If you are looking for some tips to improve your daylight portraits you have come to the right place since this article is full of quick and easy tips that will improve your daylight portrait shots no end. “So what are these tips?” I hear you cry. Please keep reading to find out………………
1. Use a wide angle lens
I find that I capture more engaging portraits getting in nice and close to the subject where I can direct them, communicate with them and make them feel more comfortable, and this requires a wide angle lens. Some portrait photographers like to use a longer focal length tele lens however I find that using a lens likes this means I have to be a fair distance from the subject, which doesn’t result in an engaging shot.
If you want to capture the best portraits I recommend using a lens with a shorter focal length and a wider field of view.
2. Use a zoom lens
Many photographers will only use a prime lens for portrait photography because prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. I don’t deny that prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses, but it is worth remembering that a super sharp lens will show every spot, blemish, pimple and variation in skin tone, none of which makes for a flattering photo. There are times when it is better to use a slightly softer lens, and portrait photography is one of those times. Whilst zoom lenses may be a little softer than prime lenses, they are still sharp and more than up to the job.
The other thing about zoom lenses is they are more versatile than prime lenses, and composition and framing is quicker, easier and more efficient than using prime lenses. I like my portrait shoots to be fluid and run smoothly, and using a zoo lens ensures this happens as there are no “stop gaps” to change to a different prime lens.
The zoom lens I use for my portrait photography is the 24mm – 70mm F2.8, and since I shoot Canon it is the Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L on a full frame Canon 6D camera. The Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L is an awesome lens and it is my go to lens for single portraits. The build quality is second to none, the image quality is superb and the maximum aperture allows me to intentionally throw the background out of focus to make sure all the attention is on the subject. For an honest and unbiased review of this lens check out “Review of the Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L”.
3. Get the subject in the shade
It is not possible to control the ambient light therefore the first thing you need to try and do is get the subject out of it and in the shade where you will have a lot more control.
It is a common misconception that you only need to get the subject n to the shade in bright sunshine, however this is not the case. Even on those dull days there is enough ambient light to make shooting with a wide aperture, i.e. to intentionally blur out the background, impossible and because of this I would always recommend getting the subject in the shade wherever possible.
When shooting out in the open, i.e. where there is no shade, I always take a large reflector covered with some material to suspend above the model and block some light. This obviously requires an assistant, or a willing passer-by.
4. Use some artificial light
With the subject in the shade it is more than likely there are shadows on the subject, and these aren’t going to make for a good portrait. In this scenario there is only one thing to do and that is to lift the shadows using some artificial light, i.e. a flash or speed light.
Whenever I take portraits I set up an off camera key light and use a camera mounted speed light for fill. I set the power of the key light, and hence the flash exposure, manually because it remains stationary and a fixed distance from the subject. I leave the fill camera in ETTL mode because the way I shoot is to move around the subject taking photos from different locations and angles, hence the flash to subject difference constantly changes.
My daylight portrait lighting kit is made up of a Godox Witstro AD360 as the key light and a Godox Ving 860 speed light to provide the fill light. The Witstro is a powerful and portable battery powered flash (for an honest and unbiased review take a look at “Review of the Godox Witstro AD360”) offering the best compromise between portability and power, and since it cost less than the Canon and Nikon top end speed lights it is an affordable and more powerful option.
The Godox Ving 860 is another Chinese made lighting solution that is as powerful as the top end Canon and Nikon speed lights, and contains all the advance features, but a fraction of the cost. I was effectively forced in to buying a Godox Ving, and boy am I glad I was because it is a real gem of speed light. For an honest an unbiased review of the Godox Ving take a look at “Review of the Godox Ving 860”.
5. Use an ND filter
When I take portraits I like to shoot wide open to intentionally blur out the background, however sometimes there is too much ambient light to do this. In these circumstances I ‘block out’ some of the ambient light with an ND filter, and I use screw in ND filters for this.
Square filters and filter holders are the best option for landscape photography, but screw in filters are the best for portraits because they are less cumbersome and allow you to move around the subject unhampered.
6. Ditch the tripod
Portrait photography should be fluid and tripods are a burden and a tie that interrupts the flow of the shoot. Rather than tether the camera to the tripod you will get better portraits if you handhold the camera and move around the subject taking photos from different angles and different locations as you go.
7. Get some separation between the subject and the background
If you want to get super creamy bokeh, i.e. out of focus background, you need to get the largest distance between the subject and the background as possible. Some people think that using the widest aperture possible is enough, but this is not always the case and I can personally vouch for that. What you need to do is get the subject as far away from the background as possible.
I have to admit that I prefer using a natural background whenever I can, however I always carry a plain white photography background around with me for those times when I can’t get a good distance between the subject and the background. A plain white background may seem like a strange choice of background, after all white does look clinical, however the reason for this is because I can easily change the colour of a white background, or even add a pattern, whilst editing the photo in the digital darkroom.
So there we have it, some tips and tricks that I hope you will find useful and improve your daylight portraits.
Other portrait photography articles that may be of interest
Basic portrait photography tips, is as said in the title, the basic portrait tips you need to get awesome portrait shots. Even if you are no longer a beginner it is always worth a quick refresher.
Advanced portrait tips is, as I sure you have already guessed, an article of more advanced tips that will take your portrait shots to the next level.
Portrait lighting is an article focusing on, yep you guessed it, lighting tips and tricks to help you get the best portrait shots you can.
The best lens for portrait photography is an article that looks at the lenses available that will take your portrait photos to the next level.
Portrait photography on a budget is an article that proves you don’t need deep pockets to capture stunning portrait photos.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.