Introduction: Keeping the Focus on Your Model

Master the essentials of natural-light portraiture on location.

This natural light photography course will help you master a number of different techniques when using just natural light and your camera. This section covers photographing single subjects, couples, families, children and group shots and will help you understand how to find the right location, know when the ideal time for photography is and identify the best light for photographing.

This photography class is an outdoor portrait in a stunning location, but beautiful locations can sometimes be tricky. They can be quite busy, which can make it difficult to keep the focus on your model.

In this photography class, Karl explains the basics of photographing with natural light before going into detail about how to isolate a model in a busy setting such as this. He also points out the best light to photograph in and explains why before showing you exactly how to make the most of available light by carefully positioning your model and waiting for the perfect moment.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography using natural light
  • How to use natural light for outdoor portraits
  • Camera settings for outdoor portraits using natural light
  • How to pose your model
  • Creative composition for outdoor portraiture

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl,

    I would love to have more classes that deal with backgrounds in portrait shots. There are some really useful tipps in this and other videos of the series but I still find it difficult to access the potential of a background. Maybe you can think about going deeper into this issue in regard to color scheme (complementary colors, number of main colors in the shot) , brightness levels, depth of field, backgrounds that suport the message, shooting angle relative to the subject and background, foreground and background blur (necessity vs. distubance), distance from camera to subject and subject to background with different focal lenghts…

    That would be highly appreciated 🙂

    Thanks a million,

  2. gurwinkle

    Okay! 1/500 or 1/400 too much. There is not a great movement or distortion. How much tricky or busy situation this can be. f/2.8 or f/5.6. Which one you will suggest because when there is 1/500 then there is too much light on the dress around the Legs. The ISO 200? ISO 400 would be lot better because camera shake could have been less. I think the distance is less. Could have tried ISO 800 or even I think ISO 1600? What could have 1/250 or 1/200 done? The Picture gets shorter or zoom reduces when you have 1/250. The 1/500 could have picture even more smaller. Confused? What happened? Zoom??

  3. Hi Karl, I extremely glad to have stumbled on your courses and am learning everyday every minute.

    One of the problems I keep facing whenever I am shooting in busy areas is that the auto focus keeps locking on to the wrong points….. like a tree branch or something in a case like this, which offers more contrast. How do you nail the focus specially with f2.8?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi, in those situations I would get my focus point and then switch it to manual focus so that it doesn’t move. Or just use Manual focus with the green light indicator to help you know it’s sharp.

  4. Yet another question came to my mind, two questions in total

    1. Photographing under trees often leads to a green cast. How did you avoid an unwanted cast of green on the skin and the dress?

    2. Which method did you use in Photoshop to brighten the face (the front side of the model)?

    Sorry for posting three times. I should have sorted my mind first 🙂

    1. Hi Brigitte, I answered your first question. For the second one I always use burn and dodge techniques or selected areas, feathered and applied as a curves adjustment layer and manipulated. See our Photoshop for photographers course and our individual photoshop lessons section.

    1. Hi, yes it does. Use a kodak grey card or a colour checker card such as the Xrite and include it in your first batch of shots and ensure you are shooting in raw. When you process your raw images use the checker card to neutralise to, (we have a class on this). If you are using flash/lighting then it is less of a problem as the light directed at your model isn’t being filtered by green foliage.


    Around 15min 30s you show all your shots and speed you used. When you shoot at 200mm handheld you can use a minimum speed of 1/200e so why didn’t you lower your ISO to 100 and shoot at lower speed?

    Speaking of which, on a Hasselblad to avoid movements with 80mm and 120mm what’s the minimum speed you recommend handheld?

    1. Hi, because 1/200th of a second is the lowest shutter speed I would use with a focal length of 1/200th especially with a lens without image stabilisation. However I’m far safer to go with 1/400th and 200ISO to ensure that there is no camera shake recorded, especially as there is no perceivable difference in 100 and 200 iso on a well exposed daylight shot such as these. For the Hasselblad it depends on which Hasselblad? The H6 is very heavy and the X2D is smaller, lighter and has 7 stop image stabilisation.

        1. Hi, it’s a heavy camera I wouldn’t shoot less than 1/200th with the 80mm and 1/250th with the 120mm if using ambient light.

