the universal vision that is created with and through the eyes. For some people, photography shows untold stories; for others, it expresses passion, art, and emotions. With just one picture, you can capture a moment that will last forever. 

Focusing on nature, let’s explore how to improve your outdoor portrait photography.

This article will include:

  • how to capture the best nature portrait pictures;
  • the right setup for this genre of photography;
  • some techniques that will help you get stunning nature portraits;
  • more tips for nature portrait photos.

So, let’s begin with some classy tips.

Nature portrait photography

“Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

Table of contents

Start with a story

As I’m always saying, knowing your model will make your work easier. Take a walk with your model, get to know them, find a place where both of you are comfortable, and ask them things that make them feel relaxed.

Creating a mood for your model is one of your duties. If you are not very comfortable with taking pictures of someone new,  start with a friend or somebody from the family.

Once you start with someone familiar, you will have more confidence in you and your shooting.

No matter if you are photographing a model or a friend, you have to tell a story to give some depth to your photos. Create a tale before you start. Which is the connection between the model and nature? Who is he or she? What are they doing there?

This way, you will have an image gallery that tells a story through pictures. For portrait photos, you can imagine a young woman on a flower field, or a mysterious boy walking through the woods with a journal, and so on. Let your imagination be one with the model. 

Work with natural light

Natural light is a photographer’s best friend. Most people prefer to take pictures under the warmth of the sun and play with the light. But when is the perfect light to take amazing shots? So many rumors about the pictures of the sunset and the famous golden hour.

And to answer the question, the flawless time of day to take portraits is 2-3 hours before sunset and 1-2 hours after sunrise. This time of day, the sun will cast a golden hue that will compliment the skin of your model and won’t cast harsh light and dark shadows. 

Nature portrait photography
Portrait of a woman during golden hour

What if it’s a cloudy day? Well, don’t worry! This will give you pictures with soft light, a silver atmosphere, and a story to tell. Also, some shots in the rain will create an interesting mood for your images. 

Nature portrait photography
Portrait on a cloudy day

Every season has its qualities. You can use as background the trees and flowers in the spring, the purity of sunlight and the blue sky in the summer, colored trees and leaves in the autumn, and snowflakes in the winter.

Besides that, the light will be different in each season. Don’t forget to interact with nature and use its elements in your pictures. Nature’s details will give an outstanding perspective to your portraits.

The ideal setups for nature portraits

Let’s discuss the setups of the camera for ideal portrait photography. First, you have to know how to work with the exposure triangle.

Shoot in continuous mode and open up the aperture as much as you can. Depending on the light, use a fast shutter speed to get clear images without motion blur.

And last but not least, use the ISO at its minimum. These three variables work together to give you properly exposed photos. 

Nature portrait photography
Digital camera for portraits

Once you start with photography, you have to choose the essential camera for your genre of photography. The camera and gear you choose will depend on your budget and your style of shooting.

However, if you intend to become a pro photographer, you should eventually invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a variety of pro-quality lenses. Canon, Nikon, and Fuji, and Sony are all great options.

Explore different locations

The way to becoming a professional photographer is to explore as many places as you can. Of course, the camera and the model are essential, but the background and the place matter just as much.

Even if you choose to take pictures in the city or somewhere in nature, don’t limit yourself to one place. Get creative and investigate many places where you can take photos. Pay attention to the details and elements. These items will put the model in the spotlight. 

Nature portrait photography
Exploring locations

Be prepared

Another tip that can improve your portraits is preparing your model for this shooting. Depending on the place you have chosen, help them pick the right clothes, make-up, and hairstyle. These things should be in contrast with the colors of the shooting’s location. Combine these elements with the landscape. 

Nature portrait photography
Prepare your model

You can also bring objects to decorate the location but don’t make it too extravagant. You don’t want your pictures to look unnatural. If you take this shooting in the woods, take a wooden chair or a bench. Also, a mirror will ensure good reflections and incredible portraits.

Nature portrait photography
Portrait and reflection in a mirror

Some things can help you improve the portraits, but did you think of bringing a pet? Pictures with animals are so much fun, and people love them. Just imagine taking photos of a girl with a cape and her horse or a cowboy riding a horse through the woods. That is a story to tell!

