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  • Create Your Light: outdoor portrait photography and the art of collaborating!

  • Use the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S to get more of the environment into the portrait. Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.
    Use the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S to set your subject apart against gorgeous bokeh. Portrait of Kathrin Schafbauer taken by Brett Florens.

    Brett Florens is a fashion and wedding photographer, and Kathrin Schafbauer is a sport, fashion, and lifestyle photographer. Together, they explored the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife looking for the best light with which to capture beautiful outdoor portraits—of each other! From posing to lighting, find out how they inspired one another and nailed outdoor portraits with lighting to rival any studio.

    Theme 23 with #CreateYourLight is all about working outdoors with natural light and the people you’re shooting. Brett and Kathrin got great results using nothing but the Nikon Z 5 and Z 6II full-frame mirrorless cameras, along with two exceptional Z lenses: the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S portrait lens, and the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S wide-angle lens.

    Dive in for tips on how to use a wall as a reflector, the best camera settings to use, and how to direct your subject so you can capture perfectly posed yet natural-looking portraits. Plus, discover how collaborating with another photographer can really boost your people-shooting skill set.

    The streets are your Softbox

    Look for reflected light to create soft, evenly lit portraits.  Portrait of Kathrin Schafbauer taken by Brett Florens.
    Nose to the sun! Pose your model with their face pointed towards the light. Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.
    “You can find some amazing light in some strange places.” - Brett

    It can be a challenge to find the right light when shooting outside. If you want to shoot characterful portraits where you can see the texture of a weathered face, then the kind of directional light you get when the sun is high in the sky can be an advantage. If it’s flattering beauty portraits you’re after then it’s best to look for areas with indirect lighting.

    Check the video to see how Brett and Kathrin hit the light jackpot when they found an alleyway to shoot in while the sun was high in the sky. There was shade and the sunlight was bouncing off a big white wall, which acted like a giant softbox and created a beautiful creamy light. Watch and you’ll see how you can use sunlight to create a narrow-side lighting effect for more flattering portraits.

    Learn to DIRECT

    Tell someone what to do with their hands: Portrait of Kathrin Schafbauer taken by Brett Florens.
    Give your model something to lean against. Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.

    The expression on someone’s face can make or break a portrait, but how do you get someone to relax so that you can capture spontaneous reactions and emotions? Whether you’re shooting a professional model or someone who’s never posed for a photograph before, honing your directing skills can really help you get results.

    Brett tends to have specific ideas about the image he wants to create. “I'm always instructing people, and I think the key is to use positive language. If I ask someone to put their hand on their face and they do it in a way I wasn’t expecting, I don’t say ‘no, not like that,’ I simply ask them to turn their hand the other way.” Giving clear instructions is also important. “If I want someone to take their hands out of their pockets, I ask them to take their hands out of their pockets and fold their arms. I don't say to them ‘Don't put your hands in your pockets’ because if you say that to somebody they think ‘Wait, what must I do with them?’”

    Kathrin often shoots more organically: she likes to let people do their thing so she can see how they move, and then she guides them with small pointers like telling them to turn around so they can catch the best light. She warms up, letting people stay in their comfort zone before she asks them to pose: “I always tell them that the first shots are just about getting the light right.” She also mirrors people: “I always do what I want them to do, whether that’s smiling or facial expressions or with their hands. I show them. I'm kind of posing too so they don't feel awkward doing it.”

    Talk to them

    Chatting to your model while you shoot can help them feel at ease. Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.

    Kathrin and Brett have different styles of shooting, but they both agree on the importance of talking to your subject. Silence while you fiddle with your camera settings is not going to help someone relax.

    Brett is used to being filmed but not photographed, and the way Kathrin talked to him while shooting helped put him at ease. “She was telling me what she was doing, and I think that’s vital. You can say things like ‘I'm just coming in for a close-up’ or ‘I'm just busy focusing.’ Because if you've got a camera pointed at you and the person behind the lens is not saying anything and just pressing buttons, you become very self-conscious. Like, am I doing the right thing?”

    Learning how to direct will instill a sense of confidence in you that your subjects will respond to. Brett experienced this first-hand. “I had never met Kathrin before, but I trusted that she knew what she was doing. The instant she picked up the camera, she looked at me and said ‘Okay, this is what we're going to do,’ instead of looking at the camera going ‘Okay, what do we do?’”

    Practice makes perfect when it comes to directing people, and Brett advises trying this one at home! Ask your partner, friends, or family to pose so you can practise how to let your someone know what you want from them. “Sit down on the couch and say to them, ‘Okay, what I'd like you to do is turn your body a little bit more to the right. Bring your chin into your shoulder, put your hand up to your face’ … practise at home before you practise on a client!”

    Focus on your subject not your camera

    Trust Face-Detection AF to get the exposure right while you focus on your framing. Portrait of Kathrin Schafbauer taken by Brett Florens.
    Trust Eye-Detection AF to focus on the eyes while you connect with your model. Portrait of Kathrin Schafbauer taken by Brett Florens.
    “Don’t feel like you have to shoot in manual focus” says Brett. “The auto settings on Nikon cameras are incredible!”

    Both Brett and Kathrin advise getting really familiar with how your camera settings work in different lighting situations. You can’t chat to someone while you shoot if you need to stop and figure out where a button is or what setting you need to use.

    For portraits, they love Nikon’s Face- and Eye-Detection AF. Knowing they can trust the camera to focus on a subject’s face and eyes frees them to concentrate on their connection to their subject. Even if you’re shooting in a backlit situation, the camera exposes the face perfectly.

    Nikon’s Picture Control settings are also a big plus for Brett and Kathrin. You can personalise the settings to get the look you’re after instantly, rather than spending time in post. Plus, they can be a big help creatively. Even when shooting in colour, Kathrin often uses the black-and-white setting to see the contrast better on her screen as she shoots.

    For more tips on using the camera’s auto functions—including for Face- and Eye-Detection AF, white balance, and Picture Controls—check the video.


    Work with your model’s energy and let them do their thing. Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.
    “You can learn things from other photographers that you're not going to learn on YouTube.” (Brett)

    It can be the little things that inspire you the most. From the way you communicate with your subject to how you handle things on set, there are things you pick up on when you're shooting with someone that you can’t get any other way.

    Brett is clear about the way Kathrin’s energy encouraged him to go with the flow. “I usually pose my subject more, but that would have just crushed her personality. I just let her do whatever she wanted, and you can see that coming through in the images. For me, that was an eye-opener … it took me out of my comfort zone, and I really enjoyed that.”

    For Kathrin, Brett’s way of shooting inspired her. “I like to let people do their thing, but I’ve learned a lot in terms of posing … it's so interesting to see how people work. We always inspire each other.”

    Brett has always worked alone but now thinks photographers should collaborate more: “Get together and bounce ideas off other people! Perhaps hire a model or get friends and family to pose. As photographers, we can uplift each other. This industry is big enough for everyone to have their own individual style.”

    Portrait of Brett Florens taken by Kathrin Schafbauer.


    Now it's your turn!

    Find that open shade, try out new poses, explore Picture Controls! From classic head-and-shoulder shots to environmental portraits, leave the studio behind and show us how you photograph people outside. Tag your photos with #CreateYourLight for your chance to appear on our channels.