07.07.2021 Saraya Cortaville

Create your own outdoor family photoshoot

Saraya Cortaville

Saraya Cortaville is an award winning portrait and social documentary photographer.
She has received two fellowships (one of only two women in the uk to have achieved this) one for studio portraiture and most recently social documentary for a project she completed in 2015 whilst living in Africa.
She was awarded the Peter Grugeon award for the best fellowship portfolio of 2015, and a gold award in Visual Arts in the professional photography awards 2016.
Saraya’s passion for travel and people has pushed her career in to a more adventurous phase and she has recently lived and worked abroad for various international NGO’s documenting social issues in countries as far as Tanzania and Nepal.
Saraya skillfully manages to draw out her subjects emotions and feelings, in a sensitive and empathetic nature, her portraits are an observation and moment of connection, between two people, rather than photographer, subject.
When not abroad Saraya shoots primarily location portraiture specializing in children and documentary weddings.

Award-winning portrait photographer, Saraya Cortaville, explores how you can turn a summer’s day out into beautiful memories worth printing.

Creating photos of your family out and about during the summer is a perfect way of cherishing those precious family moments, capturing a moment in time. Hey, we all know that they’ll never quite be that little ever again! If you’re exploring this area of professional work, all the better.

Getting outdoors is Saraya Cortaville’s speciality, so there are few more qualified to deliver insightful tips on the ideal al fresco family photoshoot.

“Indoor and outdoor settings both hold a valid place in portraiture,” she explains. “I was a studio photographer for a long time – and loved the ability to highlight a subject with no distractions.

“But in location portraiture, I’m able to show a context and distinct connection between a subject and location. Many choose a place of importance to their family, one where they spend time together. For me, this makes the portrait all the more personal.”

The most basic consideration in learning how to do a photoshoot outside is your approach. More specifically, should you control the scene, or just document moments as they happen? According to Saraya, the ability to shift between both is key.

“I’ve found it’s best to utilise a mixture of the two. I always arrive at a location 15 minutes before the subjects, purely to check the light and look for possible backdrops for images. This ensures I have key shots already planned and, once captured, I’m free to be more creative.

“Nothing is entirely set in stone. If I discover an interesting idea while shooting, I’ll always follow that new avenue.

“For the photographer, I suppose the difference between the planned and impromptu images is confidence. Pre-prepared shots ensure you have something strong to offer the client.” Naturally, the same applies if you’re capturing your own moments.

“Often, the unplanned images are the more interesting and experimental ones,” Saraya continues. “These are the shots that help develop my creativity and give us the opportunity to stand out as photographers!”

  • Young girl smiling beside pillar
  • Young girl in pink dress climbing up steps

When, where and how?

As with any facet of photography, lighting is everything when it comes to outdoor family shots. Within her creative process, Saraya focuses on two things.

“Naturally, I look for the most flattering light for my subject which, more often than not, is during the golden hours. However, this isn’t always realistic.

“When working with children, I’m aware that they’re generally more energetic and expressive in the mornings. So, I advise my clients to think about timings if they have younger ones. Considering their routine will always give you a better chance of successful portraits.

“I don’t tend to supplement the natural light with flash, but I do take a reflector to lift it when needed. Again, though, be cautious not to lose the momentum of the session – especially with children.”

Just like pint-sized subjects, groups also require special attention. It’s a crucial step in learning how to take a good family portrait.

“The challenge is the ability to capture everyone looking their best. I do this by spending more time shooting than I normally would with a singular subject. I’ll also set a longer playback, to review the expressions and placement of each person, then reshoot if I need to,” says Saraya.

“The wonderful thing is that group shots make natural connections easier. I love the interaction and energy of a family or group of close friends. I simply set up the frame and ask them to look at each other, then watch them come to life in front of my lens.”

The same may not be said for more bashful solo subjects.

“Reading body language, making people feel comfortable and drawing out emotion are skills that, for me, come above the technicalities of photography.

“With children, I try to make the shoot fun and will play games all the way through, so they are not really aware of the camera. With any subject, some attention will lead to more relaxed and natural expressions. And to capture a really engaging, professional portrait, probably the most important element with children is to get down to their level viewpoint and take the image on their eye line.”

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR – F2.8, ISO 100, 1/125 sec

Secondary as it is in this pro’s own workflow, some consideration of the camera is a must. Without a set of well-captured pictures, an outdoor family photoshoot is just a day out – nice as it may be.

Saraya carries less than many would imagine of a professional, but it goes to show that one powerful tool is better than many. For her, it’s the FUJIFILM X-T4.

Go-to portrait lenses include the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR to cover all bases. Her photo bag is rounded out by spare cards and batteries, a tripod and a small first aid box.

“My motto is travel light, work simply and have everything I need to-hand in an instant!”

There’s also nothing unnecessarily complex about the way Saraya uses her set-up.

“I expose solely in manual mode. If something isn’t correct, it’s simple for me to change a setting to achieve the intended outcome.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR – F20, ISO 200, 1/10 sec

“As a starting point in outdoor locations with good light levels, I opt for ISO 160. My aperture is at F2.8 with a single subject, and slightly higher for groups – around F4-5.6 depending on the number of people. Shutter speed varies depending on light and desired effect. If I want to suggest movement with a slower shutter, I stop down the aperture to compensate.

“I spot focus and meter to obtain the most accurate reading. I like to expose for the face, with the other elements in the frame being secondary.

“With still subjects, I use the Single autofocus with a small selection point, allowing me to be very accurate. My Focus Lever allows me to move the point with real precision. Often with portraits, this will be over a subject’s eyes.

FUJIFILM X-T2 + XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR – F2.8, ISO 200, 1/500 sec

“If the person, or people, I’m photographing are moving a lot, I’ll switch to Continuous autofocus and use the Continuous High Speed Shooting mode for high-speed bursts.”

Saraya’s final tip is one we forget all too often as image makers: get yourself in the photo! This may not apply everywhere, but with our own family photos or those taken of friends, it’s an essential.

“Using the self-timer function is a great way of capturing yourself in a group. Simply place the camera on a tripod, set the camera ready to capture, then jump in the scene.”

Tangible memories

If the moments you’re documenting are extra personal, you may consider a more permanent reminder. Images within a purely digital space are fine, but they take on a new life when printed.

You don’t need to look far to find the experts. The brand behind your trusted X Series or GFX System products has a full history of photo printing. There are countless options well worth looking into.

If you’ve spent recent months dreaming of capturing the family together again, with these outdoor photoshoot ideas, you can’t go wrong. Don’t forget though to put the self-timer on once in a while and make an appearance in your photos. As Saraya reminds us, “We must always as photographers make an effort to capture ourselves also as far too often we are the ones behind the lens.”