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The best camera settings for outdoor portraits

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Have you ever panicked while conducting a portrait session outdoors? Have the light and camera settings for outdoor portraits got you all muddled up? Did the inconvenience outsides make it difficult for you to get perfect portraits? Then don’t worry, you are not alone.

Many photographers suffer the dilemma of shooting outside or not. The setting is beautiful, but the lightning and weather are not so conducive. This makes the camera settings for outdoor portraits even more difficult to determine. Sometimes there is too much light, while at other times, it’s too dark.

The bokeh also becomes hard to manage, while shadows and contrast can ruin the beautifully placed subject. So if you are unsure of your capabilities of shooting outdoors, then don’t give up. Relax! Because we are here with fool-proof portrait camera settings that will give you great outdoor portraits consistently!

Thus, if you arrive at a portrait location, and get nervous, hold on tight to these tips that we share with you. You won’t find things disheveled or dread the light, nor will you find the scene and subjects challenging to manage.

The best camera settings for outdoor portraits

No setting will be extra wiggly as with the ways identified below, and you will be able to master camera settings for every outdoor circumstance. Please don’t freak out because everything we have described is straightforward to apply. It’s not a scientific equation or complex mathematical problem.

Just read through the article thoroughly, and you will quickly grasp every word we have explained. Try to follow them as carefully as possible, but remember they are not hard or fast rules. You can experiment with the settings for outdoor portraits as long as you keep the basics right.

So take out your cameras and get ready to apply these “go-to” camera settings for outdoor portraits. Be it your relatives or clients, and everyone will love your work.

Table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Group Photography Camera Settings
  • Single Photography Camera Settings
  • Which mode to prefer
  • White balance for outdoor portraits
  • Aperture for outdoor portrait
  • Shutter speed for outdoor portrait
  • ISO for outdoor portraits
  • Conclusion


As you all know, there is no perfect standard group of settings for outdoor portraits. Each scene and subject is different from one another. So the setting needed for each scene will differ. Thus, you cannot apply all the rules in one go.

There is no cheat sheet but a basic set of rules which can guide you. The rest of the application will depend upon your creative eye and potential. The rules highlighted below will help you gain confidence, and then you can begin little tweaks along the way.

These won’t help you overnight as it is a learning process. It requires practice to master these settings, so be gentle with yourself and be patient. It will become second nature soon!

Group Photography Camera Settings for Outdoor Portraits

Pictures of people outdoors can be a challenge itself. Then twerking with settings and balancing exposure can add to the challenges, especially for an amateur photographer. But the results of the outdoor make it worthwhile.

As the number of people increases, it becomes chaotic to settle them all, it also becomes difficult to use the camera. You have to ensure that there is enough room for everyone and the settings for outdoor portraits highlight each subject appropriately.

outdoor group portrait

For that, it is best to set your camera on autofocus mode and let it do the rest of the work. To make sure that everyone gets a good part in the portrait, focus on their eyes. This way, you want to have people complaining about their part. Moreover, to make everyone stand out in the frame, it is recommended to blur the background. We would show you how to do this later on.

Single Photography Camera Settings

When capturing individuals outside, it is best to use single-point autofocus. This is because guessing camera modes will become a chore. You will never find the optimal settings for outdoor portraits, so it is best to leave it on the camera to find the focus for you.

This is only a piece of advice. Your choice can vary. We refer to it because each person has five senses, but sight is the one they use the most. Thus, the eyes on the portrait should be sharp, especially if one person is in it. So to make the subject’s eyes look sharp.

male portrait with hat and beard

To a single point, autofocus is the best as the experimented camera modes do not always focus on the eyes. That is why they aren’t our favorite. To focus on only one eye, a single point is best as it locks focus on the nearest eye and allows slight re-composition before shooting for satisfaction. You can always take some extra shots to check the sharpness of the eyes.

Which mode to prefer?

In the beginning, it is best to select Auto mode. This is because it is less complicated. It leads to less confusion, but the drawback is that you lose control. But for beginners who are just starting, shooting with autofocus mode is the best thing, especially for outdoor portraits.

