5 Tips for Taking Better Portraits in Nature

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I can’t get enough of being outside in nature.

I often go out on trail runs with my friends, and we spend most of the run grinning from ear to ear, exclaiming how lucky we are to be here on this earth, and how beautiful every single thing is. I love to go camping with my family, where we set up hammocks in the trees, listen to the birds singing, and the leafy wind sounds as we gaze up into the sky.

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So it makes perfect sense to me to take photos of people in the great outdoors. Nature elevates the whole photo to something much more interesting than a simple studio backdrop. People are my favorite subjects, and nature is my favorite setting, so I’d love to share a few ideas to help your nature portraits be even more exciting.

1 – Nature’s Colors Can Complement Perfectly

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Sometimes you may notice that your subject’s hair, eyes, lips, or clothing matches some floral blooms, leaves, sky, or rocks perfectly. Photographing your subject with colors in mind can bring out some of those things beautifully, and make a gorgeous photo. Sometimes the colors may match exactly, or they may be opposite on the color wheel, and make your subject just pop.

For example, if your subject is wearing purple, keep an eye out for yellow leaves. If you are doing your photographs in a place with lots of green, pops of red can really stand out. If your subject has startling blue eyes, use water or the sky to bring out that blue even more. Start paying attention to the colors in your photos, along with composition, light, etc., and your photos will have a whole new dimension to them.

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2 – Focus on Nature and Let the People Blur into the Background

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For a new perspective, try focusing your camera on nature in the foreground, and letting the people in the background be out of focus. This is especially effective for photos that feel like you’re getting a glimpse of something private, like a kiss, or a mother with her newborn baby.

You can do this by setting your aperture wide (a low number, for example, between f/1.8 and f/2.8), setting your camera to let you choose the focus point, then making sure your focus point is on the flowers, leaves, or rocks in the foreground. Make sure your subjects are standing far enough behind your foreground, so they will definitely be out of focus. You want it to look like it was done purposely, not like you accidentally missed the focus on your subjects.

3 – Be Playful and Interact With Nature

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Nature is full of props to make your photos even more fun. You can use logs, rocks, and branches to perch on. You can use leaves or snow for your subject to blow on, or throw, in the air. You can have them walk through a stream, or throw rocks from the bank. Use a flower to tuck in the hair, or to smell. The ideas are endless, and if your subjects are really outdoorsy and they interact with nature regularly, make sure to capture that during your photo session with them.

Be kind to nature around you, though, and try to leave everything the same or better than you found it. Remember that if everyone broke branches, picked a bouquet of wildflowers, or stomped on untouched fragile foliage, there would be nothing left for any of us to enjoy. Tread lightly, pick up any trash, and don’t leave a trace.

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4 – Dress Mother Nature up a Little Bit

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You can create a whimsical, unexpected photo, with a few unlikely props. Carefully hanging a chandelier from a tree, or a bench or couch in a field, can be a lot of fun. Try props like a retro typewriter in the middle of a forest, or balloons at the beach. It’s hard to look at a photo with something so playful and fanciful, without smiling.

5 – Make Nature the Star of the Show

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I love images of beautiful scenes in nature, but I love a photo of a person IN a beautiful scene in nature even more. It shows scale, and adds so much interest to the photo. Your human in the photo may almost be an afterthought, maybe even almost blending in to the scene.

Look for beautiful scenes that would make pretty photos alone, then add your person into the shot. These types of photos work perfectly to print up gigantic and hang up on the wall. Close up photos are fantastic, but sometimes pulling way back, and getting more scenery than person in a photo, is the perfect thing to do.

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Summary

I hope these tips give you some ideas to get out and take some portraits in nature.

How have you used nature to enhance your portraits? I’d love to see your nature portrait photos in the comments if you’d like to share.

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Melinda Smith was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

  • Thanks – my hubby may not be happy with me saying he is going to be my model but i will try that lake shot if I find the right light to do that mirror shot 😀

  • Please share! 🙂

  • Very nice example shots. Lovely!

  • Thank you so much!

  • Wait a moment! I could recognize some of these photos by color tone, framing etc. and said to myself that, these photos are similar to Melinda Smith Photography.

    I came to this post via dPs Newsletter. And found out that you are the same person!

    I really love the portraits you take of family and couples. Great shots indeed. 🙂

  • I will do – I will be offline for a while as I am relocating – but I will share my flickr page here when I upload the photos 😀

  • Nice photos and brilliant tips! Thank you so much

  • Greats tips and examples! As for me, nature is the only background that really inspires me. I’ve learned how to work in a studio before, but without the right props it’s not any fun for me. Nature always changes, it’s never the same from one shot to the other. My favorite model – a friend I’ve known for ten years – is now used to walking into tall grass or getting wet in a river… although the latter did make her catch a really bad cold last time! The shots were totally worth it though. I’ve also made her climb in a tree or stand in awkward vegetation. This one’s from our latest shoot 🙂

  • These are great tips, especially to work with the colors already in nature! I shoot most of my portraits outdoors, so it was good to get a refresher.

    Angelina Is | Bloglovin’

  • Posing is the hardest to me as well as directing a person/model. I like your suggestion of taking shots on the iPhone of stuff you like then pulling it out as you shoot.

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  • Thank you so much!! I love it when people can recognize my work. 🙂

  • Thank you for your comment!

  • This is gorgeous! I am so drawn to it. Thank you for sharing!

  • Thank you!

  • Thanks, I’m glad you like it! 🙂 Your shots are amazing too, my favorite one is the one with the little girl and the dog 🙂

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  • when shooting outdoor portraits, my favorite lens is an 85mm wide open at 1.4 to create smooth bokeh for separation from the background. http://www.flickr.com/artsf

  • Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • Gammelkaptein

    It’s always a choice, shutter speed and aperture. What do you want to be sharp, and what to be blurry? Here I cought my wife in running in water at Kalangala island, Uganda. Maybe more open aperture, since the background isn’t specially nice, but it’s a bit typical for Africa,.
    Another case is that dark skin really needs a lot of light to glow, all in all, I like the pic, it shows movement (;-))

  • Great capture! Thanks for sharing!

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