Outdoor Portraits That Pop

We live in the gorgeous state of North Carolina with its variety of topographical features and beautiful backdrop. Located in Clemmons, North Carolina, I can hop in my car for a few hours driving east and be at the beach by mid-day. If I hop in my car and head west, Asheville is a mere two and a half hours away with the Great Smokey Mountains not too far beyond with lakes and trails abound in between. Or, I can take advantage of the gorgeous scenery within a few miles of my home, which is what I’ve done here at Tanglewood Park with the lovely Sarah. When we discussed the styling choices for this shoot and the Bohemian feel of the pieces we chose, a natural, outdoor backdrop was a no-brainer. For those not local to the area, Tanglewood park has 1100 acres of land comprised of dense tress in many spots, miles of walking trails, a stable, barn, and training ring, a retired locomotive, flower gardens, botanical garden, a pond, a lake, a manor house, and a gazebo. Its the ultimate outdoor location in terms of variety of backdrop available.

Although we definitely wanted to take advantage of the beautiful backdrop, neither of us were interested in doing a “natural light” look. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, and foremost, great portraits make a statement, and that’s hard to create if there’s no separation between the light falling on the subject and the light that’s hitting the backdrop. The subject should always be the brightest part of a photograph. Its where our brains are drawn to when first viewing an image – the brightest part. So adding light to the subject(s) and using the controls on our camera to make the background darker, instantly the subject’s importance is front and center and the background becomes secondary in the frame. The second reason is that we wanted some drama, and in terms of photography, drama is created by the contrast between light and shadows. The sun, while it does provide light, it can be very harsh and unflattering if it is unshaped and left to its own devices.

That’s where your photographer’s knowledge and skillset come into play. Knowing how to shape the existing light to suit the feel of the photograph, while adding light where it is needed. In the first photograph, I simply chose a more shaded area and added light via a strobe an large beauty dish with diffusion to make it very soft and flattering to the skin. On a sunny day, a regular flash doesn’t have enough wattage to overpower the sun. A 400 watt strobe, however, does if the photographer knows how to set the gear. In the following photo, I’m using the strobe to light the subject’s left side, while using a reflector and a pocket of sunshine to make sure and get light into her right eye as well. I’ve blended both with the existing light in the background to create an image with contrast and pop, while maintaining a more natural appearance in colors and skin tones.

This is something I love doing. I’ve taken the beauty of my subject and make her the focal point, while still preserving the beautiful background. With the heat of summer finally receding, its a perfect time to create this type of look in the beauty that surrounds us every day. Get in touch and let’s talk about creating a portrait session that fits your vision!


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