6 Tips for Capturing Great Outdoor Lifestyle Photos

by Sherri on February 6, 2010


Jeff & Cocoa hiking on the Stagecoach Trail on a foggy January morning, Auburn, California. This image was developed using the amazing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.

Hi everyone! You have probably figured out by now that I love to photograph people enjoying the outdoors. I have been capturing Outdoor Lifestyle photos for many years and they continue to be my favorite subjects to photograph. I have also noticed an increased amount of people on this Photo Blog lately, who were searching for “How to Shoot Outdoor Lifestyle Photos.” That is what inspired me to write this post.

I’m sharing some of my success tips for capturing great Outdoor Lifestyle photos. If you own a camera and you would like to learn how to take better photographs of people, you can benefit from the following tips.

Choose your subjects wisely. They don’t need to be professional models, but they should be comfortable in front of the camera and involved in an activity that they enjoy and is natural for them. For instance, my husband Jeff in the photo above enjoys hiking, therefore he makes a good hiking model. Our friend Donna loves running and snowshoeing and Peggy enjoys hiking and kayaking. Whatever you do, don’t ask someone to be a “running” model (or another activity) who is not a runner. I’ve been there and done that and it definitely showed in my photos.

Find a great background. Simple, uncluttered backgrounds work best. Remember what your subject is. In this case it is the person, not the landscape. Your job is to draw attention to the person. You can achieve this by using a shallow DOF (Depth of Field).  For the photo above, I used an aperture of f 3.2, although that was not really necessary because of the fog. Shooting in the fog is another way to blur out the background and it also gives the photo a moody feel. The background in this photo of me hiking (which has been licensed multiple times) is an excellent example of a simple, uncluttered background. Another way to simplify the background is by using the sky, as you can see in this photo of Carole mountain biking in the Black Rock Desert.

Use dramatic light. Dramatic light is simply light that adds drama to your photos. My favorite types of lighting are back lighting and side lighting. Back lighting is defined as light coming from behind the subject. If your goal is to capture a silhouette, this is the type of lighting you will want to use. Here is a photo of Jeff mountain biking, where I have used back lighting. This photo of me running at Mackerricher State Park was also captured using back lighting. Side lighting is when the light strikes the subject from either side. In the photo above side lighting was used. It is subtle, however, due to the diffusion from the fog. If you look at the subjects, you can see that the right side of them is lit up, while the left side is in shadow.

Show emotion or feeling. Whenever you are photographing a subjects face, try to capture an emotion or feeling. Your viewers should be able to “feel” the emotion. Here are a couple of good examples of showing an emotion. Jeff took this photo of me relaxing in the Black Rock Desert. When I look at the expression on my face, I can “feel” how relaxed I was. Another good example is this photo of Donna snowshoeing at Castle Peak. How do you think she was feeling? If you guessed “happy” then you guessed right! Whatever the mood your subject is in, try to capture that on film.

Clothing is important. For the best results, have your subjects wear clothing that is appropriate for the activity they are enjoying and fairly up-to-date. Bright colors generally work best, with RED topping the list. Red is the number one publishing color and the eye is usually drawn to it first. Whenever I go out on a photo shoot, I always pack something red such as a Bandanna, dog leash, day pack, jacket, hat etc. You never know when you might need to add a splash of color. In this photo of Jeff and Cocoa camping, Jeff is wearing a red hat. The eye is immediately drawn to it. That is, if you don’t see Cocoa first. Here is a photo of Carole throwing sticks for her dogs. She dressed in red for me that day, as do many of our friends. I have them trained! Natural tones work well if you are photographing Yoga or something similar. A couple more things to watch out for (especially if you are marketing your images) are labels showing and clothing turned inside out. A few years ago, I photographed our friends Daniel and Donna kayaking. When I got my slides back from the lab, I discovered Daniel had his life jacket on inside out. Lesson learned!

Use concepts. A concept is the story created by the relationship between two or more objects. One way I use concepts is by including our dog in my photos. Jeff does the same thing when he is photographing me. The photo above is one example of a concept shot of Jeff and Cocoa, which says companionship, relationship, love, togetherness, friends and more. In this canoeing photo of our friends Bobby and John, the concepts are joy, teamwork, togetherness, companionship, friends, relationship to name just a few. Check out this photo of Peg and her dog Otis. It’s loaded with concepts. I will let you make up your own story on this one. What concepts do you see in this photo?

I hope these tips will help you to capture great Outdoor Lifestyle photos of your own. Please let me know in the comments section below if this article was helpful to you, also if you try any of my tips. If you are an Outdoor Lifestyle Photographer, feel free to add your success tips.

Happy shooting!

😉 Sherri

1 Peter witham February 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

Great set of tips, thanks for sharing with us.

2 Cheryl Wood February 6, 2010 at 11:59 am

Great tips Sherri with nice supporting examples. I like the splash of color suggestion–will need to go “red” shopping!

3 Sherri February 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Thank you Peter. I’m glad you found these tips helpful! :-)

4 Sherri February 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Cheryl – thank you! You don’t need much red as you can see, but it really helps to add impact to your photos. :-)

5 Mike February 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for the useful info. I have a question for you, do you or have you used Tilt Shift lens before? thinking of buying one mainly for shooting Landscapes and wondering if the focus is sharp from front to back and top to bottum?

6 Sherri February 7, 2010 at 7:44 am

You are very welcome! I do not own and have never used a Tilt Shift lens, but I hear they are fantastic. I don’t know what kind of camera you have, but here are a couple of links with some good info.


Good luck and let me know if you get one and how you like it okay?
:-) Sherri

7 Kerry Sue February 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Sherrie, I know that I don’t have the same comments as your professional friends. Bur I shure enjoy your beautiful pictures, I want to walk down this same path with you and Jeff.. Your photos make me want to be there in each place you shoot.

8 Sherri February 12, 2010 at 6:39 am

I love your comments Kerry! Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog and for giving your feedback on my photos. 😉

9 erin February 12, 2010 at 9:36 am

These are great tips to follow, and I like that you incorporated into them how you’ve personally set up shots; it’s helpful for a newcomer to photography to know what the teacher has tried when imparting knowledge!

10 Carolyn Fox February 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

The lighting in this picture is wonderful. I like how the person and dog are walking from the sunlight into the fog. Good atmospheric image.

11 Lyn Scott February 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm

This is a great shot, but i think I told you this once before.

12 Sherri February 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Thank you Erin. I’m glad you found these tips helpful!

13 Sherri February 15, 2010 at 6:19 am

Thank you Lyn!

14 Sherri February 15, 2010 at 6:38 am

Carolyn – thanks. We timed our hike just right that day!

15 Jim Goldstein February 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Great write up Sherri! Thanks for the tips.

16 Sherri February 24, 2010 at 8:01 am

Thanks a bunch Jim and you are welcome!

17 Dwayne D.C. Tucker II February 28, 2010 at 5:31 am

Just looking around what was out there and I enjoyed reading your post Sherri :)

Nassau, Bahamas | Miami, Florida

18 Sherri March 1, 2010 at 7:47 am

Hi Dwayne, thank you for looking around on my Photo Blog and for your comment! 😉

19 David March 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm

This is a great photo, I like the feel and look of it, as well as the autumn colors.

20 Sherri March 1, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Thank you for your comment David. I’m glad you like it and you can “feel” the photo. 😉

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