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Shooting models alone, for fun or for work can be challenging enough, but mix in an outdoor, on-location shoot and you’ll really put your skills to the test. Shooting outdoors offers up many more variables within photography, but also puts a certain strain on the shoot. Knowing what to do, when and quickly can make the difference between a successful shoot and a total flop. Here are seven tips for shooting models outdoors.
Scout your location ahead of time. While this isn’t always possible, you should, whenever feasible, scout the location you plan to shoot ahead of time. Take your camera, shoot some stills, and see how things will be framed in your camera. Also try to scout the location around the time of day you plan on shooting. Mid-morning looks different than noon, which is very different from early evening regarding light, placement of shadows and warmth.
Don’t rely on the LCD for image review. On even overcast days, reviewing images for exposure on the LCD of your camera can be very hard. Direct and indirect light can often give you misreading about what is and is not properly exposed images. If your camera has an option to blink blown out highlights and a histogram, use that option, otherwise take your camera inside, or at least in a vehicle nearby to review images if you must.
Bring a friend to be your photo assistant (PA). Working outside has some great advantages, mainly the natural light and scenery. There are also inherent disadvantages, like having to walk long distances to get to a particular spot, wind and manipulating the natural sunlight. Having a PA to help carry gear, hold reflectors and do some of the more labor-intensive work for you allows you to focus better on shooting.
Bring your own light. The sun provides so much light you say, why should I bring more? Because the sun can only provide single direction light, and often times it won’t be in the direction you need it. Additionally, you’ll need to fill in shadows on faces from late morning through mid-afternoon sun.
Speedlights are the easiest and most portable, triggering them using remote / radio triggers like PocketWizards is the most reliable. Utilizing modifiers like softboxes and umbrellas on lightstands will depend on the shoot and your desired look, but keep in mind that both turn a speedlight on a lightstand into a kite if it’s even the slight bit windy out.
Anchor your tripods with sandbags, rocks or even your camera bag to prevent them from falling over. A monopod or paint poll can also work really well as a light stand that your PA can then hand-hold and manipulate where you need it.
Reflectors and flags are your friends. Another job for the PA, hold the reflector. The larger the reflector the better in most cases, I often use reflectors instead of speedlights for the simplicity of seeing what I’m getting as I shoot. White and semi-white flags can be held above your models head to soften the light from the sun, acting in part the way the front panel of a softbox does, and are easily held in place by your PA
Get some distance between you and the model. Unlike studio shooting, location shoots are fun, in part because you can use your long lenses for wide-open depth of field. This much desired bokeh in shots could be best achieved with long, fast lenses. If you’re shooting at distances where you are using something longer then 200mm, you may need walkie talkies to communicate to your PA to help pose the model.
The model is the subject; the location is the compliment. Just because you’re outdoors doesn’t mean you need to forget about the model or throw the wide-angle lens on. Each shoot and campaign you do with models, or even just portfolio building will have a different purpose. More often than not you’ll need a location outdoors that compliments the model and overall feel of the shoot. Don’t assume your over-the-top, extravagant location will make up for poor photography; they need to work in synergy.
Bonus tip! Take two of everything you need and a little more on top. You’ll be outside, your shoot may run long, you may get rained on, you may get cold or start to sweat, and you need to be prepared for this. Take two of everything you normally use, including camera bodies, lenses, speedlights. Take more then two sets of batteries, speedlights, reflectors and other related items. A full roll of gaff tape weighs a good amount; consider two half-used rolls, one for you and one for the PA. You can never have enough memory cards. A rain poncho for you, garbage bag for your equipment bag and Ziploc bags for smaller items take up no space in a camera bag and become invaluable if the rain starts to fall. Wear appropriate clothing for the location you’re shooting in, take sunscreen, bottled water and snacks for everyone involved if you are shooting more than two hours.