1 Use soft window light
Window light offers soft, directional illumination that can fall beautifully over a face. North-facing windows are best (when north of the equator) as they don’t see direct sunlight. Try having the subject side-on to the window light (perhaps with a reflector to bounce light back into the shadow side of their face), or shoot with their back to the window and expose for their face for a more high-key feel.
2 Seek out contrast
In most good portraits, the subject stands out from the background to draw the eye. One way to do this when you’re shooting outdoors is to look for contrasting lighting between the subject and the backdrop – either by having the subject in shade with a bright patch behind them (like this, left) or by finding a spot where the light falling on them is brighter than the backdrop, such as a shaded doorway.
3 Avoid strong sunlight
When the sun is out in full force, you may think it’s the ideal time to go out to shoot portraits, but strong sunlight can be unkind to faces. It casts shadows across the face, shows up spots and makes subjects squint. This is because light that comes from a small source is harsh, like a bare bulb; and while the sun is huge, for us it’s a small, bright spot in a big sky. Either shoot into the sun (see tip 2) or find some shade (tip 4).
4 Look for soft shade
A cloudy sky or a shady spot is much more attractive for portraiture work than direct sunlight. In the shade, the light is far softer. It’s also dimmer, which might mean you have to increase the ISO, but that’s a worthwhile compromise for having more flattering light. If there’s no cloud cover, look for a spot in the shade of a tree or a wall. If you can’t find any, make your own shade with your reflector.