I like to keep things simple, so lets just start by talking about THE one thing you should avoid when taking outdoor photos. Yes...and that's right people...one thing to avoid is direct sunlight. What??? I know...it's totally counter intuitive to what we've all been doing this whole time. But I'm sure everyone's had that situation when using a point and shoot with friends...you have them stand...take the shot and find that your friends are totally black. So...what do we do? We instinctively tell them to turn around towards the sun while you run around them to take the shot. They, naturally, squint because they're now facing the sun...but you've got them in the photo...nice and clear. Right?
Well, if you really studied the photo, you'll not only notice that they're squinting, but you'll notice harsh shadows from their noses, eye sockets and lips on their faces caused from the sun beaming on them. This is really something a lot of people struggle with and if you take away only one thing from this blog, let it be to always face your subjects away from the sun. To avoid them becoming dark, do what is also counter intuitive to you. And that is to use your flash...even though it's bright daylight. On a point and shoot this is an easy way to avoid harsh lighting. On a DSLR, you can also use your on camera pop-up flash but for serious photographers, consider a higher end hot shoe flash.
The optimal lighting, in my opinion, is a slightly overcast day, which is not a problem here at all in Seattle. When the sun is behind clouds, the light from it is perfectly diffused, creating a HUGE shadowed area everywhere you go. On these days, regardless of how you pose your subjects, there won't be any harsh shadows on their faces.
This photo below is a perfect example of harsher sun. If you look closely, you'll see that Josh is squinting just a little bit and there are some shadows on both of their faces. Not only that, their skin is a little over exposed, washing both of them out slightly.
reflector which I was holding while Chris took this shot.
I understand you can't always be in the shade or have it be an overcast day when you're taking photos. But learning how to position your subjects in a strategic way can help take your photos up another level. The next time you're out with friends, try incorporating the use of light and play around positioning and hopefully you'll see a difference in your pics!