Top 10 money-making outdoor photos of people – Your First Customer Series, Part 2

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on October 5, 2009

in This is Art

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(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

It may take some practice on yourself or friends and family, but below you will find the top 10 money-making outdoor photographs you can make of and sell to your portraiture clients as a newly-minted part time photographer.

I’m featuring outdoor portraits here because you can shoot them with just the camera in your hands, and you can shoot them just about anywhere, from a local park or playground to your own back yard.

Aim to start shooting about one hour before sunset. This will give you nice evening light to play with.

For your lighting, you want your subject facing toward the sun. If the sunlight is right in their eyes and they’re squinting, move them into some shade but still have them face toward the sun. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a passing cloud in front of the sun or have overcast skies to act as a big diffuser.

I’ll be adding some more in-depth video and photo tutorials for these photos in the future, but for now, use the below guidelines to begin shooting salable portraits of your clients.

Let’s visit the great outdoors!

The Headshot

A good headshot fills the frame with your subject’s face, preferably from mid-chest or shoulders up. Zoom your camera in all the way and walk away from your subject until they are properly framed. By zooming in, you’re reducing your depth of field, which will give you a nice, soft background.

The biggest part of the headshot is a natural expression (preferably a candid smile or laugh between funny faces) and good lighting. If your lighting is too harsh or too far to the side, you’ll get nasty and unflattering shadows across the eyes and face. Make sure the eyes always look fabulous.

Don’t have to worry about background too much with these, since almost all of the frame will be filled with the subject. As always, try to have a complimentary and simple background. Avoid busy or clashing backgrounds at all costs.

Mix this up with a nice pair of sunglasses and you can get another set of fun and stylish photos. Once you’ve got what you like from a standing-back, zoomed-in position, zoom all the way out, get close, and do some wide-angle headshots. Make sure your background is clean and complimentary, lift your camera overhead and shoot down at wild angles, and have fun with it.

It’s digital: go crazy!




The 3/4 (Three-Quarters) Shot

The 3/4 Shot goes up from your subject’s thighs, waist, or torso, including arms and hands. We’ll introduce a bit of body posing with this portrait.

Make sure your lighting looks good on your subject (I’ll say this every single time – learn to look at the light and shadows on your subject’s face before you even lift your camera to take a shot), then have them “just slightly” push their shoulders back and arch their backs. If they suddenly look like they sat on a cactus, have them loosen it up a bit.

Where your subject’s hands will go depends on what they’re wearing. Thumbs can go in jean pockets for a Western look, arms can cross for a powerful stance, hands can go to hips (with a little hip swish to the side) for a more model-esque pose, hands can go in jacket pockets if they’re wearing one, etc.

Look for something natural and fitting: unless you’re breaking the ice and being funny, cowboys shouldn’t swish their hips and khaki-wearers shouldn’t hook their thumbs in their pockets.

Women going for a model look can do the hip thing, put hands in their back pockets, bring their hands up to mess with their hair, etc. You can turn most women loose with posing in a 3/4 shot and they’ll do fine on their own.

Your background is going to be more visible in this shot, so make sure it doesn’t hurt the image. If it’s loud, noisy, overbearing, super busy, or just not complimentary to the photo, change positions. Have your subject lean against a tree if you must, but maintain a clean background.

This photo set should also be shot from a distance, zoomed in. Feel free to introduce some sunglasses and/or wide angle shots if you like, but since we’re shooting more body this time, the final impact will be less pronounced.




The Close-up Shot

Not for the faint of heart or those with particularly poor skin.

The close up shot is a twice-as-close headshot, focusing greatly on the eyes, filling almost every inch of the frame with your subject’s face.

Definitely step back and zoom in to take this photo. Wide-angles up close will exaggerate features well beyond attractiveness. That said, if you have a funky subject, go for it – never let your own snobbery of how a portrait should look take precedence over what the client wants and will buy.

