How I Shoot Outdoor Portraits

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

The portrait you see here is of a Tea Sommelier in a local car workshop where I go. This portrait will be exhibited in Amsterdam on November 9th in Amsterdam courtesy gurushots.com.

Outdoor portrait photography is one of my main genres and after adding a gallery to my website dedicated only to my portraits I thought I should write how I shoot portraits when I'm out in the streets.

I will start with the one thing that I don't do before I move on to the things I do. So what I don't do is, I don't make these outdoor portraits in the afternoon. That's a big no. Especially when the sun is up there shining bright, casting weird shadows under everyone's noses. I would if it's a cloudy day and I'm getting nice diffused light, which is not very often where I live. So it's much better to shoot either in the morning or close to the sunset.

In the past four years I have managed to sell a lot of my street shots and portraits and in the beginning I used to wonder why people are interested in buying photos of normal people I see in my daily life. At that time I did not realize that I was doing something right without knowing what it was.

Because I live in an area where most women I see in the streets have their faces fully covered, the only opportunity I get is to shoot male portraits. So I always try to look for interesting faces which tell stories. Old people with wrinkled faces have stories written all over there faces, kids who come from poor families, even without wrinkles, have those expressions on their faces even without wrinkles to tell them. These faces are all around us, we just need to look closely.

The best way to find people with interesting faces that tell stories are those where you see people doing some really tough jobs. I would clarify that it's never a good idea to assume only men with wrinkles or a lot of facial hair make the best subjects but in most cases, at least in my case it's true.

Now going back to the technical side. I mostly use my 50mm 1.8 lens for these portraits. The very first thing I do is to choose my ISO. If there's enough light outside, I always shoot at ISO 100. If my subject is in shade, the maximum number of ISO I allow myself to choose is 800 and that's it. Beyond that number it's never worth it. The next thing I do when I'm shooting a portrait. No matter how bright it is, I choose F 1.8 aperture if I'm more than one or one and a half meter away from my subject or I choose F 2.4 when I'm less than one meter away from the subject. And in the end I take care of the shutterspeed, and in broad daylight that can even go up to a 1000. But that setting I use when it's too bright outside. Now let's say it's a time very close to sunset, and I choose ISO 800, F 1.8 and even with both of these numbers, my shutterspeed at 250 gives me an underexposed image, I always just put my camera in my bag and forget about it. Let's say the subject is really interesting and I feel I might never see him or her again, then I try with ISO 1600 but that's it. The reason for that is, I never go below 250 shutterspeed when I have my camera hand held. It's never a good idea to go below 250 shutterspeed when shooting handheld, unless you have a tripod, it's always a bad idea.

In the next few days I will share how I edit my portraits, but for now, I'd like to thank you all for taking the time to read and I would like you to take a look at the Portraits gallery I added to my website.

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​© 2019 Rizwaan Khan Photography

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