This way, the camera will do the focusing so that you are left with less worrying. So you can get the return of the big bucks but at the cost of creativity. Outdoor autofocus is a real plus, as you have to deal with other issues as well.

But when you are standing just a little too close to your subject, you will feel that the camera autofocus starts to freak out slightly as it is trying to choose a focal point. So if you are doing close-ups outdoors, it is best to go for manual focus mode.

This is because photographers can capture smaller details in manual mode. For macro photography, where the camera faces a harder time determining focus, go for manual mode.

woman portrait close up

Moreover, even though the autofocus mode performs a great job of selecting the correct focus, manual mode gives you the most control and consistency. So if you are ready for some difficulties and the rest of your outdoor settings are easy to tackle, leap to Manual mode.

Then there is Aperture Priority mode, which you can also switch to. In aperture priority, you are choosing aperture as the most important aspect of your image. This means that you opt for customizing the depth of field first and allowing the camera to calculate the shutter speed.

It allows creativity but to a certain extent. Only the aperture is manually selected, as it is your priority. It is one step closer to manual mode! It simplifies things as it eliminates guesswork to set the shutter speed. Thus, it is best for outdoor portraits to reduce the amount of stress because things are changing quickly!

As the lights and shadows influence images outdoor, this mode is recommended. Aperture priority mode is also recommended to capture candid moments. Additionally, outdoor portraits usually have a good amount of light.

outdoor portrait couple

So shutter speed isn’t much of a priority, and what is needed most is a nice shallow depth of field, which you can get by controlling aperture. Aperture settings are discussed below in detail.

However, if there is low light that puts ode, you should go for Shutter Speed Priority. But this has to be kept in mind that you will have to check your focus to ensure that it is on your subject. In such circumstances, the depth of field becomes less important. That is why the aperture is left to be determined automatically by the camera.

Another mode that you can go for is spot metering, which is common for portraits. Photographers usually use it for settings for outdoor portraits because it gives control over exactly what area is exposed properly.

This mode will interpret the light in the center spot of the frame and then evaluate your exposure. Without flash, this point, in most cases, will be the subject’s face, which will enhance your portrait. But if you are making use of a flash, you will need to expose the background as well so that the flash can illuminate the subject’s face.

White balance for outdoor photography:

White balance is also an essential aspect of photography. But in settings for outdoor portraits, it becomes even more essential. So here are three different ways you can approach it.

Auto mode: This is the easiest way. All you have to do is to put your camera on auto white balance. But then you will have to make all the adjustments post-processing. Most of the time, this way is usually very accurate.

The Expodisc: This is also a great tool. The Expodisc allows the white balance to be set based on current lighting. The only problem is that you have to change it whenever the light changes). We prefer the Expodisc as it produces excellent results every time.

However, it adds an extra step, which will bring added stress to your thought process because light changes frequently in outdoor photography.

Kelvin White Balance: Kelvin is the last option, and it is a temperature color scale that ranges from 2000k to 9000k. It is also referred to as warm orange temperature = 2000k to cool blue temperature= 9000k.

So as per your lighting outside, YOU can opt for any numerical value. It might seem not very easy, but life outdoors becomes a lot easier once you figure it out. For example, when it is sunny outdoors, you would go for 5500k as there is no need to compensate for the white balance.

You can make small adjustments before shooting with Kelvin. It provides you with an in-camera approach to play with light. For example, if it’s a super warm situation outside like crazy bright sunlight, you will feel the need to cool the image.

With Kelvin, you can choose a value like 3000 to give the picture a cool effect. It is honestly NOT as you think. The only thing you need to do is to recognize what you need in your images. Here are some basic tips for Kelvin:

  • Blue Tint / Cool = Warm and increase value to above 5500k.
  • Yellow Tint / Warm = Cool by lowering a value to below 4500K.
  • Daylight = right in the middle of 5000k!

So the gist is that Auto white balance is for everyone, beginners and pros alike. It makes it simple. Expodisc is for those who want to play around. It allows a custom white balance for every type of light, while Kelvin is for advanced photographers who wish to make small white balance adjustments.

Aperture for outdoor portrait

As we all know, the three most important aspects of photography are aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. So we will discuss them in terms of outdoor portraits one by one. First, when it comes to settings for outdoor portraits, it is the aperture, mostly the significant one.