When you’re this close, make sure you aren’t casting a shadow (even faint) on your subject.

When you like the lighting on your subject’s face, let them give you several expressions, and play to their best features. If someone has bad teeth, aim for closed-mouth smiles and dramatic or intense facial expressions. If they have a great smile, start cracking jokes. If they have amazing eyes, get super close on those. If they have great hair, or if their hair is a big part of their style, be sure it frames or comes forward a bit to accent their face.

Since a close-up is more of an artsy and intimate image, play around with having your client look away from the camera, pose their head to the left or right and have them look both toward you and away, and if they’re the jocular type, have them make some funny faces.

Good close-ups make great MySpace and Facebook defaults.


The Layback Shot

Find something for your subject to lay back on. I’m lucky to have a great spot on a tree at my city park where my subjects can lay back comfortably, but you can use a flat surface like a patch of grass or a park bench.

You’ll have your subject lay down, and turn/lean their head back to look at you. As always, make sure your lighting looks good, and if their faces aren’t catching even light, rotate them until they look great.

Have your subject arch their back a bit to make it easier for them to look back to you. Take your time and get a natural pose here – if your subject is straining their neck too much or too twisted around, their discomfort will show up in the final photo.

Hands can go down the side into/around pockets, their far hand can go up behind their head, and the near hand can stay down, go in a jacket pocket, or reach up to grip a lapel.

This mostly looks good as a dramatic photo, but as with every photo, try to work a range of expressions in. Go crazy and cull out the misses later when you’re on the computer.


The Bench Shot

A good park bench is a great prop for posing. Your subject can sit, stand, or lay on it, and any which way, it creates visually interesting horizontal lines in the image.

Work your angles and expressions, primarily focusing on straight-on shots capturing the long side of the table or bench. Overhead shots can be good here as well to create some angled lines through your image.



The Standing On Something Shot

I may not be creative with naming these shots, but this is one of the more dramatic photos you’ll take of your subject.

Find something that your subject can stand on, preferably a something that creates a statuesque appearance. A chair, a rock or cement wall, a pillar of some sort, a table, a tree stump, whatever’s available.

Go for dramatic and goofy poses and expressions here. Try to get your camera down around your subject’s foot level and shoot up at them. Primarily do this zoomed in, but try some wide angles as well. Dramatic poses should give your subject the appearance of a statue on display, and goofy stuff can include flamingo one-legged stances and bird-in-flight pantomimes.

The Wide Shot

You’ll have to do some hunting and practice your landscape photographer’s eye to find a good place, but seek out some good scenery to do a landscape-style photo with your subject as a small but highlighted feature in the shot.

A tree that overhangs a hillside, a select tree out of a row of a dozen, a lone tree in a field (can you tell I shoot around trees a lot?), a hillside or field covered in green grass or flowers… You get the idea. Get in a position where you can shoot a wide-angle photo of this beautiful landscape or natural feature, and pose your subject in a key point.

If photographing the overhanging tree, place your subject in the frame created by the branches which dip down at their tips. If shooting the lone tree, seat your subject at the side of the tree, or stand them in front of it. If you can shoot from a high position, lay your subject in that field of flowers and let them be the unique break, and thus focal point, in the pattern the landscape creates.

Your subject will be very small in this photo, so pose them dramatically enough that they don’t appear as just sticks or squares in the photo. Extend the pose enough to create more interesting shapes. Make them take up some space around them.




The Funky Angle Shot

Go wide-angle and shoot from an unusual angle on your subject. I love to shoot overhead for these, but you can lay down and shoot from ground level, or just get close and twist the camera so your subject takes up the frame corner-to-corner instead of top-to-bottom.

This is a playful type of shot, so feel free to play around with your subject to get a memorable image.


The Down The Road Shot

Roads, not unlike the done-to-death train track, create nice lines in an image.

