Shooting portrait in outdoor settings is often challenging because it can be difficult to control the light the way you want. This is particularly the case for sunny days. You can find a good background but the Sun is casting the lights from a awkward direction that causes ugly shadows or hash highlights. Sometimes fill flash or a reflector helps but nothing beats a perfectly natural lighting condition. So, what is the best portrait shooting light condition?

Actually, the best light for outdoor portrait shooting is when there is a uniform overcast. The sky is essentially a giant softbox. It causes no shadow or only weak shadow, and you can shoot from any direction you’d  like. The contrast in the scene is easy to handle. You can make both the subject and the background  look pleasant.

If you have no choice but to shoot in a sunny day, try to put your subject in a shade or shadow. If you goto  visit a profesionaly photographer’s gallery, you will notice many of the outdoor portraits are done this way.

Another tips to use an appropriate lens. Wide angle lenses (<50mm) are good for group shots but it can cause distortion of facial features to make your subject look weird when shooting close up portraits. It is also difficult to control the background. The longer the focal length, the easier it is to blur and isolate the background. Another factor to consider is the aperture. It needs to be small enough so every parts of of the photo need to be sharp are sharp but you also want to minimize it to control the depth of field (DOF). A lens like 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom is a great choice. Other popular portrait lenses are 85mm and 105mm large aperture prime lenses.

To illustrate these points, here is a gallery of outdoor portraits. My subjects were some lovely dogs. The sky was overcast. I took the photos using a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted on a Nikon D200. 


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