The summer holidays are fast approaching and the gorgeous weather is already upon us – it’s the perfect time to organise your portrait session. One of the questions I often get asked by my clients is what’s the best location for a portrait session – in the studio or outdoors? The answer really depends on a number of factors such as the style of portrait you’re after, the age of the participants as well as the characteristics of each location. Many photographers will prefer one environment over the other but a professional photographer should be able to take beautiful portraits in either environment.
I’ll take you through these factors and will also outline the main pros and cons associated with the different portrait environments and will leave you to choose where you’d like your portrait session to take place. Know this however, no matter which option you choose, you’ll have beautiful portraits taken of you.
What kind of portrait are you after?
The style of portrait you’re looking for will have a big impact on the location you choose for your portrait.
- If you’re after a Lifestyle portrait session, which is a relaxed, largely unscripted, totally unposed style, this can only be held outdoors
- Newborn portraits must be done in the studio for the safety and comfort of your baby.
- Family portraits can be held in either environment and will depend on the age of the participants and the look you’re going for.
- If you want an Elegant or Glamour portrait it can be done outside of the studio if you have an elegant location but more commonly held in the studio.
- • If you want dramatic, nude or boudoir portraits, they’re best to do in the studio (especially the nude and lingerie shots!).
What age are the participants?
The age of the participants also plays a part in deciding the location for your portrait session.
- Newborn portraits are only taken in the studio as newborns are used to being in a hot environment (37 degrees) and holding a portrait session outdoors may be too cold for them (even in summer).
- If you have young children you could hold your portrait session in the studio where there’s fewer distractions but limited ability for them to run around and play. Alternately you could hold your session outdoors if you want them to run around and play. Be aware though, if you choose to hold your portrait session outdoors, your children may end up being more interested in playing than in being photographed. Shooting outdoors with young children in summer is also challenging as outdoor portraits take place either just after sunrise or just before sunset which is very late in summer.
- •Either location is fine for older children, teenagers and adults.
- A portrait taken outdoors can look more natural than one taken in the studio.
- Beautiful light – during the 1-2hrs after sunrise and before sunset there is gorgeous light – it’s called Golden hour. The light is lovely and soft and the closer you are to sunrise or sunset, the more golden it is. We live in a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by mountains. This unfortunately means that, if you want to have your portrait session in or around Grenoble, Golden hour is difficult to access as the sun often goes down behind the mountains long before sunset.
- Your portrait session can take place in a location that is important to you. While most parks and natural settings are available to you, it is important to note that some places require authorisation to photograph.
- The background adds to the story. A natural scene can add an organic, relaxed feel to the photos. A city scene can impart a more sophisticated and elegant feel while having a dilapidated background such as an old factory or barn conveys a grungier feel to your portrait. Be careful though that the background you choose doesn’t detract from the subject of the photo – you…
- Less intimidating for children than the studio environment however a good portrait photographer should be able to put your children at ease in any environment.
- Photographing outdoors can give you more variety in your photos.
- Different seasons have a different look – the gorgeous autumn colours, the snow in winter, beautiful spring flowers and the green leafy summer colours.
- You have no control over the weather conditions. This is by far the biggest drawback associated with outdoor photography. Portrait sessions are generally booked a fair bit in advance and it’s impossible to know what the weather will be like on the day. Your session may have to be postponed due to torrential rain or high winds or significant changes in temperature can completely change what you plan to wear. I’ll give you an example:
- You can’t hold your portrait session when you want. Outdoor portrait sessions generally happen either first thing in the morning or just before sunset as this is when the light is lovely and soft - the sun in the middle of the day is much too harsh and is not flattering. This means that in summer your portrait session will start before 6am or around 8pm which can be challenging if you have children or simply to get ready.
- As there are only very limited slots in the day to be photographed (one in the evening as not many people want to get up at 4am to get ready for a 6am portrait session), you risk having to book a fair while in advance to get an appointment.
- Children can get more easily distracted. A portrait session in a park with young children can quickly deteriorate if they see a playground or something else interesting and aren’t allowed to go play…
- Crowds can get in the way – photographing in a public area can be challenging as we have to work around other people. We can’t always photograph where we want to if people are there or we have to wait for people to go before continuing. Each time we stop to wait for people to pass, breaks the rhythm and it can take some time for you to relax again.
- No privacy. It’s often hard to completely relax and to tune out all the distractions when there are other people around. Too often we worry about people looking at us and this can make us feel less comfortable.
