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5 Tips for Taking Better Portraits in Nature

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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


4 – Dress Mother Nature up a Little Bit


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


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.



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
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.

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