Place your subject in the middle of a road (do mind the traffic), or off to one side or the other, and look for a shot which includes the bold graphic element of the road and the lines on the road. Have your subject take a bold stance if in the middle of the road, or have them turn toward the road if they’re posed to the side. If to the side, place your subject in the left or right side of the frame, with the road filling the rest.

After you nail your straight-on shots, do some funky angle shots and do some overheads. The bold lines that roads create will, if captured properly, give your portrait a big boost in style.


The Jump Shot

Ahh, The Jump Shot – a must for nearly every subject I photograph, in the studio or outdoors. Seniors, brides, children…none are exempt from the coolness of this photo.

Find a place where you can get below your subject’s feet; the crest of a hill, a low wall, whatever works for you.

Lay down. Get extra low for this shot. The lower you are, the higher it will appear your subject jumps, even if they are notably sans “ups.”

Get some space between you and your subject, but stay close enough that you can shoot zoomed out for a nice wide-angle effect.

For the jump, tell your subject to get as high as they can on the jump, and have them go all-out cheerleader. Guys and gals both should throw their hands up and kick their heels back. Big laughs and wide-mouthed smiles look great here.

Snap your photo at the apex of their jump. If you’re shooting with a point-and-shoot, you’ll have to play with your timing to make this happen. Pre-focus on your subject to reduce the delay.

Watch the background in this one – your subject should have nothing buy sky behind them. If there are trees or buildings disturbing your subject’s blue-sky background, the flying effect won’t be as strong.

This is always a fun photo to make and show to clients, and one that often sells as a big print.


Bonus: The Prop Shot

I have a couple of bonus shots for you, separate from the rest because they involved props.

The appropriately-named Prop Shot involves the inclusion of just about anything that your subject will pose with – a pet, sports gear, hobby gear (such as a camera!), etc.

Whatever the prop is, your first priority is to show your subject interacting with the prop, and your second is to have the subject interact with the camera at the same time.

If your subject wants to pose with their dog, they’re holding the dog in their arms and the pup starts licking their faces, great photos will be had. If you can catch your subject laughing and looking at the camera while this is going on, it will make an even better photo.

If your subject wants a shot of them swinging on a swing, get a nice low angle down and to the side of them so you can catch them at the top of their forward swing; if you can get them to look back/down at you while laughing or smiling, even better.

Interacting with the camera, in any case, is secondary to them interacting naturally with their prop of choice. If you’re doing a profile shot of a subject kissing their pet potbelly pig, the mid-laugh smoochy shot is going to be far and away better than then snuggling and smiling at the camera shot. Make them both, but know which one will sell more prints.


Bonus: The Car Shot

A car is really just a big prop, but because of its size and usually very personal relationship with its driver, it gets special mention here.

A car says a lot about its owner. A beat up old truck can lend as much character to a portrait as a slicked-up Porsche can add style to another.

Get photos of your subject in the driver’s seat, leaning against the car James Dean style, sitting on the hood or tailgate, do a Layback Shot on the hood, ask for stories about the driver’s experience with the car and then try to recreate that experience. If they rebuilt the engine, get photos of them under the hood poking around, or slid underneath the car with just their legs sticking out. Find the connection between the driver and the car and make some fun and memorable photos which capture that connection.

Practice makes perfect

Phew! That’s 2,443 words of ideas to get you kick-started taking money-making photographs of your portraiture clients. Start practicing what you’ve learned above and build your own set of favorite money-making photos so you never have to “make it up as you go along” unless you want to.

Keep in mind, this is by no means an in-depth or exhaustive list; as you grow as an artist, and expand your repertoire of favorite images to make of clients, you’ll start to enter a flow state when you’re shooting and go naturally and easily from one pose and place to the next.

In the near future you’ll find here on some fun and dead-simple video and photo tutorials to help you more visually learn to make the most of these photo opportunities.

