Lady wearing scarf on her head

As temperatures and vaccination rates hit new records, the attraction of enjoying photography outdoors has never been greater. That being said, this newfound freedom may have thrown off our bearings a bit. So, whether it is your first time or after the sabbatical you never asked for, we are going to walk through 3 simple tips to ensure you can create beautiful portraits when you are working outdoors.

Tip 1: Include Backlight

In photography lighting is everything, and depending on your fluency, this can either be the easiest variable to manage or the most difficult. Wherever you are on that spectrum, there is one thing we can all appreciate — the sun will rise tomorrow. Changing your subject’s alignment to the sun and what layers that light may have to go through will impact your final image, and as you go through that process to find the recipe you like, I would encourage you to always include this technique.

If there’s one thing that’ll really benefit that feedback loop of photography, it’s manipulating light to your creative vision. Backlighting is a simple strategy that you can use to use the solar system’s greatest light to create imagery with character.

Lady walking down the street

Creators will throw the word ‘cinematic’ around often and it may mean different things to different people. With respect to photography, I feel that images really showcase the shadow side of a subject embodies that cinematic feeling. Backlighting involves placing the primary light source predominantly behind your subject and then building your composition. What this does is create a new mood and feeling that feels a bit more natural and less posed.

This is also where layering things between the foreground and mid-ground can be valuable because you have more than one item in the frame for the light source to interact with. Try this out the next time you are outdoors — put the light source behind your subject, look for interesting ways to layer the image and see what you can create. Even in the most mundane environments, you should be able to create compelling photographs.

Tip 2: One Shot, Three Ways

Simply put, composition is the way the elements of a photo are positioned and arranged. It also refers to how these elements interact with each other inside the frame. Continuously working on composition is something that should be part of the photography process and it’s something that keeps the entire journey exciting. So, how do we approach composition in an intentional way?

In any meaningful scenario, push yourself to stagger three different perspectives on one subject. Whether you follow traditional composition rules or not is up to you, the key thing I would want you to take away is to pick 3 viewpoints that you could show. 

The very simple approach is wide, medium, tight. You play with three different distances and make each one unique from the previous. This is not about shooting for the sake of shooting. You should really consider the composition. Are you following the rule of thirds or breaking it? Experiment and see what you can pull, but at each meaningful stop, capture three varied perspectives and make this a part of the process.  

1 Portrait Shot, 3 Different Ways

Even if you have been doing it for some time, this practice can challenge you and give you that occasional light bulb moment that changes everything. Whether it is varying your distance to the subject, or something else entirely, look to stagger your composition and introduce variety. Your future self, that editor behind the desk, will really appreciate this effort.

Tip 3: It’s All About Timing

The time you decide to go out and capture your images can make all the difference. It puts you in a box on what you can create and of course, you can make that box bigger by staying out later.

Model Getting Her Picture taken

Start with the image you want to create. Maybe it ‘s not a fully planned outshot, maybe it’s just a theme. From that, work backward to think about what sort of timing will lead to the highest likelihood of success for you. This is not just about where the sun is going to be, though that may be the largest contributor, but also about your process…

  • When is your environment at its best?
  • When will distractions be at their least?
  • When will you and your crew be at your best?

Thinking critically about what you want to create, and then going back to when in the day (or night) you can get as close to that beautiful vision as possible will make a world of a difference.

Check out the video above to see these tips in action!

Gajan Balan

Gajan Balan is an award-winning photographer and creator that has built a career on the idea of creativity shared. His goal is to empower others to create and find fulfillment through that process. His content garners over 1M impressions and 500,000 minutes watched per month, was featured in Vogue, GQ, and Rolling Stone India, as well as earn a gallery spot in London, Paris, and Milan for 2021. Quite simply, he looks to travel the world and tell compelling stories.


Gajan Balan