View Full Version : help me with outdoor portraits please

07-03-2011, 02:33 PM
having some trouble taking my portraits to that "next level" might be a lighting issue and getting used to angles of natural light, using reflector, or maybe even flash lighting, any help would be fantastic as i have 2 weddings to do this summer, canon T1i, ef 100mm 2.8 macro, 50mm 1.8, sigma 70-300mm apo dg macro, and 17-55mm kit lens, 5 in 1 reflector.

07-03-2011, 03:02 PM
Welcome to the forum, Len. I hope you get the information you are looking for to help you out. It's often hard to critique more than one or two images, however, I'll see if I can help out a bit with one main suggestion around lighting.

First, all of these images are quite soft. That may be because you uploaded an image that was larger than 250KB. Images larger than 250KB are automatically resized by the board software and can end up rather mangled. Assuming that's the reason behind the softness I'll make some comments on some other items.

While shooting outdoors is great, it's often much more preferable to move into a shaded spot and avoid the direct sunlight which can be used nicely, as Marko's recent podcast explains, however, for portraits I find it very difficult to get good exposure in that light. In that last shot, for instance, her dress is just a big white blob because it's way over exposed as in the first shot one as well.

07-03-2011, 03:19 PM
Thank you for the welcoming words:)
overall, the softness was intentional due to the fact that the model is an older woman, and i figured that sharpness and detail would accent some wrinkles that wouldn't be too flattering, that being said, i believe the last one was way overdone with too much gaussian blur and am going to fix that one for sure, thank you for your advice on exposure, especially pertaining to her dress, what i really want to achieve is to have a subject "jump" out of the background, but still retain a natural look, not sure if i'm explaining it properly, i wonder if some flash might achieve this, i don't have good off camera flash as of yet but that is my next purchase quite soon

07-03-2011, 03:29 PM
i just looked at your shots on flickr WOW!!
the trash the dress shots are exactly what i was talking about when i said i wanted the subject yo jump out of the background, can you tell me what lens(s) you were using? i shoot with a T1i and I'm trying to figure out the best lens for me to use, whether its worth the money to go with an L series or not


07-03-2011, 05:21 PM
Thanks, Len. I'm shooting with the Canon XSi and have almost exactly the same lenses you have. The 50mm f1.8, the 17-55mm kit, and the Sigma 70-300mm. For portraits, I go with my 50mm or my 70-300mm as I get the sharpest results with those. The Trash the Dress set was done with a borrowed 17-40mm L series which was a bad choice for me that day as I couldn't always get close. I ended up using my Sigma quite a bit as well.

For me what you want to try and do most of the time is match the depth of field to the subject which lets the background blur out and the subject will "jump out" as you put it. The 50mm f1.8 at about 10 feet to 15 feet away will give you a depth of field between 2 and 5 feet. If you make sure there's a reasonable amount of distance between your subject and the background, the background will blur out and the subject will be in sharp focus.

And Marko's rule number 1, always make sure the eyes are sharp. I also live by that rule.

Hope this helps!

07-03-2011, 10:57 PM
thats awesome advice, i'm thinking i will explore the 50 and the sigma zoom for portraits a little more, if i'm not mistaken, alot of the features between my body and yours should be quite similar, that being said, any advice for me on settings to use to achieve the vibrant colours you get, with out things like anoying colour halos and such? do you edit with lightroom and photoshop, or do you use other software?

Thank you so much for your help, you're obviously very talented and passionate, i had more time to explore your shots and they are fantastic:)


Ernst-Ulrich Schafer
07-04-2011, 12:53 AM
Well Len some good advice given.

lst off, as was stated your images are not in focus!!!! Eyes especially need to be sharp!! Are you not using a tripod? It seems like your not. Secondly you need to learn what good exposures are, when you do you'll save yourself alot of time trying to fix it later. Placing your subject in good light and posing them properly is something else one must learn. I would recommend doing alot of practice before those two weddings come around. Hopefully your not getting paid to do these?

Mad Aussie
07-04-2011, 02:16 AM
Ernst is harsh but if you search out his work here at ph.ca you'll see he's easily one of the best portrait photographers we've seen.

