Stellar Shoot Tips For Outdoor Photography Portraits

by Morey Spellman

The great outdoors. There’s something special about shooting photographs outside. Mini adventures with great friends are always a good time, add photos into the mix and I’m sold.

If you’re like me, you enjoy the occasional studio shoot, but spend enough time inside. When it’s time to hit the beach, forest, desert, or snow, you’re excited to get out and shoot. A good location can add magic to an image, especially when combined with the right time of day or the right talent.

Unfortunately, awesome locations (unless you have a budget) are often difficult to get to or present challenges depending on the situation. Here are 7 location tips for a successful shoot. Since I typically shoot at the beach, a few of these might skew toward the surf, sand, and sun that my native home of Los Angeles provides.

Location Scouting

Possibly my favorite activity, location scouting can be a fun way for the whole family to experience your hobby/profession without actually being at the photoshoot. Before every shoot (especially paid shoots) I like to see the location and check the light to give me an idea of what the location has to offer. Of course, there’s something to be said for working on the fly which offers an added adrenaline rush if you’re up for it. If you can’t go to the location, The Photographers Ephemeris and Google Maps are your friends. When I have a specific vision, I like to have the location match the aesthetic, afford comforts for the talent, and have an easy access so I don’t have to lug 100 pounds of gear very far. That said, a lot of photographers wing it (guilty as charged) and although in my opinion it’s not the best practice, it has an added level of romance, danger, and fun.

Check the Light

This is included in location scouting, and is really the number one most important part of any shoot. When you’re outside, check the sun and check what lighting supplements you want to bring,  Will the shoot call for strobes, all natural light, or a combination of both? Great photographers utilize light to their advantage, and the art of photography is literally documenting with light. I typically like to shoot at sunset or sunrise, but the great taboo of not shooting in the middle of the day can also work with the right preparation.

Safety First 

I have way too many crazy stories from shoots, and half of those are just about my weird antics. In all seriousness, I’ve encountered everything on shoots from sketchy strangers, riptides, off-road navigation, and spooky buildings. If a situation looks dangerous, leave. It’s not worth the picture or potentially harming yourself or your talent.

Use Common Sense

        Think sneaking into someone’s backyard is a great idea to get the perfect shot? Well, you’re probably right, but that doesn’t make it legal. Don’t get yourself in situations where prison could arise, because you may end up with only photos of other inmates for your fashion portfolio. I find that if I get that nervous feeling of danger when taking photos, I should probably find a different outdoor location.

Weather Conditions

Oh the weather. Wasn’t the sun supposed to shine today? Yes, every photographer’s greatest enemy from time to time is the weather. Don’t bet that a location will look the same twice, because it never does. Surprisingly, this adds a little divine mystery and magic to shoots which  I enjoy most of the time. Spectacular sunsets and foggy forests are half the reason why I go out and shoot. Use these situations to your advantage to add dynamic environmental portraits to your portfolio.

Bring The Essentials (Not A Speedlight)

This one is a no brainer, but I felt like it deserved a mention since sometimes (or all the time) I get caught up in the excitement of a shoot and forget essentials. You know, like water, food, sunscreen, all the important domestic items that one should have outside. Make a checklist before your shoot and bring the essential items that will help you and your talent have a better adventure. I like to bring water and snacks for the models, an extra towel if we’re at the beach, sunglasses, and a phone charger for long trips etc… It’s always helpful to come prepared, and your assistants and talent will appreciate all of the extra effort you went through to make everyone’s life a little bit easier.

Have Fun On Your Shoots

You didn’t think I’d include such an obvious tip, but here we are. The number one most important rule is to have fun on location. Enjoy the great views, the fresh air, and the gawky onlookers as you photograph amazing personalities in beautiful beach side locales. It’s not a requirement, but if you’re a big fan of photography, going outside on shoots is an escape from the daily grind of edits and social media.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about a specific photography subject or idea, shoot me a message on Instagram or contact me via email I’m always happy to answer additional questions or comments.

Morey Spellman is a Los Angeles based photographer. 
His work combines a love for beautiful light, authentic beauty, and natural scenery.