Nikon Settings for Outdoor Portraits

The Best Nikon Settings for Outdoor Portraits

Nikon cameras are great and we have talked about these cameras in great detail in the past, too. However, a lot of times, people still come to us whenever they are looking for help with settings or when they have to take a certain type of picture, in the first place.

Take outdoor photography for instance; if you are looking to get better at taking portrait photos with your Nikon camera and that too, outdoors, then you might need to tinker with some settings to get the job done and the best part is that you are not going to have a hard time getting that sorted, either.

Still, we are going to take a look at how you can get the best Nikon settings for outdoor portraits. So, if you are interested in getting that done, let’s just not waste time and have a look, shall we?

How Camera Settings influence the Output That You Get

Now, whenever you are out with the camera or even if you are shooting indoors, the one thing that is common all the time is the fact that you need to be certain that you are looking at everything that you possibly have to get the images you want. Thankfully, it is not as complicated as you might think, and it will actually benefit you in more ways than one. So, it is better that you are looking at every single way, and you will be able to get some great shots that way.

Now, what you must understand is that if you get the settings wrong or not ideal, you will end up with an image that is simply not based on the requirements. For instance, if you mess up the aperture, you can either get an underexposed shot or an overall exposed shot.

Take the image below for instance, this is an underexposed shot, you can see how most of the things in the image are dark and it is not easy to understand what is happening.


Similarly, take the image that is below, this is an overexposed shot, and for some reason, it is worse than the underexposed shot because everything is completely blown out.

Your goal here is to ensure that the image that you are trying to take sits somewhere in the middle and is properly exposed or exposed to your preference, but remember, overexposing or underexposing an image can only go so far.

There are other factors in the process as well, such as white balance, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, and all of them will have their own impact on the picture; the impact can be either positive or negative but do not worry as we are going to help you come to a conclusion with ease.

Camera Aperture Settings

What Each Camera Setting Means and How it Affects the Resulting Image

Now that we are done telling you just how the settings influence the output, we are going to talk about each and every single setting in detail, to give you a better idea of what you should be doing. Again, it does make sense to opt for something else or not have the knowledge about it but it is only going to help you achieve the results you want.


The first thing that you are going to need to understand about your camera settings is that ISO is very, very important. Without a proper understanding of what this setting does, you will not be able to take the picture the way you want.

Simply put, ISO is a camera setting that is responsible for digitally brightening of darkening the photo. As you increase the ISO number, your photos will start looking a lot brighter and similarly, as you decrease the ISO, the photos will start looking darker. Now, this does look like a vey simple way out of getting the best-looking pictures and simply cranking the ISO at the highest, but it is not as easy as it might seem.


For starters, you must understand that raising your ISO does not come without its fair share of issues. For starters, when you are raising the ISO, this will introduce a lot of grain or digital noise, in other words. Now, in some cases, the images might be usable even with the higher ISO, but there are also cases when you are going to want to lower the ISO. Below are some of the most common ISO values.

  • ISO 100 (low ISO)
  • ISO 200
  • ISO 400
  • ISO 800
  • ISO 1600
  • ISO 3200
  • ISO 6400 (high ISO)

This is the reason why brightening the ISO to get a brighter image does come with trade-offs. Thankfully, the modern day cameras like the Sony A7III, Nikon Z6, Nikon Z7, and Sony A7IV have excellent performance even on higher ISO, so you do not have to worry much.

Alternatively, ISO is not the be-all-end-all way of brightening up your picture because you can always rely on settings such as shutter speed and aperture, and we are going to talk more about that.

Shutter Speed

Moving further, we are going to talk about what shutter speed is. This is another common feature that you find in a camera and the name says it all. As the name suggests, shutter speed refers to the speed at which the shutter actuates or in other words, it is the speed at which the shutter exposes the sensor to the light coming through the lens, and then closes.

As you would expect, shutter speed is measured in seconds, and the faster the shutter speed, the less time your sensor would be exposed to the light. Now, this would sound like faster shutter speed being the better option but the truth is slightly different than that. Here is what happens.

  • Faster Shutter Speed: Faster shutter speed allows for a much faster, blur-free image. But at the same, if there is not enough light, then the image will be heavily underexposed.
  • Slower Shutter Speed: Slower shutter speed means that the sensor remains exposed to the light for a longer time but this also means that there is more room for the camera to move and result in a blurry photo.

