Priceless Pictures of People in the Great Outdoors: Portrait Photography

How to Photograph People in Beautiful Natural Light

by Kerry Drager

Snow Rider in Late-Day Light
Snow Rider in Late-Day Light
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Creating Priceless Pictures of People

For a fantastic monthly "lesson" in outdoor portraiture, analyze the portrait images among the BP contest finalists and winners. In addition, consider the following thoughts:

Portrait of Kristin - Overcast
Portrait of Kristin - Overcast
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved


A solid overcast sky acts like a giant white umbrella to cast wonderfully soft and even light - ideal for portraits. But early-morning or late-day sunlight can put your subject in a beautiful warm glow. Also, sidelight or window light can create a striking mood portrait. Harsh, sunny midday? Even up the lighting extremes ... by either filling in the shadows with fill-in flash or a reflector, or by moving your subject completely into the shade.


Full-length photos and head-and-shoulders shots always make for strong images. But don't stop there! Successful portraits also take the form of facial close-ups.

Another option involves the environmental portrait - which shows a subject at work or at play, around the house, or on holiday. The trick to capturing priceless pictures of people in a natural environment? Make sure other elements in the scene don't detract from your star attraction.


Simplicity is often the key word here. But that's not so easy for many visually busy outdoor backdrops. The solution? A narrow depth of field - or selective focus - that features a sharp subject set against a blur of out-of-focus shapes and colors.

Obtain this "selective focus" look with a large aperture (low f/stop number), a fairly close-up subject, and a good distance between subject and background. A telephoto or tele-zoom lens completes this sharp-vs.-blur approach.

Don't miss ... seeing how these and other techniques are put to creative use in BetterPhoto's "Priceless Pictures of People in Natural Light" gallery.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website -

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.