Why should you take family portraits outdoors? Besides the potential for beautiful or fun backgrounds, photographing outside provides the opportunity to use natural lighting. If you are a professional photographer or serious enthusiast then you know that the external flash, studio lights and reflectors work to mimic the beauty of natural light.
If you are new to photography and have a digital compact and built in flash, then taking your family portraits outdoors is the best way to get professional quality portraits that you'll want to proudly frame in your home.
The Best Natural Lighting for Taking Family Portraits Outdoors
Not all outdoor lighting is ideal. The worst time of day to take family portraits outdoors is mid-day. The best times of day are what many photographers refer to as the "Golden Hours" the hour before sunset and after dawn when the light is softest and the shadows least harsh. The closer to these times you can gather the family for their portrait, the better.
Another good option is to wait for a cloudy day when there is bright overcast light. This provides enough bright light and is the kind of softness professional photographers spend money on soft boxes to get. If the timing does not work out for any of the above, find shade that is not too dark.
Outdoor Portrait Settings
The obvious choice and despite the perfect choice is the family's backyard. Or you could take a cue from high school senior photography and take your outdoor family portrait at a place the family enjoys such a a park. If you go away from home, look for locations and times of the day when the area is the least crowded.
You should also consider using a family activity or a hobby as a potential setting. If the entire family is into horses, a pretty pasture with horses nibbling on the grass with the family posed on and in front of a nice white fence could work quite well. If the family sails, consider the boat's deck.
Speaking of boats, a word of caution: if you decide to take any family portraits outdoors at places such as the sea, beach or snow, here are some things that can help: Select the beach mode on a digital compact, or if you use a DSLR or SLR, use a polarizing filter. This will help with the glare. Set the flash to "on" instead of "automatic" to help minimize shadows on the family. Do not position the family where they will be facing the sun otherwise they'll be squinting.
As with any picture, be sure to hide or remove clutter in the background. Do you want to use the natural outdoor lighting but want a plain background? Tack a piece of fabric to a fence. Check the lawn for sprinklers and behind the family for things that might be distracting, like a lamp post.
If you want to diminish the overall background, use the Portrait mode or set your Aperture Priority for a smaller depth of field.
On the other hand, you may want to have outdoor features as part of the picture by posing the family in front of a beautiful tree. Just be sure to compose the shot with the focus on the family.
Whether you are taking family portraits outdoors for others or your own family, use these portrait tips and you'll be sure to take a portrait that will be proudly framed on the family wall.