I'm not convinced the softness is the file size or just being out of focus. I think much of it is in the processing. Many of these look to me like a fair bit of processing has gone into them and that has removed the sharpness. Glamour filters applied via Photoshop or similar perhaps?
If I'm right, that's fine but sharpness needs to be retained in some areas, especially the eyes! You can have a subject that's sharp in every way except for the eyes ... and you likely have a bad photo.

Just some quick comments ...

Photo 1 - a reasonable effort with solid composition. Some blown out whites but, for this one, it works for me. The main downfall ... the eye is not sharp enough.

Photo 2 - a strong filter applied to this one to create that soft edging on the timber work etc ... which might work had the model been sharper. Subduing the models colour but leaving the colour in the sky is back to front. The sky has colour to compete with your subject rather than be a complement.

Photo 3 - another strong composition but again the sharpness is lacking. Looking at the lack of elements in focus at all, and the non existent depth of field here, it appears you've processed this one as well. Exposure looks ok for most of this except the most important thing ... the models face, which appears under-exposed. Directing more light onto her face via that reflector or a subtle flash would have helped greatly.

Photo 4 - This one just plain looks out of focus. The glare from the reflector or flash in the top right doesn't add to this at all. It's an un-natural, unneeded element. I don't mind the rest of the composition, even with the model partly cut off as she is. Again thought, the vital element, her face/eye is not sharp. Exposure in this is a little over but could be processed back down.

Photo 5 - I like the pose and facial in this one but I think a landscape orientation would have been so much stronger here. This would have allowed you to have more room between her eyes and the edge of the frame, in turn allowing us to follow her gaze for a little longer. I also don't feel that there needs to be as much negative space above her head. Half of that would have been sufficient.
Her face is very nicely exposed in this one, unfortunately the dress is a white out! In that bright light you needed a lower exposure (higher f/stop, shutter speed, or lower ISO setting) to stop that blow out and then light her face a bit more to stop that being under-exposed.

In the end, as the others have said, you taken a bright white dress into bright light with dark shadows and suffered the consequences. It's not an impossible task but you sure did take on a difficult challenge here. Definitely look for more subdued and even light until you can control the light on your subject better.

Oh hey ... welcome to ph.ca ... if you're open minded and not afraid to put yourself out there like this, and willing to try the advice given, you'll really benefit strongly and quickly from being here.

07-04-2011, 09:35 AM
Some good critiques here for sure!
For me, the second i looked at these, i also said the eyes are all soft.
Also for variety - there is not one image of the subject looking into the camera...

Hope you stick around, we love helping new members.

best! Marko

Ernst-Ulrich Schafer
07-07-2011, 11:23 AM
Thanks Marko for unlocking this thread.

07-08-2011, 11:50 PM
thank you to everyone for all of your advice, i plan to stick with it and learn as much as i possibly can, one thing i learned when i was a recording musician/engineer was that old saying: garbage in, garbage out, meaning that what ever you are recording if it goes down on a track and it starts out as garbage, it will come out as garbage, you can have many thousands of dollars in equipment and software but you will never be able to improve it, just try to mask it, i have realized that this caries over to photography as well, if you record a garbage image, you can spend all the money and time you want on it, it will come out as garbage, this applies to my focussing as well as exposure and composition, with all of your help i have seen the light(so to speak hehe) i was in today and extensively tested an ef 70-200 f4L and realized that the jump in price to this lens is well worth the money, this is only a start for higher quality lenses for me, but a good one, with my ef 100mm 2.8 returned and the new one on hold until friday(payday) i'm horny as hell to get out with it and practice all the things you guys have pointed out, i would have loved to have been able to afford the 2.8 version, but this is enough of a jump for me to be happy with for now, i have to remember to be a little patient, and do the best with what i can afford at the moment, and be appreciative of it as well, again, thank you and i'll be sure to post some new ones for your advice as it is very valuable to me, and to ernst: thank you so much for your patience and advice, you are an amazing photography and a great human:)


Mad Aussie
07-09-2011, 01:30 AM
Sold my daughter my first DSLR and kits lenses and bought a better camera and L Series Canon lenses ... and she often produced better photos than I did. Learn to control the light ... the lens shouldn't matter.

07-09-2011, 06:46 AM
I agree the equipment is secondary to learning to use what you have, the oft-repeated adage that it is the photographer that matters most and not the equipment, it should be the first thing every photographer is taught.