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Photography Question 
Will Wohler
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2004

Shooting Outdoor Portraits

I have been asked to take a friend's head shots ... and I have no clue what to do or where to start. I haven't done a lot with taking portraits or head shots. Does anyone have any advice as to how much to charge, what poses to use, backdrops, props, and camera positioning ... pretty much anything would help. Thanks.

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3/14/2005 7:42:35 AM

Chris J. Browne   Keep it simple the first time.
Pick a nice park on a sunny day.
Shield your subject from the direct sun.
Use a flash to fill in the subject.
Close your lens down about 2 stops from wide open. You want the background to go soft, and make your subject pop out of the background. The further away the background, the softer it will get. For a lens, go with a longer 85mm to 140mm. Make sure you use a good lab or calibrate monitor, camera, printer!
Be ready to do some digital work: blemish removal, object removal. Take a friend to help shade the subject. Make sure the outline of the shade creator isn't in the photo. I use pvc pipe in the shape of a T and three small plastic clamps to hold it on. White sheets - doubled - work good and allow some light to illuminate the subject. Black sheets doubled or tripled block the light and require more flash output. You could use a relector to add light back to the subject. The flashes tend to be cool (violet or blue), so be ready to add yellow digitally or warm up the flash with a very slight yellow filter. A little will go a long way.
Let me know.
What will happen? The subject will be properly exposed, the background will be properly exposed.

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3/14/2005 1:27:10 PM

Will Wohler
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2004
  Wow ... thanks.

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3/14/2005 3:32:42 PM

Christopher A. Vedros
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/14/2005
  I like Chris B's suggestions. I use an 85mm f1.8 lens for portraits, and it does a great job of separating the subject from the nice, soft background.

You also asked how much you should charge. Since you mentioned this is for a friend, maybe you could just charge him for the materials you use (film, developing, or photo paper if you're digital). Use this as a learning experience.

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3/15/2005 7:24:19 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/7/2005
  Also try different angles, tilt the camera slightly, get them to face at a 90 degree angle to you and then to turn their head towards you. Get them to sit on the ground, looking up at you, close ups, and some showing most of their body. Most of my portraiture work is done outside.

Also what looks nice is to have the sun filtered through large trees, have the sun slightly highlighting the back/side of their head/hair, creates a nice backlit effect.

To warm up the flash, try using some gold tissue paper wrapped over the flash with a rubber band, it lowers the power of the flash a little which is perfect for "fill flash" photography, cause sometimes it can be too harsh, and gives a nice glow too! Tried and Tested!!!

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3/15/2005 8:46:34 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/15/2004
  I'm kind of in the same boat. I have done a few "favors" and am now swamped with requests, and I am struggling with how to price.

It is usually my time to take the portraits/candids, photo editing, a few prints, and I burn to a CD for them to take to a photo lab for good quality prints.

The biggest expense is my time, and I'm unsure how to price that.


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3/16/2005 11:49:36 AM

Maria Melnyk   Dear Will,
The above suggestions are very good, but please let's backtrack a little.
Before you do any of the above, you must first learn posing. It takes a long time to learn how to do it properly. Even a slight move of a single finger can make all the difference between a portait that's "OK", and one that's terrific. So, if you're not able to get live instruction, please pick up several good books on posing. And then practice, print your photos, and keep practicing and printing, till you consider yourself experienced enough to make your clients look great.
Now, Will and Kim, how much to charge? Clients pay for a photographer's experience. If you're experienced enough and your poses and photos look very professional, then charge about $100 to go out "on location" and do portraits. Include about 1 roll of film (or more if doing digital). You can either include the proofs, if you like (especially if it's for a friend), or else just have your client order from the proofs. If you don't have the experience just charge for the cost of materials. When I started, I charged nothing, but I don't particularly recommend this, unless shooting for a family member (or a spouse!) The reason is, if a client gets something totally for free, he won't be as serious about your efforts. Then, if the proofs are terrific, you can charge for reprints accordingly. Have fun!

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3/16/2005 4:26:06 PM

Will Wohler
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2004
  thanks for all the tips I will take them into account.

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3/16/2005 6:54:34 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Except for the part about the fingers.

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3/16/2005 7:52:58 PM

Victoria    Couple more tips for Will:
Never crop at the joints.
Crop at mid-bicep, slightly above the waist, and mid thigh.
Dont crop at the ankles and dont chop off fingers.
Shooting up, makes a person look slim and tall. Shooting down, especially if using a wide angle will make a person look big.
There are several poses to choose from...
Head and shoulder, Arm Pose, full body, and tummy.

Hope this helps ya some. :o)

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3/16/2005 11:11:53 PM

Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  A very simple method for getting excellent results in outdoor portraits is to take the photos early morning or late afternoon when light is most flattering and natural looking. Partly cloudy days are a godsend for portraiture. There is no better light diffuser than a cloud. With the proper light and positioning you won't need fill flash or diffusers. Chris gave some great suggestions for times you do need those.

If these are modeling head shots have the model do these two things (seen on a model show with info about head shots). Make SURE the model gets a professional looking eyebrow pluck! Sounds weird but is the cheapest "face lift" known to man! :-) Also keep clothing very simple and undistracting and makeup very subtle. Do a set of color and a set of b/w.

Good luck!


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3/19/2005 9:36:09 AM

Will Wohler
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2004
  Great advice, thank you. I was also interested to know about taking portraits indoors and wanted to know some easy poses, places to shoot and backdrop ideas that are inexpensive. Thank you all for the help.

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3/20/2005 7:03:03 AM

Chris J. Browne   Great response. Many tricks to making a person look like they belong in front of the camera. Karma stated doing a set in color and b/w. I use color film exclusively now. You can have the photo lab scan in color and you can convert what you want to black and white for printing later. Unless you print your own b/w I would shoot color film and convert later. You could also photoshop it for some other looks like high contrast. But best to shoot it that way first. I usually end up digitally deleting the unwanted monobrow but a woman who does it first saves me hours of work. Guys don't generally like the pluck method since the other guys at work the next day will have some fun with it! Although many men do need a little help in the brow area. Happy Portraits!

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3/20/2005 7:08:28 AM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  This response may be after the fact, but I was always taught (and did this naturally) to opt for open shade on bright sunny days, or shoot on overcast days. The beauty of overcast is that skin tone is at its best, the light is very soft and gentle, especially for women and children.

Either way, look for directional lighting and if a day has perfectly flat light, create your own direction with a flash OFF the camera placed at a 45-degree angle to the subjects.

The subjects should be placed at that magical 45-degree angle to the camera, and away from the light, especially if the subject is female. This is because the light will fall across her body and give her shape.

To separate the subject from the background, and do watch backgrounds, use a wide aperture like f/5.6, f/4, and f/3.5. This will diffuse the background and make it out of focus, hence drawing one's eye to the subject at hand.

It is best to be at the same height as the subject's head, and have your camera on a tripod.

My best poses are having the subject pose naturally, but keeping in mind that women should be facing at a 45-degree angle to the camera, and away from the light. That 45 degree angle can instantly take off 10 pounds, and almost everyone wants to look 10 pounds slimmer. Additionally, it's a more flattering angle.

Also, never, ever let direct sunlight fall on your subject's face, arms, hands or body. The only time direct sunlight looks good, is backlighting the subject's hair, assuming they have plenty of hair, and they are not really fair --at which time, their hair seems to disappear with backlight.
The exception to this rule is when your subject has light hair and the background is in shade. Then, backlighting is striking, separating the subject from the background and lighting only the back of their head.

My teacher and I prefer using at least a 100-mm to a 180-mm zoom and then backing away from the subjects, rather than being in their face. But, always fill the frame with their body: head and shoulder; 3/4 pose including hands on hips, on tree branches, holding flowers, pets, children.

In fact, the best expressions come from adults when they are with the one's they love, including their children or pets.

Have fun and your subjects will also have fun.

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8/26/2005 5:06:51 PM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  There are more suggestions at:

and, which can be adjusted to an outdoor space.

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8/26/2005 6:06:55 PM

Susan L. Vasquez
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/24/2005
I find it so much EASIER to shot portraits outside than indoors! I say keep the wardrobe comfortable and casual, bare feet :) Go late in the afternoon to get the best light. I like the idea of the sun backlighting the hair as well, and you can use a reflector to bring some of that light back to your subjects face.
Here is one of my favorites. I should have waited a little later in the day, but I plan on reshooting this soon with my Nikon.

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8/26/2005 8:15:47 PM

Susan L. Vasquez
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/24/2005 you go :)

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8/26/2005 8:16:25 PM

Will Wohler
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/2/2004
  thanks for all the comments.

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8/27/2005 7:15:06 AM

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