Next Steps

  • Take a drive around your town or neighborhood and explore the outdoor areas which would be ripe for good photos. Look for parks and playgrounds especially. Walk around your own back yard and see what little nooks would be great to take portraits in.
  • Grab a friend or family member and practice, practice, practice. Print out or download this list to your iPhone and setup by setup, practice each photo, and practice getting good expressions from your subjects. Remember, you’re a working photographer now – let your guinea pig subject know that they can get with you to view the photos at a later date and buy what they love.
  • Have fun practicing and have fun on your shoots. You will make far better photos, and your subjects will enjoy the experience a great deal more. Remember, your art will take time to grow, but your ability to provide clients with a fantastic experience lies in your hands right now.
  • Hold a practice viewing session with your guinea pig subject and look at your take together. See which images get the best reaction from them. See if they’re interested in buying any of them. Take note of what really floats their boat, and keep this in mind for your upcoming brainstorm session – these are the photos that you want to lean toward making with future clients.
  • Check out the work of Flickr artists from their outdoor portraiture sessions.
  • Brainstorm session: Write down your thoughts on which photo setups gave you your best images, both artistically to you and financially to your subject. Those photos that they were really happy with are what you’ll want to be sure you shoot every time with your clients. File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • If you’re interested in maximizing your financial and enjoyment benefit from your part time photography business, feel free to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site. I’m very thankful for your readership!
  • How would you classify some of your favorite outdoor portraits? Do they fit in any of the above categories? If not, how would you classify them? What have you learned is your best-seller image? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

@EricJohnTan October 5, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I love the Jump shot with the Aircraft Carrier in the back! Now I just have to find an aircraft carrier around here… hmmm…


Ikaro October 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Nice list, i’ll test with my canon 450 🙂



Rob Hueniken October 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Well done, fellow ProBlogger !

This is a very good overview of the types of outdoor photos, and I think it will help people think of variations when they are out shooting.


Talen October 7, 2009 at 12:09 am

This is a great list for me. I can print it out and check it off as I go along. As a very amateur photographer I’m constantly looking for tips and hints I can practice. I seem to have the funky angle down well though…unfortunately it’s never what I was going for. I must have taken 40-50 shots of a major landmark in Thailand and realized later that night they were all either a funky angle or off level.


Dipankar Kuzzuk Subba October 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Wow, such an amazing array of techniques to take people’s photos in an outdoor setting. I’m a hobbyist but I’ll surely give it a try, i especially like the layback shot.

See ya at and awesome list post.


Lisa October 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Thanks for this list! I love the specific tips you give to help people like me have a chance at taking some awesome shots.


Better Photo School October 21, 2009 at 3:19 am

These are some really good tips, and I like all the examples you have used to illustrate your points. Just gave you a stumble defiantly will be back, take care and see you at


Liana Cosgrove August 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

Hi James-
I am so completely grateful to you for putting the time into this website. Your advice is priceless, your photos are wonderful and your sense of humor is right up my alley (LOVE the Baby Got Back link). Thank you, thank you for giving me so many fantastic tips and lots of inspiration to make my photography business take flight. You’re my hero!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Liana! I am so glad you’re getting real value and enjoyment from the web site. Any time you have questions or suggestions for the site, please don’t hesitate to let me know. 🙂


Kimberlyah October 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I just wanted to thank you for all the great tips they are very useful and have given me more confidence as I go to my very first photo shoot tomorrow! I have loved everything you have written thus far and I’m sure I will continue to educate myself through your words of wisdom! Thank you so much! Wish me luck!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm

You are so welcome Kimberlyah! Thank you for your kind words! Confidence will carry you far and make your initial shoots much more enjoyable and profitable. As you shoot, sell, and reap the rewards, you’ll only feel better with every shoot. There will be speed bumps, but they won’t be the rule, just the exception.

Good luck with your shoot! Please do let us know how your shoot turns out here or drop me an e-mail to – I would love to hear how it goes!


