I’ve been doing outdoor portrait photography for years, and in this article, I offer plenty of tips and tricks to enhance your photoshoots. I explain:
- How you can use the surroundings to effectively pose your subject
- An easy way to ensure your subjects never get stiff
- How to combine beautiful lighting and powerful poses for stunning results
- Much more!
I also offer plenty of outdoor posing examples, and I encourage you to use them for inspiration in your own portraits.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Identify key environmental elements
Outdoor photoshoot sessions are a lot of fun – in part because they’re full of props that you can incorporate into your compositions. Pretty much every location offers natural or human-made elements that are great for posing subjects (and will add plenty of interest to your images!).
Try to arrive on location a few minutes early, then scout around for potential posing elements. Look for anything your subject might sit on, grab, or lean against, including:
- Lamp posts
When you’re posing your subject, you don’t need to include a prop in every single shot – sometimes it’s nice to just focus on the individual without any additions. But I encourage you to regularly incorporate these extra elements in your photos; not only will they make your shots more interesting, but they’ll also give the subject something to focus on, which can help them relax.
Look at the two photos below. The left-hand scene featured a natural element (a rough tree trunk), which gave my subject something to lean against and provided textural contrast. And for the right-hand image, I used an old metal structure to add interest, create a frame, and physically provide support.
2. Start with a good foundation pose
Once you’ve chosen some solid posing elements (see the previous tip!), you may be eager to coach your subject in elaborate outdoor poses – but I’d urge restraint. Most subjects are apprehensive about photoshoots, so it’s best to start slow and build their confidence over the first few minutes.
Instead of getting very complicated very fast, begin with a simple foundation pose. This could simply be your client standing still, arms at the hips or hands in the pockets:
Then start to build upon that pose by making subtle changes to add variety. For instance, ask your subject to move their hands, turn their head, or change their expression:
Another foundation pose idea could involve asking your client to stand in the middle of a walkway (e.g., a bridge). Take a few shots, then ask them to bring one arm up to fix their hair while standing still. Then have them fix their hair while walking toward you. Next, have your client continue to fix their hair while turning toward the side and looking off in the distance. Finally, have them freeze their pose and look at you while you get close for a portrait shot.
You’ll end up with several different images, all taken in the same location, and all built using the same foundation pose.
In fact, I’d encourage you to use foundation poses all the time – not just at the beginning of each session. They’ll help you capture a variety of images, and they’ll help your subject ease into each pose and ensure a more natural result.
Good foundation poses will also help with that dreaded portrait photography question: What should I do with my hands? By building from simple poses, your subject will use their hands more confidently, and your photos will look so much better.
3. Keep your subject moving
It’s a good idea to keep your client moving in two ways:
- Make sure you’re frequently changing up the poses. Don’t ever stop for long minutes while you take lots of shots, adjust your camera settings, or fiddle with lighting gear; this will give your subject time to get stiff.
- Ask your client to physically move! Many great poses involve movement, such as walking, running, jumping, sitting, standing, turning around, or spinning.
In other words: Movement is generally good.
As I explained above, you don’t want to pause your subject for any reason. Pauses give the subject time to get in their head and start doubting themselves. For the subject, a long pause will start to make hand poses feel unnatural and smiles start to feel like grimaces.
Instead, if you happen upon a great pose and you don’t want your subject to change it, try asking them to modify it very subtly. You could encourage them to move their hands or turn their head; these changes won’t generally impact the pose’s overall effectiveness, but they’ll keep the momentum going.
And physical movement is great, too. If you can get your client to engage their body by running, jumping, spinning, etc., they’ll be able to walk off their nerves, plus they’ll be so focused on moving that they’ll lose any sense of discomfort. And the more your client moves, the more opportunity you have to capture different shots!
Note that movement doesn’t have to require a lot of space or a lot of adjustment on your part. You don’t even need to move from the spot you’ve chosen. You could ask the subject to walk toward you, walk away from you, sit down, crouch down, lie down, or jump – all within 15 feet of where you are standing.
Pro tip: For more dynamic photos, make sure they use their hands when they move!
4. Have the client look inward
Most outdoor photoshoot settings offer plenty of natural posing elements – but what do you do if you find yourself at a beach, in a field, or on a cliff? You won’t have any posing elements to rely on, and you may initially struggle to keep your client moving and engaging with their surroundings.
Here’s my recommendation:
If you’re in an open space with absolutely zero natural elements, have your subject engage with themselves. In other words, have them play with their hair, adjust their clothing, put on and take off their jacket, glasses, watch, etc.
That way, they can keep their hands busy, and you’ll be able to make natural-looking photos without rigid poses.
Of course, if you’re photographing two or more people at once, they can hold hands and engage with one another:
5. Use the light
Shooting on location can offer many interesting lighting changes – so use this to your advantage! Different lighting scenarios can complement your poses, add atmosphere, hide compositional elements, and more.
If you shoot your subject in full sunlight, for example, ask them to look up with their eyes closed, arms folded above their head. The final image will look atmospheric and beautiful – thanks to the combination of the pose and the light.
Here’s another great pose you could try in full sunlight: Find interesting shadows cast by tree branches, then position your subject so as to create an interesting pattern on their face. Have your client look down (to add an element of moodiness) or straight at your camera (to add intensity).
At the end of the day, it’s all about experimentation! Simply notice the light. Then try to use it in creative ways. Play around with shadows, pockets of interesting light shapes, golden-hour hues, and more. If the light looks cold and isolating, ask your subject to hug themselves:
And if the light looks warm and inviting, ask your subject to assume a relaxed posture:
Outdoor photoshoot poses: final words
Well, there you have it:
My best tips and techniques to improve your outdoor photography poses!
Hopefully, you now have plenty of posing ideas – and you’re ready to work with on-location elements to create truly outstanding images.
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- Tips for Posing People in Outdoor Portraits
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES