An Outdoor Love Affair

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The Importance of Composition in Outdoor Glamor

By Rick Trottier – RJT Images


Studio work has all kinds of alluring qualities that entice. However, unless one has a studio like Julian Wilde, the limitations of white brick, steel doors, dark corners, seamless paper and other generic backgrounds, limit the complexity of compositional thinking when creating the glamor shot. It is outdoors, where color, shape, lines and all kinds of other elements challenge us to marry the delicate and sensual curves of a beautiful woman with the complicated geometry of Mother Nature and/or the architectural characters of man’s handiwork. Such an undertaking can be a daunting task but a little bit of prior planning, contemplation and a sense of what can work and what can’t, will go far when trying to create that penultimate moment of photographic bliss.

Before any analysis what kinds of compositional theory can begin, there are a few ground rules I feel are absolutely essential to air.


1)      SCOUT YOUR LOCATION – I shot blind at a location, ONCE! Never again! It is essential to carefully reconnoiter your location to see what kinds of structures are there, what potential problems exist in the background, what the light is like at all times of the day so that you can choose the best time to shoot and finally to determine if there could be any problems with people interfering in your shoot. If you shoot blind, you are far more likely to struggle with the conditions and all kinds of intangibles that you hadn’t considered. That kind of failure in front of a client is not only embarrassing, it is likely to result in a drop in bookings, as word of mouth is just as powerful a deterrent to growth as it is a boon.

IMG_0271 - Chrissy

2)      TIME OF THE SHOOT – I prefer early in the morning for the nature of light that is available, the logistics of dealing with a rising sun as opposed to a setting sun and the likelihood that few or no people will be about. Keep in mind that not all models will want to be up with the sun, but as I say to them, “if you want the imagery, you’ll get out of bed”. Hammering out your time of arrival, time for set up and time for moving from “set” to “set” is part of knowing how to manage your time as the sun moves and changes the way the light is going to affect the look of your imagery.

IMG_0015 - Shauna M3)      LIGHTING – While scouting the location and determining the time of day you’d most want to shoot, it’s a good idea to make decisions about how the imagery is going to be lit. Time of day will determine the temperature of the light since evening light tends to be slightly warmer. Some outdoor locations like beaches can have a tendency to be cloudier or foggier due to weather patterns and water currents. This will certainly affect lighting. Some areas like parks might offer a great deal of shade, potentially too much, and the architecture of cityscapes also introduces large amounts of shady vistas. Choosing between natural light, fill flash or fill strobe light or heavier strobe presence is also a necessary part of the planning process. I tend to like a mix of natural light and fill light to achieve the style I like best but those are my tastes. Having that inner discussion about what your lighting techniques are likely to be is always a strategy more likely to end in success.

4)      CONTENT – Once you’ve got a sense of the setting and the time of the day, determining what content matches your setting is a good idea. For example, there is a lovely beach on the south shore of Massachusetts that I love, but for the model who wants to shoot the sexiest glamor, that location wouldn’t be a good fit. Too many people walk along the paths near the beach, there is a park across the street as well as houses nearby. I tend to use that beach for lighter glamor and casual wear. Carefully matching the setting to your client’s content needs is essential.

Once these critical questions have been answered, it is now the province of the professional photographer to start considering composition both before and during the outdoor shoot.


IMG_0142 - VictoriaPANORAMIC IMAGERY & GLAMOR – One of the endless numbers of reasons I love the beaches of New England is for the complex topography that can be found there. Between the mix of rocky shores, sandy shores, long coastlines and tiny coves, quiet waters, and crashing waves, bluffs, headlands, inlets, sandbars and tidal pools as well as some quaint man-made structures, New England beaches allow the outdoor glamor photographer to select striking scenery and juxtapose it with even equally striking model. One of the reasons why I adore the beach is that the contrast between fun, flirty and sexy beach fashions and the sublimity of the natural world creates a dynamic energy that is unrivaled. In addition, the wide open spaces that are also stippled with small, secluded little micro-sets lend themselves to a nice mix of chances for landscape shots that interweave model and scenery as well as tightly cropped close-ups that still incorporate the background so very nicely. The beach offers some of the most challenging of compositional geometry for its mix of textures, colors, contrast between surf, sky, sand and vegetation. What also makes the beach a place of photographic joy is that time of the year will dictate attire. The cooler temperatures of early or late season require a shift in wardrobe strategy. During the warmth of late spring through early fall, sexier, skimpier attire tend to prevail. But it is during the cooler stretches that more eclectic clothing can be utilized to great effect. One of my happiest memories is that of a mid-November beach shoot where the model, who also a pageant girl, brought her pageant dress and we were able to get one of the most original and creative images of my 35 years in photography. Beaches offer diversity, intense challenge and incredible reward. When selecting a good beach shot, considering the lines of the background. They should lead the eye to the model and not away from her. There MUST be an anchor point with some kind of interesting topography, but it should not be ascendant. The model must be the focus, and the dramatic beauty of the scenery around her must add to her glory.