This is why if you want a faster shutter speed, make sure you are outdoors with plenty of light; natural or otherwise. However, if you are looking to use a slower shutter speed, then be sure that your camera is either very steady or on a tripod – the latter always works best because it allows for no external movement.


The third one is aperture, and this should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially if you know how light works. I would not say that aperture is a camera feature as it is more of a lens feature that is controlled through the camera.

So, what is aperture? Simply put, it is the opening of the lens’ diaphragm through which the light passes, the aperture is measured in f/stops and generally written as numbers. You can look at some common aperture numbers below.

  • f/1.4.
  • f/1.8.
  • f/2.2.
  • f/2.8.
  • f/5.6.
  • f/8.

So, judging by this, one should assume that a higher number is better and a lower number is not? Actually, the opposite. When the aperture number is at its lowest, it means that the most of the light is coming through the lens and the picture will look better if you want a shallower depth of field.

This means that a wider shutter is always better, right? Sadly, it is not as simple as one might think. Wider shutter means that the depth of field is shallow, so aside from the subject, everything is blurred out. If you are trying to take a shot in which there are multiple subjects, then you are going to need a narrower shutter, so the depth of field also gets deeper.

There is a reason why photography is tricky, and this is one of them.

White Balance

Moving further, we have white balance. This is perhaps a lot simpler than you might think. For those wondering, white balance simply refers to the color adjustment to a point that the image looks more natural rather than looking like something that has been processed heavily.

It is also a process to remove any unrealistic color casts that overpower the color and makes it look like it was shot in less forgiving environment.

On cameras, white balance refers to a setting that establishes a true color white, this then produces a baseline from which all the colors are measured. You can either adjust the white balance before, in the camera. Or you can do it in post processing, based on your requirements and level of expertise.

Camera ISO Settings

Tips for Taking the Perfect Portrait Outdoors

Since we have explained all the basics to you, we are going to talk about some tips that will let you take the best portraits outdoors. The best thing? You can use the same tips for shooting portraits in general, as well. Since the basics are more or less the same.

Never Select all the Focus Points

If you are taking a portrait with one of the more recent cameras, then it is safe to say that the camera lets you choose the focus points. Never select all of them because aside from your subject, you would want everything else to be out of focus.

Focus on the Eyes

I do understand that this might not be something that makes sense to everyone but you will need to focus on the eyes. Focusing on the eyes would make things much better because if the eyes are the sharpest, then the entire image will look more complete.

A Wider Aperture is the Way to Go

When shooting a portrait, your first preference or aim should be getting a shallow depth of field, and achieving that is not difficult at all. Wider aperture is the right way to go about a situation as it just works and works really, really well overall and that too, without any issues.

Use a Prime Lens

I know this might sound like a snobbish thing to say but if you are shooting portraits, outdoor or otherwise. Try and go for a prime lens, if you do not have a prime lens, however, I would also suggest you going for a really sharp zoom lens like a 24-70 f/2.8 and always shoot at 50mm and above. Anything below will show warped faces and that is not pleasing to look at.

Use a Reflector

Considering how you are taking the portraits outside, there is a chance that the sunlight will be extremely harsh in some situations. In such a case, you are going to need a reflector so you can bounce the light off the reflector.

Taking portraits in outdoor settings is not at all difficult, but you should know that it is only going to make life easier for you if you are trying and learning some basics. Do not be afraid to let your own creativity take the stand because you can get some stunning results.

Frequently Asked Questions

This article explains all the possible settings that you should be using for outdoor portraits, as that will make the experience a lot easier and better.

If you are looking for a good aperture for outdoor portraits, you can go for something along the lines of f/2.8 or even higher.

Ideally, I would suggest you should go as high as 1/500th of a second but this all depends on just how much light is available outside.


Taking portraits can be a tricky business if you are new to the whole process but the good news is that you will be able to take some stunning shots with ease, and without any confusion coming the way. The purpose of this post was to ensure that we have covered all the bases pertinent to outdoor photography process.

However, I have to make a note here that outdoor portrait photography is just as susceptible to mistakes as other forms of photography, so you will have to be certain that you are not doing anything the wrong way because things can go wrong.

Take your time, be easy with it, and you will nail it in no time.

Gary Sindell

Gary Sindell

Hey, I’m Gary Sindell from beautiful Vancouver. A passionate photographer turned ‘Lens Guru’, I’ll help you discover the power of the right lens and elevate your photography game.

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