Brooks Pro Tip: How to Take Portraits on Location

January 30, 2013

Finding the “right” light can be one of the most important parts of taking a really beautiful portrait on location. Most photographers know that shooting people in full sun in the middle of the day will produce less-than-ideal images.

We’ve all seen shots of people with “raccoon eyes.” This occurs when the sun angle is too high and the difference between the highlight areas and the shadows are too great.

What we want to look for is a location where the ratio (difference between light and shadow) isn’t so extreme. The first step is to look for open shade. A cloudy or overcast day will work to help reduce the contrast, but the angle of the light might still be too high, creating shadows in the eyes.

The first shot below was taken right behind the Brooks campus, next to a loading dock.

How to Take Portraits on Location

I chose this spot because it was in the shade and there was an overhang that blocked part of the overhead light. (The overhang is the secret!) There is direction to the light that gently wraps around her face instead of coming straight down. There is also some light bouncing off a parking garage on the other side of the alley.

How to Take Portraits on Location

I love portraits that are “up close and personal.” This approach really helps when the location is less than ideal in terms of natural beauty, as is the case of our alley. I minimized the background by shooting with a telephoto lens at its maximum aperture.

The second shot below was taken just inside the entrance to a parking garage.

How to Take Portraits on Location

I moved the model just out of the direct light, into the shade. There is beautiful, directional, soft light coming from the entrance giving her face shape.

How to Take Portraits on Location

Remember that the location can be less than ideal, in terms of natural beauty, and still work if you move in close to your subject, use a long lens with a large aperture, and have beautiful, soft, directional light.

Paul Meyer is a faculty member in the Professional Photography program at Brooks Institute. See more of his work at