7 Outdoor Photography Essentials
We all love looking at photos captured on location, perfectly exposed, wondering, how did they do that? When we started out this was one of our main questions, always hunting for those shaded spots, now we realize that a lot of these questions still come up every time we shoot, except now we use them as guidelines rather than worrying about the “scary” questions we kept asking.
Below we have compiled a list of those questions – in no particular order – we ask when we shoot, that helps us ensure the standard of our work remains at a certain level; it also helps us to not step into those traps that we easily get caught up in.
Generally speaking mid-day is the harshest time to shoot outside, or shall we say, anytime from around 11am until around 3pm in the blazing sun, this is generally seen as a hot time, in other words if you are out trying to shoot nice soft beautifully evenly exposed images you might find it a little more complicated, all of a sudden you have to compete with blocked shadows and blown out highlights.
Due to this, most people would tell you to make use of the softer times of day to schedule your photo sessions. The best way is to book your shoots to end around 10 in the mornings (so you have some time available if you run over); or only start shooting around 4pm to shoot into the “golden hour” (the 2-3 hour gap right after sunrise or right before sunset. To get the best light, try going 2-3 hours before sunset or 1-2 hours after sunrise) time. The sun during these times is usually low and doesn’t cause too many contrasting shadows, providing you with a great outdoor portrait lighting setup once you learn to use it.
In the end there is no real best time, you have to learn how to work with the light, but usually, shooting toward the sun is a horrible idea. This ends up washing out the color from your images or harsh blocked out shadows. When possible try and keep with the direction of light and work with it to enhance your images. The best option is to shoot with the sun behind you since this will result in a well-illuminated subject with pleasing shadows.
This is a little something not everyone thinks about, sometimes weighing themselves down; and it results in a tired photographer on set, not being able to give their best. You have to know where you are going and what you will be doing. By planning ahead you know exactly what to pack for the specific project, concept, or occasion, and more importantly, what to leave at home in order to keep things light – especially if you plan on hiking a distance to reach the location. Make sure to pack an adequate amount of snacks and water to remain hydrated and comfortable.
Today, most modern cameras especially DSLR’s and Mirrorless Cameras, give you the option to shoot in RAW format. Unlike JPEG, RAW is an image format that allows you to make considerable adjustments to your original file without losing quality while you are in the post-production stage.
You may not be too concerned with post processing when starting out, but at some point you may want to experiment and grow by editing your images. When you do, you’ll prefer shooting in RAW since this will give you the most flexibility in post processing, allowing you to easier to get the results you’re after.
In order to work with RAW files on your computer, you would have to get a specialized software that reads RAW formats, and allows you to view and edit these files.
Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop packages are the standard in the industry, although some photographers prefer using other alternatives to these.
While most modern cameras are quite good at guessing the white balance, they don’t always get it spot on. You may not necessarily realise it, but there can be minor changes during the day that will make a big difference in the way your camera captures the image. Sometimes you’ll need to slightly adjust the white balance yourself, or set up a custom white balance to adjust for the difference in color.
If you’re shooting in RAW, however, this wouldn’t be a serious issue, as stated before you can always adjust the white balance in your post processing method later on.
Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and try getting something new and different.
Is there an abandoned building that you know of? Do a little research and if it’s safe, go check it out, especially if you’re into street photography. Don’t be afraid to try different locations, angles and poses for your model. This way you’ll discover where and how outdoor lighting works its wonders.
Try a variety of different things by making use of wide-angle or telephoto lenses, rather than your standard lens. Play around with your focal length for better or different results.
Get creative, have fun, and be an artist!
Now this is the time where everything becomes a little more technical, even if you plan on blurring the background, if it is in the background it is part of your frame and could just be the reason you feel the shot is ruined.
A very common technique that photographers use is shooting at a shallow depth of field and having everything that shouldn’t be part of the main focus blurred, this is referred to as “Bokeh”, a feature that makes a photograph stand out. So a tip for new photographers to gain better results quicker while learning is to shoot on ‘aperture priority’. This will allow you to easily and without any thought or change go from close-up portraits to wider shots, by allowing your camera to guess the best exposure for your current aperture and ISO settings.
But getting back to paying attention on your background/surroundings, remember this includes everything from:
- The Horizon:
When you’re shooting outside it means you’re chances are high to have some horizon present, not always, but often.
- Firstly: Keep it straight, or skew it out, no in between.
- Secondly: Where are you placing it? Should it be present in the shot you are taking? Does it look strange or are you decapitating your subjects?
Ask yourself. What are you focusing on in frame? Where do you want your viewer’s eye to be drawn? How do you want your viewer to feel? These questions help you decide what the best horizon placement for a specific photo is.
- Look for Water:
Water can always be a beautiful feature when used in photos, helping to add a soft and tranquil feeling to a scene. Whether you use it for reflections, to create some Bokeh, or slow shutter water drags, it’s almost always a pleasure to capture.
- Look out for Leading Lines:
They always help when you struggle to find composition, these include fences, roads, coastlines, paths, or trails. They do not always need to be obvious, sometimes they are solely used to guide the viewer’s eye.
And finally, you have spent the time to take the photos… What do you do now?
Post your work online, order prints and show them to friends, family, co-workers; let other people see your work. As a photographer you see others work that you admire, show them your work and listen to what they say, take the criticism and learn, adapt and improve.
In the end you need to remember photography like any other visual creative art form is very subjective, tastes differ and people like different things, learn from the pro’s you admire and lose those bad habits that are only restricting your growth.
Photography is art, it takes practice. These tips and tricks can save you time and energy. Whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, you might find another point of view that can allow you to grow as a photographer even more.
That pretty much sums it all up. Now that you have an idea of what the basic outdoor photography essentials are, grab your camera, go on an adventure, and get your next masterpiece done! Get out there, grab some awesome outdoor shots and share them with the world.