When you’re taking pictures in an indoor environment, things are somewhat simpler. You have greater control over things like lighting and environmental effects, so you’re sure a stray bug is not likely to ruin a perfectly-composed shot. When you’re taking photos in the great outdoors, however, things are different. There are a few more challenges, along with common errors photographers make.
Some of the errors people make are common to all types of photography, just exacerbated by the conditions of the outdoors. In other instances, the error is unique to outdoor conditions. With that in mind, just what are these common mistakes and how does someone avoid them?
The clouds can be your friend or your enemy. If you’ve got a clear day with blue skies, all you need is to shoot like mad until the cloud cover rolls away, using it as the world’s biggest softbox. If you’re impatient and take shots without considering them, you could end up with bad lighting or exposure problems. So keep an eye out on the skies when shooting outdoors.
Filters can be one of the best ways to counteract outdoor conditions. Use a neutral density (ND) filter for any instance where you have moving clouds or water in the background since it slows down the shutter speed to add a little visual punch to the composition. If you do portraits, you might not think you need one of these, but trust us. You do.
An ND filter can help you shoot with a wide open aperture. This gives a shallower depth of field even under a midday sun. If you’ve ever wanted that creamy, dream-like look for your portrait, ND is the way to go.
Shadows are inevitable, in both the outdoors and the indoors. If you’re trying to avoid shadows, you’re making a mistake. Unless you’re in a perfectly bland empty space with only one light source and no other objects in it, there will be a shadow somewhere. Learn to use them to your advantage, rather than fight them.
Use them for the composition. Learn to position things so they form lines along with the subject’s form, leading the eye to where you want the focus to be. You can also use them to highlight certain features by contrasting them with something more well-lit, like concealing half the face in shadow to give impact to the other half.
Work with the sun, don’t fight it. Is the sun overhead? Find open shade, because that will be a huge help. Open shade is an area that’s shaded but still lets light in on at least one side. A veranda or gazebo are good choices, along with trees and the sides of buildings. It doesn’t matter what provides the cover since you can choose not to include it.
Once you have a nice, even light on the subject, you won’t find highlights or hard shadows. This can make the picture so much easier to compose and saves you the headache.
Sunflare can ruin a photo. This is something that a lot of people don’t realize, resulting in them taking bad shots without realizing it. Sometimes, there’s just no avoiding it, so don’t struggle. Instead, embrace it and work it into the composition and make it add a little wow factor, rather than be a glaring error in your shot.
Don’t aim directly at the sun. This is a terrible idea, not only because you won’t get anything good, but you’ll also burn out your retinas, especially if you use the viewfinder to look. Instead, use an LCD screen or live view mode if you must take a shot of the great ball of fire in the sky.
Bring specialized lenses, like one specifically used for wide-angle shots and another for long-range optical zoom. You should also bring other supplies as well, like reflectors or some spare Soonwell batteries in case the ones you’re using run out mid-shoot. You never know when you might have the perfect moment and not have the right tools, so be prepared for everything.
Don’t avoid artificial light. Yes, natural light is always a good choice for a photographer. There’s just something about it that has more visual appeal, but that doesn’t mean artificial light is always bad. Sometimes, using the on-camera flash can help add accent to a dim or weak natural light source, like a small campfire. Learn to combine the two for better results.
Speaking of the flash, if you have a powerful enough flash on your camera you can overwhelm even the light of a searing midday sun. This is going to be so useful when it comes to the photo, and it’s something people don’t realize. The best time to use a flash is when the bright light is everywhere, acting a way to fight fire with fire.
If you don’t have a reflector, you’re shooting yourself in the foot while taking outdoor photos. A good 5-in-1 reflector is low-cost and lightweight, making it easy to carry around. Its materials will allow it to function as impromptu open shade in a midday shoot. It can be used to modify lighting conditions as a softbox. Or you can use it as a reflector. A 5-in-1 reflector is basically a toolkit in one accessory. You want to have one in your arsenal.
Don’t take pictures of people who squint. This isn’t going to win you any awards, because people who squint look terrible in photos. You’re almost better off if they just closed their eyes fully. Yet, for some reason, people keep making this mistake. The most likely reason is that photographers are told to keep their back to the light, so the subject is bathed in it. Good advice, unless the light is bright enough to be uncomfortable on the eyes.
Lots of photographers prefer to plan, sometimes ignoring those little moments when everything just lines up perfectly. Don’t ignore these little instances. You won’t find more perfect shots than those. For instance, speak with your model about hair and makeup prepping, recommend professional hair styling tools he or she could use for the photoshoot.
Every photographer has bad shots and makes some mistakes when shooting outdoors. However, if you avoid the common ones, you increase the odds of making better photos even in the harshest of conditions. Just keep them in mind and be prepared to take advantage of serendipitous conditions.