Learn to make ethereal, natural light beauty portraits in full sunlight. Grab a model, choose a location, and let’s get started!
Create stunning beauty portraits in full sunlight
“Hey, Lauren! I’m visiting from California for the weekend and I’d LOVE to shoot with you! Are you down to create?!”
The second I received the above text from my model friend Brittany, my brain was already bursting with all sorts of ideas! So I pulled together some simple props, found the perfect impromptu photo spot, and Brittany and I shot in beautiful, bright sunlight for an ethereal vibe. Here’s how you can make it happen, too!
#1: Get inspired
Before getting out to shoot your natural light portraits, dedicate some time to gathering inspiration. With the internet (hello, Pinterest!) and tons of fashion photography magazines at your disposal, there’s no shortage of content for you to browse through.
Make note of what you want to replicate
As you admire the work of other photographers, jot down some of the ideas that stand out to you. Do you just love the quality of light employed in that Free People ad, or are you just totally into the set design of Vogue’s cover shot? These will all serve as great references to add to your mood board!
Oh, and don’t be afraid to look for inspo in places you may not expect to find it. Here’s what I mean:
Instead of just searching up “natural light beauty images,” you’ll want to explore other areas of photography as well. You never know, that wedding photography blog with a feature on ethereal bridal portraits may be just the thing to get your creative juices flowing.
Remember, the goal is not to directly copy another artist’s work, but to stir up your creativity and dream up a vision all your own. You’ve got this!
#2: Find your location
When it comes to creating dreamy outdoor beauty portraits, the power of your shoot location is not to be underestimated. Here are a few factors you’ll want to consider before marking “X” on the spot…
What vibe are you going for?
First thing first: is your location aesthetically pleasing, and does it inform the story you want to tell?
Landscape photography isn’t the only time location matters! The backdrop of ethereal portraits plays a huge role in establishing the overall tone and feel of your images so be sure that the one you choose does just that.
When choosing the location for my shoot, I loved the versatility that the park I shot at offered. I took advantage of the lush trees and foliage for some shots but had the option of setting up a backdrop for studio-type portraits also.
Ask yourself: beyond just being attractive to the eye, does this environment complement my concept?
Will there be flattering light?
Lighting is another key element (if not the most important) to consider when location scouting. Because you’ll be relying on organic light to produce your images, you’ll want to ensure that it’s perfectly positioned for the results you want to achieve. For example, if you’re shooting at noon on a sunny day, a shaded spot where the light doesn’t hit your subject directly might work best to avoid unflattering shadows (and melting into a puddle.)
In my case, I LOVE using shadows in my portraits to establish a mood, so I found a location that provided just enough strong sunlight and a bit of shade.
To recap, if your chosen location is visually stunning, tells a great story, and has bomb lighting, congrats! You’ve found yourself the perfect spot.
Natural lighting often goes from “warm” to “cold” as the sun goes down, which affects white balance temperature. If you’re shooting around sunset and find that your color balance is all off, you can always sync your images’ white balance during post-processing to achieve that highly coveted golden hour glow.
#3: Set the scene
Now that you’ve chosen a breathtaking shoot location, it’s time to think about props and set design.
Set styling for ethereal portraits can come to life in so many different ways depending upon each artist’s unique vision, but here are some I incorporated in my session.
I selected these props specifically as I felt that they best complemented my vision and helped me bring my desired narrative to life. Consider if they do the same for you and what other fun items you can add to jazz up your mise en scène!
Nothing says dreamy and romantic quite like tattered, vintage volumes. Try to pick cover jackets within the same color palette, and curate titles that will help develop your visual narrative in some way. “Love Poems by William Shakespeare,” for example, would be perfect.
Lush laces and soft silks not only work beautifully as a backdrop, but they can also be used creatively during your portrait session. If you’re shooting at a time of day when the sun is directly above you (usually midday), you can have your model drape the fabric over her face in the direction of the light to create gorgeous lacy shadows.
No natural light portrait is complete without some kind of organic element. You can’t go wrong with a bouquet of flowers, but if you want to incorporate something different, consider an arrangement of fresh fruit. If you chose a natural location as the backdrop for your portraits, that of course counts as well.
Wondering how you can get your hands on some vintage props? Check your local thrift store or flea market! From old tea sets to antique hats, you can almost always find a wide assortment of treasures at mind-blowing prices.
#4: Select your gear
Every photographer has a different process for shooting with natural light that works for them but I’ve included my personal gear list and a few tips I swear by for you to use as a guide.
- Canon EOS 5D Mark III
- Canon 50mm f/1.4
- Canon 24-70mm f/4.0
- Double-sided reflector (gold and silver)
- White bounce card
Shoot wide open
If you’re like me, a hazy, dreamlike effect is what you’re looking to capture in your ethereal portrait photography. I recommended using shallow depth-of-field to isolate your subject and evoke that feeling. The exact aperture you use will, of course, depend on your lens, but this effect is best achieved by shooting wide open.
Use a reflector
When working with sunlight, I can’t overstate the value of using a reflector so you can manipulate and direct that light as needed while shooting! There are several kinds of reflectors on the market, but my most widely-used are two-sided reflectors (silver and gold), or white reflectors. The silver and gold reflectors create strong, specular lights while a white reflector serves as more of a soft light with a subtle bounce.
You don’t need fancy gear to be a photographer; you just need a heart that’s passionate about the art. Use what you’ve got and create!
Time to shoot!
Whether you’re creating them for a client or for your personal portfolio, these natural light, ethereal beauty portraits are sure to wow. Happy shooting!
Written and photographed by LAUREN ALEXIS RODRIGUEZ