This is because it is the f-stops that determine the depth of field in your results. It sets the amount of compression or blur, which is present in the background. This is important for outdoor portraits as it can make or break your picture.

You can choose to shoot “wide open” and opt for an f-stop like f/1.4-2.8. But when shooting at f/1.4, it has to be kept in mind that maybe some part of the subject will be out of focus. Moreover, as more people join the portrait, you will have to change the aperture as well.

This is because, if you’re photographing a larger group, there will be more rows, so you will need a longer depth of field to ensure that everyone is in focus.

Here are some basic tips to understand aperture in 3 quick ways:

  • One person = Go for f/1.2-f/4.0 as it becomes easier to shoot at a wider f-stop for individual portraits. This is because only one person needs to be in focus.
  • 2 people = Go for f/2.0-f/4.0. If the pair or couple is close together on the same focal plane, then an aperture as open as f/2.0 will do. But if they are staggered, f-stop will need to be increased to f/4.0 so that everyone is equally in focus.
  • 3-8 people = Go for f/3.2-f/5.6 as it is best to opt for a wide aperture in a larger group. The selection will also depend upon how people are lined up. If they are more staggered, such as lines in two or three rows, f-stops will need to be increased even more. This is because you have to ensure that each person is properly focused. So wide aperture will lead to everyone becoming happy as they will be sharp and crisp in the final image! An added tip is to focus on the middle person in the group.
  • Large group = f/5.6-f/11.0. When photographing larger groups, you want to make sure that the entire scene is in focus. This can apply to large family portraits, class photos, or huge bridal parties. For a more in-depth tutorial on large group photos, click here!

Shutter speed for outdoor portrait

Shutter speed is one of the three components of the exposure triangle and plays a vital role. It is the aspect that leads to sharp and crisp images we all want. So the basic rule for portraits is to set the shutter speed to a minimum of double the focal length of your lens!

It will perfectly freeze your subject anywhere and eliminate motion blur. Moreover, if you take portraits of wiggly children, it is best to increase the shutter speed to “freeze” the motion.

kid portrait - settings for outdoor portraits

Here are some basic tips:

  • 35mm = 1/70
  • 50mm = 1/100
  • 85mm = 1/170
  • 135mm = 1/270

ISO for outdoor portraits

As we all know, higher ISO means more light-sensitive while lower ISO is less sensitive, so they should be set according to the conditions outside. Moreover, the grainy effect of Higher ISOs should be kept in mind as well.

So if the light is low, high ISO is preferred to the point of immersion of grains. To avoid grain, you can go for a low ISO, but it is only possible if there is enough light. The grain effect of high ISO also depends upon camera type as each camera handles grain differently. So test your camera in different light conditions before conducting the final outdoor portrait.

Here are some bullet points that make ISO settings easier for you:

  • Sunny weather = ISO 100-400
  • Cloudy weather = ISO 400-800
  • Good natural light = ISO 800-2000
  • Dark aura = ISO 2000+

Remember, these guidelines can vary slightly. You can deviate from them if you feel the need in situations!

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Outdoor portrait photography is tough but also incredibly varied and experimental. There are many choices for creativity and explorations, making it difficult to select the right gear and camera settings for outdoor portraits. It can be overwhelming!

So if you want to ensure that everyone is pleased with their portraits outdoors, be it family, friends, or other clients, hold on tight to these guidelines. These will ensure that you don’t get frustrated by outdoor technicalities.

Nothing will go wrong, and it will become easy to tackle unprecedented circumstances as well. With these tips, not only will the quality of your outdoor portrait will improve, but it will also become less hectic for you as well to select the best possible settings for outdoor portraits along the way.

Last but not least, don’t get monotonous with these rules. Remember, playfulness and experimentation are necessary for finding a groove. These are to help you start on the right foot! These basic portrait settings will melt away your stress with time.

So keep your brain thinking in camera terms and no matter how tiring the sessions are, take a deep breath and revise the basics! You can do it, and we are always there for you. If you have any queries, shoot them in the comments below and check our other blogs for more support!

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