I love photographing in nature – and in this article, I’m going to share my top five tips for beautiful nature portraits.
- How to work with colors to create breathtaking compositions
- Creative techniques to level up your photos
- How to use props to produce creative effects
- Much more!
Ready to capture portraits in nature like a pro? Let’s get started.
1. Look for complementary colors
Nature is full of beautiful colors: red flowers, green leaves, orange fruits, yellow grasses…
And while these colors can certainly enhance your portraits on their own, you’ll get the best results if you match colors in nature to colors on your subject.
You may notice that your subject’s hair, eyes, lips, or clothing go well with some floral blooms, leaves, or rocks. So pose your subject in front of the harmonious colors, and make sure that your portrait compositions include both the colors on your subject and the colors of nature.
It helps to always keep an eye out for different colors when working with your subject. I’d also encourage you to spend some time studying color theory. Look at a color wheel, and memorize opposite (also known as complementary) colors; these go well together and will create plenty of contrast.
I’m a big fan of complementary colors. If my subject is wearing purple, I’ll often keep an eye out for yellow leaves. And if I’m shooting in a place with lots of green, I’ll use my camera to highlight the reds in my subject’s clothes or hair.
You should also memorize colors next to one another on the wheel, known as analogous colors, which provide compositions with a peaceful, balanced feeling. For instance, if my subject has startling blue eyes, I’ll search for teal water or green leaves to create a beautiful effect. You can get a similar result by combining multiple shades of the same color, as I did here:
2. Don’t be afraid to blur your subjects
This tip will get you more creative nature portraits.
You see, while most photographers spend lots of time trying to keep their subjects sharp, you can actually capture gorgeous shots if you embrace a blur effect!
Here’s how it works:
First, find a nice foreground subject, something that’s reasonably attractive but won’t draw the eye away from your subject. Flowers, leaves, trees, and grasses work great for this.
Second, make sure that your subject is reasonably far behind the foreground subject. Ask them to strike a meaningful pose; I think the results look best if the scene seems private: a kiss, for instance, or a mother holding her newborn baby. Pro tip: You want the effect to look like it was done purposely, not like you accidentally missed the focus on your subjects, so make sure your subjects really sell the pose!
Third, dial in a wide aperture (I recommend working at f/2.8 and beyond). And focus on the foreground subject. If your camera tries to focus on the background subject (i.e., the people), you can always switch over to a single-point AF area mode and select a focus point over your foreground subject. Alternatively, you can turn off your lens’s autofocus and manually set the point of focus in the right place.
Finally, take your photo, then check the result on your camera LCD. If your subjects look a little too sharp, widen the aperture further or ask them to back up. Alternatively, if your subjects are too blurry, bring them closer to the foreground or narrow that aperture.
3. Ask your subjects to interact with nature
Standard nature portraits are nice, but after a while, they can get a little boring – for both the subject and the viewer.
So why not mix things up with a prop or two? While you could always work with standard props (e.g., umbrellas, baskets, and fairy lights), I’d encourage you to incorporate natural props into each composition. These props will feel more realistic, plus they’ll create a beautiful connection between your subject and nature.
Here are a few props ideas to help you out:
- Logs, rocks, and branches (as perches)
- Leaves or snow (your subject can blow these out of their hand or throw them in the air)
- Streams and lakes (for your subject to walk in)
- Flowers (for your subject to hold, smell, or tuck in their hair)
Really, the sky is the limit – and if you’re not feeling inspired, just keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re outside. I bet you’ll come up with some great prop options!
One note, however:
Be kind to nature around you, 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 to enjoy. So tread lightly, pick up any trash, and don’t leave a trace.
4. Combine natural and artificial elements
Once you’ve mastered the art of incorporating natural props into your nature portraits, I’d encourage you to add artificial elements to the natural landscape.
For instance, you might place a bench or a couch in a field, or you might bring along a retro typewriter or a bundle of balloons.
The resulting photos will have interesting contrast – and if you’re willing to really go wild, you can do all sorts of fun storytelling. You can bring out a table for an Alice in Wonderland vibe, or you can add swords and shields for a medieval setup. You might even add a chandelier to your scenes:
As I noted in the previous tip, it’s important to avoid harming the natural world. But if you’re careful, you can prevent damage – and you can create breathtaking nature portraits along the way!
5. Take wider portraits
Close-up portraits look amazing, and they often do a great job of capturing a subject’s personality.
But if you’re looking to capture more creative images, consider approaching the scene from a distance – by taking several steps backward or using a wide-angle lens. Try to include your surround your subject with natural features so that they’re a small (but important!) part of the overall composition.
This environmental portrait approach adds scale, and it also produces memorable images that incorporate a strong sense of place:
Rather than creating a portrait of a human subject in nature, the wider approach lets you capture nature with a human subject.
The toughest part is actually finding surrounding scenes that work. I’d recommend looking for beautiful areas that make pretty photos on their own, then simply adding the subject to the shot. (It can be helpful to scout locations ahead of time.)
Bonus: These environmental portraits look great when blown up and printed!
Tips for nature portraits: final words
Hopefully, you now know how to capture beautiful portraits in nature – and you’re feeling inspired to head out with your camera!
So remember the tips I’ve shared. And start thinking about photoshoot possibilities. Try incorporating natural props, and think about using artificial props, too.
Good luck, and have fun!
What do you plan to do for your next photoshoot in nature? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 5 Tips for Taking Better Portraits in Nature
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES