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6 Essential Tips for Taking Stunning Portraits in Nature

6 Essential Tips for Taking Stunning Portraits in Nature

Elevate your portrait photography by harnessing the beauty of nature with the following camera techniques, settings, and tips.

Nature can serve as a breathtaking stage for portrait photography. We can harness the beauty of nature to truly elevate portraiture in a way that simply cannot be achieved with a simple studio backdrop.

Scenic landscapes provide portraits with striking backgrounds, while natural forms such as plants, trees, and rocks can be used as props, and provide a sense of depth and dimension to your shot. Not to mention, nature adds interesting textures, evokes different memories, and can spark a sense of wanderlust and awe in all of us.

Before we launch into some of the ways we can use nature to elevate your portrait photography, let’s first go over the ideal camera settings for your nature portrait pics.

Natural elements in portrait photography adds visual interest, including depth and texture. Images via Zolotarevs and Grusho Anna.

1. Choose the Best Camera Settings

Woman photographer crouching down in a field of wildflowers snapping a picture
Your settings depend on your environment and the effect your want to achieve. Image via Bondar Illia.

Pick your aperture based on whether you want to show off nature’s beauty or put all the focus on your subject. It’s generally best to shoot in continuous mode and opt for a wide aperture (ranging from f/2.8 or even f/4) if you want your subject to be in focus and the background (your natural backdrop) to take a backseat. A narrow aperture, from f/8 up, will leave more of the photo in focus. 

Your ISO settings determine your camera’s sensitivity to light. You’ll need to adjust your settings based on how much light you’re working with.

In bright daylight, it’s best to use a lower ISO setting, ranging between 100 and 400. In lower light settings, you might find you’ll need a higher ISO setting. Play around with your camera’s ISO settings to see what works. 

Choosing the correct shutter speed depends on how much movement there is in your scene. Since you’re shooting portrait photography, chances are, there won’t be too much movement, meaning you can safely select a slower shutter speed around 500.

That said, if there’s movement in your natural surroundings, you might want to choose a quicker shutter speed to avoid motion blur.

2. Use Natural Materials as Props 

Nature can serve as a lovely prop in your portrait photography. You can sit on rocks, logs, and branches. Interacting with nature can add a sensual element to your shot. Throwing foliage into the air on a fall day or smelling wildflowers in a meadow can make viewers feel like they’re experiencing the scene themselves.

Natural objects can be great props in portrait photography. Images via all_about_people, oneinchpunch, TsElena, and 23 estudio.

Directing your subject to interact with natural objects in your scene can also distract them from the lens to make them feel more at ease.

Woman lies in swamp in blue long dress with flowers
Image via IvaFoto.

3. Go with a Wide-Angle Lens 

When shooting portraits before a scenic backdrop, you might be inspired to incorporate as much of the landscape into your frame as possible. You’ll need a wide-angle lens, which offers a wider perspective, in order to capture most of your surroundings.

Don’t want your subject to get lost in the scenery? Positioning your subject in the center of your frame allows the scene to fully surround them and brings them into the spotlight.

You’ll want to play around with your distance from your subject or your subject’s distance from the background to find a composition you love.

Using a wide-angle lens makes it possible to capture as much of the natural backdrop as possible. Images via Odua Images, Artur Didyk, Benevolente82, and Kris Wiktor.

Be warned: Creating portraits using a wide-angle lens can enhance perspective but distort proportions. Barrel distortion often occurs when using a wide-angle lens because the field of view in a wide-angle lens is wider than the image sensor on a digital camera. The image, therefore, looks like it’s been squeezed and constricted to fit in the edges of the frame.

Avoid placing your subject on the edges of the frame to avoid distortion.

Woman wearing a hijab stretching under the sun
Image via Jacob Lund.

4. Find the Best Light

Nothing brings nature to life more than good lighting. You’ll find that shooting at golden hour will illuminate your natural surroundings and subject in a more flattering way than harsh direct light.

Overcast days are also ideal when shooting portraiture as the sky essentially acts like a softbox for creating soft, even light.

You also don’t have to worry about the sunshine making your subject squint or harsh shadows.

Opt for indirect, softer light when shooting nature portrait shots for more flattering results. Images via GoodFocused, KaterynaTkachenko, Zolotarevs, Roman Samborskyi, PH888, and Junial Enterprises.

Avoid shooting in direct sunlight as this can lead to high contrast images, blown-out highlights, lens flare, and colors that might even look overly saturated. Try filtering the sunlight by using the natural environment around you.

Strategically position yourself so the sun is blocked by a mountain, tree, bush, plant, etc. The sun is only peeking into your scene to provide enough light to highlight your subject. 

If you find yourself in an open area with no shelter from the sun, simply place your hand above your lens to block out the sun’s direct rays while you capture your shot. 

Beautiful Thai woman wearing traditional dress dancing in nature
Image via vectorx2263.

5. Frame Your Subject with Nature 

Photographing your subject surrounded by nature can add depth and dimension while subtly directing your viewer to the focus of your shot.

Shooting through greenery in the foreground of your frame can add a beautiful layering effect. Since the focus of your shot is on the subject, the foreground will take on a blurred quality that will help draw the viewer’s eye directly to your subject.

Guide the viewer’s eye directly to your subject by using nature as the frame. Images via likuzia, Nadya Korobkova, Budilnikov Yuriy, Guas, Just dance, and Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB.

How? Adjust your position so the natural elements in the foreground sit between the lens and the subject. The closer the natural objects are to the lens, the better the shot.

Experiment with different perspectives to see how the background and foreground elements change. 

6. Focus on Nature and Allow the Subject to Blur 

For a fresh new perspective, why not focus your camera on nature in the foreground and let your subject be out of focus? This approach is particularly effective when you want to imply you’re capturing an intimate moment from behind the lens.

Let’s say you’re shooting a romantic moment, perhaps a couple walking hand-in-hand through a meadow. By intentionally making the couple out of focus and turning your focus to the grassland in the foreground instead, you’re offering the viewer a glimpse while still giving your subjects some privacy. 

Intentionally capture your subject out of focus while turning your attention to nature when capturing intimate moments. Images via oatawa, valiantsin suprunovich, Ekaterina Pokrovskaya, and Jacqueline van Kerkhof.

To achieve this blurry effect, set your aperture wide by using a small f-stop number—around f/2.0—and focus on natural foreground elements in your shot. Make sure your subjects are standing far away enough from your foreground that they’re definitely out of focus. 

Again, experiment with different perspectives by turning your focus to other foreground elements in your frame. If you’re focusing on wildflowers in a meadow, get down low, so they’re at eye-level and capture your subjects in the distance. 

Final thought: Enjoy the beauty of nature!

Cover image via Zolotarevs.

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