- There’s nowhere to get changed so having multiple outfits can be challenging. It’s also challenging if you need to walk a bit to get to the shoot location as the sweaty look isn’t always great and neither is the swollen ankle as your heels aren’t adapted to the terrain.
- It is difficult to photograph in Golden hour in and around the alps as the sun goes down behind the mountains long before sunset.
- The portrait session may take longer than in the studio as you move from location to location (even within the same park or forest).
- Beautiful majestic scenery can distract from the subject of the photo – you.
- You can’t hold your portrait session wherever you like as some places require a permit.
Studio portraits are beautiful as there is a mastery and control of the light that cannot be recreated easily outdoors. Your portrait can be held anytime, day or night, and the result will be the same as we are not dependant on the natural light. It is difficult to recreate the beauty of the great outdoors in a studio. Here are the advantages and constraints associated with studio portraits.
- You know what the weather conditions will be like in the studio – you’re in a climate-controlled and comfortable location so you know that you not need to reschedule or change what you plan to wear because of inclement weather. No need to reschedule in case of rain. Having a climate-controlled environment is especially important when photographing newborns.
- Your portrait session can take place when you want. As we are not dependant on the external lighting conditions, your portrait session can take place at a time that’s more convenient for you. This is especially important if you have young children as they are not often at their best late in the evening (when the light is ideal for outdoor portraits).
- There are more slots available for portrait sessions so you will generally have to wait less long to get a time that suits you. This will of course depend on the popularity of the photographer.
- The lighting is expertly applied which flatters your body and your skin. Your eyes come alive with that twinkle, your skin becomes beautiful and creamy and skilful lighting, as well as posing, highlights your assets.
- We can change the mood of a portrait very quickly with the skilful application of light. We can go from light and happy to dark and dramatic in no time. This is very hard to achieve outdoors (at least without having to wait a long time).
- It is private. There are no crowds at the studio and you will be the only people present so you’ll be able to relax. Privacy is also important for boudoir or other portraits where you might dressed in revealing clothing (or none at all)…
- There are changing facilities to enable you to easily change in private. This enables you to easily and quickly change outfits during the session without stressing about others watching you change.
- There are no distractions which is especially important when photographing children or groups. Have you ever tried to take a group photo outdoors only to have people looking everywhere but at the camera? How about photographing a child in a park where there’s also a playground? Trust me, I’ve done both and they can be challenging!
- It’s easier to keep children under control in the studio as it’s a new environment and there’s nothing to play with.
- Neutral backgrounds are used to keep the focus of the photo on you. Having a lovely dramatic or elaborate background is lovely but, if not used with care, it can quickly overwhelm the photo and distract the viewer from what’s really important – you.
- A studio portrait session is generally faster than an outdoor portrait session as there’s no need to move from location to location or to wait for people to move out of the way.
- The photos may be less dynamic as children won’t run around the studio as much as they would outdoors. The photos wouldn’t necessarily be static though – I’ve had people dancing, performing martial arts, cycling etc in the studio so don’t worry, you won’t just be sitting still (unless you want me to).
- The photos may appear more posed or less natural. This depends on the style and look of your session. It’s true, if you’re looking for a natural, outdoor shoot, the studio is not for you as you won’t feel as free. However, while it is natural to initially feel a little intimidated by the studio lights etc, a good photographer will help you relax in front of the camera to get natural looking photos.
- The background is not as interesting. I have a range of backgrounds available in the studio but none of them can rival the beauty of a natural background however this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gorgeous, complex backgrounds look fantastic can be distracting and using a neutral background keep the focus of the photo squarely on the subject so this one is a drawback but also an advantage…
- Children may be a little intimidated initially but a good portrait photographer will be able to get them to relax. One of the reasons why I hold pre-shoot consultations is for children to meet me and to discover the studio so on the day of the shoot, they relax much more quickly.
Studio portraits are gorgeous with the skilful application of light that’s difficult to find outdoors. A studio portrait session will deliver consistently great results and can be held at a time that suits you but some people find it less dynamic and less natural… In the end, the location you choose will largely depend on the look you’re looking for.
As you can see, there are many factors that affect the location of your portrait session. The location you choose will be dependent on the style you’re looking for, the age of the participants as well as the advantages and drawbacks of each location.
If you want the certainty of a climate-controlled environment with consistent results, through the expert application of controlled lighting, the studio is perfect for you. If you want natural photos with beautiful scenery and don’t mind the variations in the weather, then consider having your portrait session outdoors.
I hope this blog has helped you understand a bit more about each portrait environment.
I’ll be sharing an outdoor portrait session of a young girl in the lavender fields in my next article so be sure to come back to see this…