Techniques for nature portraits

Let’s get a little bit technical and discuss some concepts. Try focusing the camera on your model and make the background blurred. This is called a “shallow depth of field” and the blurry background is known as bokeh. It’s one of the characteristics of a photo that will give it a more professional look.

To achieve bokeh in an image, you have to use fast lenses and open the aperture as wide as you can. It will give you a perfect blurred background.

Moreover, you can let your model blur in the background and capture nature in the foreground. This will give you a different perspective on your natural light portrait.

Nature portrait photography

You’ve probably heard over and over about shooting in RAW.

If you want to get more control in post-processing photos, that’s the way. Unlike JPEG, working with RAW will allow you to make adjustments to your pictures, and you will get the highest level of quality.

If you want your camera to be as fine as your sight, shoot in RAW and record greater levels of detail.

Get inspiration from other nature portrait photographers

One of the things that I like to give as advice is that you should get inspiration from other photographers’ images. As a beginner, all these techniques and tips can overwhelm you and not give you the vision you want. It’s not unpleasant to get inspiration from others; just don’t copy them.

Take a look through other people’s pictures, analyze the position of the model, the background, the scenery, and then create a different vision of how you should take a natural light portrait. With a little research and a little inspiration, all you will have to do is to experiment with new shots.

Photo editing

With all these tips you basically have half of the work done. All you have to do now is to post-process your pictures.

Nature portrait photography
Photo editing

Photo editing can be a fun part as well. There are many photo editing programs, but most photographers are using Adobe Photoshop. Do you know how to work in Photoshop? Let’s sort it out.

Correct the exposure

There will be times when you won’t get the right exposure for your photos. Maybe your pictures will be too bright or too dark, and you will need to make some adjustments.

Moreover, I advise you to adjust the contrast, the range of dark to light tones. Typically, you will want a middle contrast that avoids high and low lights.

Color adjustments

When taking pictures outside, you might have the necessary light, but you have to make some adjustments to balance the brightness on your camera. Sometimes, if you use incorrect white balance, it can affect your color and add a dramatic perspective to your pictures.

Color adjustments
Color adjustments

Adjust the vibrance, saturation, and contrast. Color Balance is the most straightforward tool that fixes your images and gives you more accurate colors.

Remove unwanted marks

First of all, make sure that your sensor is clean. You don’t want dust particles to show up in your images. But there are moments when you can’t avoid this.

In Photoshop, some tools can fix this problem: Spot Healing Brush Tool, Healing Brush Tool, Patch Tool, and Clone Stamp. These tools can also remove stains on the model clothes, dirty background, and different blemishes that can affect your image’s attractiveness.

Blurring filters

Even if you’re using the bokeh technique and your image is in perfect focus, sometimes your picture will not be as blurry as you wanted.

Nature portrait photography
Nature portrait with blurred background

Photoshop’s blurring tools can help you create a shallow depth of field. Make small adjustments, and don’t exaggerate with this filter. You want your pictures to look natural, don’t you?

Key takeaways

  • Get to know your models and let your imagination be one with them;
  • The flawless light to take nature portraits is 2-3 hours before sunset and 1-2 hours after sunrise;
  • Depending on the light, use the fast shutter speed to get clear images;
  • Shoot in continuous mode and open up the aperture as much as you can;
  • Get creative and investigate many places where you can take photos;
  • Pay attention to the details and elements;
  • You can bring things to decorate the location but not something extravagant;
  • To achieve bokeh in an image, you have to use fast lenses and open the aperture as wide as you can;
  • Take a look through other’s pictures, analyze the position of the model, the background, the scenery, and then create a different vision of how you should take nature portraits;
  • Photo editing is a part of the photography life – correct the exposure, adjust colors, remove unwanted marks and use blurring filters;
  • Create a photography website and showcase and/or sell your work.

Final thoughts

Nature can be really helpful in capturing outstanding pictures. Take advantage of the golden hour to achieve perfectly lit portraits.

Be creative, take as many shots as you can, and capture every corner of this world. It’s all about the quality and the quantity as well. Take as much time as you need to improve your photography skills. 

Don’t forget to go with the flow! As a photographer, you should get creative with nature’s elements and be relaxed. Only this way will you be able to convey your vision to the world.

Andreea Popa

Andreea is a blog manager at WPChill who spends most of her days writing and "polishing" articles. When she isn't working, she's in the heart of the mountains, looking for peace and inspiration.

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