Jason Merritt May 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Hey James,
Thanks again for all of the advise just wanted to share with you a couple of shoots that I have done! Just family so far but I have three paying shoots lined up! Your advise was invaluable with my starting in this venture. Hope all is well!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 7, 2011 at 12:41 am

Thank you for keeping in touch Jason! Really enjoyed looking at your latest photography on your web site, you do wonderful work with those children! Very unique style, too, different from the “same old bubble gum” stuff I often see. Great work!

Congratulations on lining up those paid shoots! It’s a big step, but one you’ll never regret – do work, hustle on behalf of your customer, create value, and have some dang fun!

Keep me posted on your shoots and your photography adventures! And thank you as always for your support!


Darby Sager May 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

What a wonderful series of articles I’ve just discovered. James, thank you so much for these very readable and useful articles!!!! I started with #9 because I have a proofing session coming up. I’m now going to read all the others.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 7, 2011 at 12:39 am

Thank you Darby! And thank you for your e-mail! I appreciate your readership and your support. 🙂


Amy Copeland August 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

This is a great list. I wish I would have found this at the start of my career. But 7 years in, this list is still useful for me. Thank you!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm

So glad to hear Amy, thank you for your kind words! If you have any other “from the trenches” tips for newly-minted professional photographers, please feel free to comment here or e-mail me – it will make for a great article for the site!


Emily Lawson October 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

Thank you so much! Very helpful!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Thank you for your readership Emily! Please keep me posted on your adventures as a professional photographer!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

PTP reader Barb recently shared with me an app she’s been using on her iPhone to help her keep track of client information, her pre-shoot checklists, and her must-shoot list of photos for during her shoots.

It’s called Second Shootr – check out its list of features over here on the site:

I have yet to try the app myself, but it looks like a wonderful organizational tool for photographers. In the near future, I’ll give it a go and a proper review here on PTP.

As of this writing the software is $6.99, but it’s gone free twice in the past two years, so even if you don’t pick it up today, add it to your AppShopper list of “wants” and you’ll get an update when the price drops.

Thank you for the heads-up, Barb!


Jill February 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm

What a great list!!! Love the ideas and will definitely take with me on me next shoot. Thanks for sharing!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm

That’s great, thank you Jill! Let me know how it turns out! I’d love to hear of your successes and adventures here in 2012!


Off/trail November 24, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Thanks for your time and effort great information and tips. For me it all started at a local fishing park, people having photos taken outdoors. As I always carry my Nikon coolpix L820, people mistook me as a photographer. That’s when it hit me…why not! Each time I went fishing at this park people were lined up, waiting for the photographer to show up. I do think it’s something I’d be good at, have many locations no one uses. No problem thinking outside the box or inside the box…depending on the client. I’ll keep you posted on my progress…baby steps. I do have a tip to share..when talking to clients find out what they like..hobbies…special interest…favorite places. Someone that likes to read bring a book as a prop or go to the local library to snap a few. Well that’s all for now and again thanks for getting me started.


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor November 25, 2015 at 11:42 am

Thank you for your comment and readership!

What a great story of how you got started. Those CoolPix cameras helped usher in a new age of creative photography for amateurs, and I’d be more than a few very successful professionals fell in love with photography with a CoolPix in their hands.

Your story really illustrates the power of “Showing Up,” of the philosophy of F8 and Be There – so much of success is just being out there with your camera, with the spirit of a creative, and interacting with people. There’s so much value in just being seen with your camera, taking photos for fun, shooting in public, practicing your art and showing your passion for the work. That’s contagious, and it’s some of the best medicine for an ailing photography business.

Test the waters! Experiment and have fun with launching your business. Once you’re legal (sales tax permit, DBA if you need it), you can do absolutely anything you want! Serve your clients with compassion, do your best, and all the details and technicalities we get hung up on will take care of themselves over time.

Excited for the work you’re doing! And thanks for keeping me posted – I can’t wait to hear the stories you’ll earn in the coming months and years!


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