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Which settings and lens' are best for taking outdoor portraits?

edited March 2012 Posted in » Canon T2i Forum
I was talking with a fellow T2i owner over on my Facebook page and she was wondering which settings and lens' are best for taking outdoor portraits. I thought it would be beneficial to share our conversation with all of you...

Viviana's Question: How can I take great outdoor portraits? I don't have a studio so I only do on-location. The lenses I have are the kit lens, 50mm 1.4 USM, 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS, 75-300mm f/4-5.6 and I have a speedlite 430EX II. My pictures lack that "wow" factor.

Moose's Answer: For outdoor portraits, I would definitely shoot with your 50mm f/1.4 lens.

As for settings, I would enable Aperture priority mode (Av on the mode dial) and select an aperture of f/1.4. Due note that an aperture this low will produce a very shallow depth of field (small area in focus). This is great when you want to single out specific features on your subjects face. To get the entire face into focus, you might try bumping the aperture up between f/1.8 and f/2.8.

As for lighting, look for shaded areas to compose your shots (under trees, next to buildings, etc...). This will even out the skin tones and reduce harsh shadows. Then use your 430EX II, equipped with a Sto-Fen diffuser to provide fill flash on your subjects face. If there's no shade around, you'll want to position them so that the sun is hitting their back at an angle. You want their face to be shaded. Using the same technique mentioned above, just use your 430EX as fill flash. If it's extremely bright out and your shots are a bit overexposed, you may be forced to use a higher aperture f-number in order to get an accurate exposure.

As for the "wow" factor, some of it will need to be done in post-processing. Use a program like Photoshop Elements or Lightroom to edit your shots and pump up the saturation in the eyes...this is the first spot people look at when viewing a portrait.

Viviana's Reply: Thanks for the tips. I just got the 50mm f/1.4 two days ago and have taken test shots of objects but not really of people. I did try to take a full body shot of someone but only part of them was in focus. I tried different apertures and distance but I just couldn't get them completely in focus. Any suggestions?

Moose's Reply: My guess is that you probably didn't use a high enough f-number to put them completely into focus. To get full body shots, you'll need to shoot between f/5.6 and f/8. You might also experiment with the 'One Shot' AF mode (press the AF button on the back of the T2i) and enable the center AF point (press the button next to rectangle icon with 4 dots near the thumb-rest). Then focus on the subjects eyes with a half-press and then recompose the shot to your liking. :)


  • edited February 2014
    I did an outdoor shoot last weekend of my sister. It was very sunny. I used both my 35mm and50 mm lens. I shot 150 photos and only three came out crisp.
    My husband asked how close I was to her. I only stood within 2 feet of her for 3 shots and those are the 3 that turned out well. Duh me!
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