  6. Pat Galupe

    Hello, Karl. First off, I love the page and am learning many new things about photography. However, i want to learn more about how to use CTO, CTB, CTG and CTM gels and how it helps enhance a scene like this. I do hope i will be able to see one soon. Anyway, back to the model, i have noticed that there is heavy green cast on the model’s dress when the sun disappeared. Did you fix the image white balance presented here in post or did you bring a grey card along to get the white balance correct the first time around?

  7. Hi Karl,
    I am new to your educational videos. I’m already enjoying it… I’m in so much love with these portraits….🤩🤩 I want to do oly portrait photography i hope to click pics like you one day🤞🤞

  8. Hi Karl,

    These are stunning photos. In none of these photos is the sunlight directly hitting the model’s face. Is the diffused light enough to light up the face? What about the eyes? Do you fix those in the lightroom?


    1. Hi Nikhil, as we are in a forest here the backlighting from the sun is not full strength as there are only patches of it coming through the trees. The diffused light from the front was enough exposure for the models face.

  9. in this class, you are using a 70-200mm lens to blur the foreground. I other classes in this series, you were using a 70mm lens for the same purpose. That is the factor to made you chose a different lens. it appears they both accomplished the same goal.

    1. Hi Bob, in other classes I would be using an 85mm portrait lens. At this location I wasn’t sure how far away I would put my model in the scene so I thought it would be safer to go with the the 70-200 to give me a bit of scope incase I needed her further back in the forest.

  10. Sahils

    These are some of the most simple and stunning out door shots that I’ve seen in a while. I just love the simplicity of your explanations and clarity of communication.

  11. Hi Karl,
    beautiful portraits.
    how do you make such nice exposure on the face ? how do you meter ? spot, center weight or matrix to help in viewfinder.
    how did you keep focus on eye ? AF-ON back button focus and AF-C single point ? how do you follow the eye while she is walking ?

    1. Hi, Marc if you have these questions I think you should visit our essentials section as many of the things you are talking about are covered in the Introduction course. As for metering I have a new video on this coming soon which outlines what all the metering modes are for and explains why I have don’t mind which one I’m using, as a matter of fact it makes no difference to me which one I’m using which you’d understand better from the intro course. Focusing is also covered in the Intro course.

      1. Natural light scenes are so amazing to go out and shoot sometimes. I really enjoyed this film. So happy to join your course only few days ago. Its very easy to learn from you Karl. Connection with the viewer is high when you are in from of camera. I recently did lots of sport films directing, but I am back with photography. I started in a dark room in 1986, I was only 10 years old when I was working at black and white photography. After so many years I can openly say: Your films are amazing to learn from, easy to watch, friendly to listen ( few jokes would do good 🙂 ) Other than that bluebell shots it must have been on May. Enjoyed that very much .

        1. Thank you very much and glad you enjoyed it. I get a few more jokes in from time to time! 🙂

    2. Sayidali

      Hello, teacher I have studio portrait.
      But I am struggle my imge quality,
      If you don’t mind, can you send me your photos as raw to oversea.
      I take photos mostly, and I have sony mark iv and canon 5d mark iv.
      But they are mostly less quality and look like dust.

      1. Hi Sayidali, we can’t send you our photos unfortunately because it means that they could be accidentally shared and used by other people for financial gain such as image stock libraries etc. The cameras that you mentioned are good cameras and it is likely that any problem you are encountering with image quality will be down to the lens or the technique. I would recommend you check your lenses first to make sure they are clean and of good quality and if you are happy with that then test on a bright sunny day in automatic mode and examine the photos again. It may also be that the sensors of your camera need cleaning?

  12. derrick_connell

    Thanks for this module Karl. I am planning a shoot this weekend and have a similar location. You mentioned the focus points during the shoot. What type of focus points are you using (single point that you move?) and is there a module on your approach to focus points?

    Thanks in advance

  13. Your tip on framing was an excellent suggestion. In the video you mentioned that you made sure that she did not have any distractions behind her, my question is: would it have been distracting if you had a tree behind her given her skin tone in relation to a darker tone/colour of a tree (trunk)?

    1. Hi Nick with all photography you are delivering a message to the viewer. It simply comes down to how clear that message is and how easy it is for the viewer to absorb it. Sometimes we can have elaborate backgrounds if the position of everything doesn’t destroy the message. If you put a tree behind her there would be many factors to consider such as where were the branches emanating, what was the depth of field, what else was gonig on etc. For me it’s always about clarity – if you look at nearly all of my work I try to keep the message clear even if the shot has to have busy content –

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