We accompany John on an outdoor portrait shoot to pick up a few summer portrait photography tips…

About John Freeman

john freeman self imageJohn Freeman has illustrated dozens of books on everything from cookery to the Kama Sutra, and has numerous blue-chip clients, but is best known for his 35 photography technique books which have sold over two million copies.

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So many portraits shot outside in the summer are ruined by squinting eyes and ugly shadows, yet by following a few simple rules it’s so easy to produce something much better. So says John Freeman, and he should know. He has photographed thousands of people in his professional career and his books john freeman summer portraits setuphave sold in the millions.

To prove the point, he borrowed What Digital Camera’s Marketing Manager, Estelle, for an hour and we went down to the nearest patch of grass to our office (the lawn in front of the Tate Modern on London’s South Bank) to demonstrate how to do it. Deputy Editor Mat Gallagher was pressed into reflector-holding duty. Here are John’s simple summer portrait photography tips…

Summer portrait photography tip 1: Find a shady spot

‘The light will be more even in the shade, and won’t be so bright, so harsh shadows and squinting expressions will be less problematic.’

Summer portrait photography tip 2: Use natural props


‘Models can feel awkward standing on a spot and not knowing what to do with their hands. Finding a tree or some other nearby element for them to hold or lean on lets them interact with their environment and helps create a more natural and relaxed pose.’

Summer portrait photography tip 3: Use a wide aperture

‘Avoid having the background fight with the subject for the viewer’s attention by making sure that it’s blown out of focus. This is achieved by shooting at a wide aperture, between f/2.8 and f/5.6.’

Summer portrait photography tip 4: Telephoto lens

‘Using a telephoto lens makes it easier to achieve a shallow depth of field when using a longer lens, and thus provides more separation between subject and background. The perspective obtained by shooting from further away with a telephoto is also more flattering, de-emphasising prominent facial elements such as long noses. I like to use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.’

Summer portrait photography tip 5: Consider a tripod

‘Tripods are useful as they enable you to set up the composition and then leave you free to interact with the model, perhaps walk up to them and adjust a pose without having then to to pick up the camera again and re-compose.’

Summer portrait photography tip 6: Use a reflector


With reflector


without reflector












‘A portable folding reflector can be used to fill in shadows. I much prefer them to flash because they’re more subtle and you can see the effect immediately. To me, flash always looks artificial. The only downside with a reflector is it helps if you have an assistant to hold it. If your model’s hands aren’t in shot they may be able to hold it themselves.

Summer portrait photography tip 7: Direct sun

‘Sometimes you have no choice but to shoot in direct sun, but the worst thing you can do is shoot with the sun over your shoulder shining into their eyes. Turn the subject 180° so the sun is behind them. This will immediately stop them squinting, and will also bathe their face in more diffused, reflected light rather than harsh sunlight that can cause shadows. It can also give an attractive halo of light around the subject, which looks especially good with long hair. Meter from the subject’s face so your exposure isn’t influenced by light from behind them.’

Summer portrait photography tip 8: Any camera will do

john freeman any camera 1john freeman any camera 2






‘A DSLR is ideal but not essential. With compacts it’s best to select portrait mode (for a wide aperture)and zoom in to the telephoto end of the zoom. Remember to keep the camera steady to minimise camera shake.’
AUTHOR: Nigel Atherthon