IMG_7404 - MarieTHE PASTORAL IMAGERY & CASUAL WEAR – Parks come in all shapes and sizes. From little oases of green set amidst the chaos of urban jungles to sprawling state parks blossoming in the rural hinterland. Parks can be wonderfully diverse in their configuration. However, most parks tend to subscribe to very structured landscape architectural theory and as such, they can be somewhat repetitive and even sterile when it comes to scenic offerings. What parks excel at is the incredible juxtaposition of pastoral greenery and the civilized sophistication of design elements, punctuated with the stunning splashes of color from annual and perennial plantings, as well as the uniquely beautiful nature of ornamental trees and shrubs.  The appearance of a park can change even more dramatically due to the time of the year and if one has the fortitude to brave the cold weather months, parks CAN offer year-round image opportunities. One precaution though that must be observed is whether or not the park is public or private, and whether or not special restrictions curtailing “commercial photography” exist. When planning a foray to a park, keep in mind that unlike beaches and their unrestrained and wild energy, parks offer a sedate and refined feel that lends itself to a wide variety of stylish fashion, casual wear and even some very tasteful light glamor. Posing a model on a finely sculpted metal bench or next to some enduring stonework with a backdrop of ever-changing greenery or the placid loveliness of a still mere can immediately lend a whole other level of genre to your portfolio. Parks offer incredibly varied sight lines, from the mix of trees and shrubs, to the curvilinear pathways, gently rolling knolls and glens, as well as glades and thickets. The architecture can be as simple as small statuary, or as grandiose as a deeply arched bridge spanning the gap between water features. What one must keep in mind is not allowing all the visual glory to corrupt composition so that an overly “busy” background is avoided. Use the Rule of Thirds, make sure that each segment has a dominant anchor and that each section is in harmony with the others. As always, the model must be paramount in your composition. It helps to have fashions that draw attention to her. A park can offer a far more diverse opportunity for a shoot that can produce a wide range of content. Parks are often right under your nose, and unlike beaches, which are an hour or more drive for me, parks can be very nearby and provide all the right elements for another type of glamor shoot.


IMG_0293 - AlissaURBANITY vs GEOMETRY & FASHION – Cities are one of the hardest places to shoot due to the multitudes of people, the even greater numbers of city ordinances governing the behavior of the populace in public places and the dearth of available locations due to the afore-mentioned reasons and the need to find attractive locales. However, the intrepid photographer is not put off by these challenges and seeks out the hidden jewels that cityscapes often do offer. Like a park, cityscapes must be carefully evaluated for the accessible light, attractive scenery, availability of parking and user-friendly nature. Most often, unlike beaches or parks, cityscapes are usually only to be utilized at “off hours” when fewer folk are about to get in the way, complain or both. Since cityscapes tend to dominated by steel and concrete structures of all forms and fewer “natural” elements are available, the attire of choice is often to be found in the realm of fashion, especially eclectic fashion. Taking the time to carefully scout out the best location that matches the fashion choices of the client requires more effort than any of the other vistas. City backgrounds often are unnervingly busy with all kinds of distracting and/or unwanted “additional elements”. Knowing the limits of your editing skills, marrying those talents to your framing/cropping techniques and then coming up with the most carefully composed lighting array will likely create smiles on the faces of your clients, and your countenance as well. When composing the best kinds of cityscape fashion/glamor shots, think “themes”. If the outfit has a retro feel, find an anchor point that is period or suggests age. If the attire is modernity itself, look for gleaming steel or reflective glass. Try exaggerated poses to intensify the high fashion appeal of the image, but make certain the pose, the garments and the background are in accord with your overall composition. Creating energy in an image is essential, but the eye must have a point on which it can rest, or all is bewilderment. And once more, be sure to check and see if the place you are shooting has any “legal concerns” with using their edifice as a backdrop. I once got a “cease & desist” order from a school that was in the background. I thought my imagery was highly educational, but they didn’t see it that way.

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In most years, from late April to mid October, I make every effort to abandon my studio for the Great Outdoors. I find exceptionally vibrant inspiration in the colors and light of the Good Weather months and since winter in New England can often times be a punishingly dreary time, every day spent shooting outdoors is like a crystal of imperishable beauty dropped lovingly into my hands. When I am outside, I bend all of my will and intellect to its fullest force to make good on each and every moment I have been blessed to capture outdoor fashion and glamor imagery. Studios are safe places where all the elements of photography can be controlled and there is peace and contentment in such a thing. But the moments when all the cosmic forces align and provide me when instances where memories are deeply graven are what make life worth living. For example, on a Sunday in early May, Rachel and I had been shooting on the North Shore of Massachusetts. As the morning advanced, the clouds rolled in and attractive, usable light was stolen from us. We decided to just wind our way north and spend some quality time. When we crossed the border into New Hampshire and reached Portsmouth, we stopped at a city park I have loved for more than 40 years. Almost magically, the clouds parted, I got Rachel to hurriedly change into a lovely red dress while I hastily set up for the shot. We were rewarded with an image that is one of our favorites of all time. Had we not gotten out on that somewhat threatening day and not kept moving from place to place, that chance to make something ethereal would have been lost to us.  Snatch at your outdoor chances like blossoms blowing in the breeze. I know being outdoors with a camera in my hands has been the longest and greatest love affair of my life.

  • IMG_0015 - Shauna M

    IMG_0015 – Shauna M

  • IMG_0142 - Victoria

    IMG_0142 – Victoria

  • IMG_0239 - Chrissy

    IMG_0239 – Chrissy

  • IMG_0271 - Chrissy

    IMG_0271 – Chrissy

  • IMG_0293 - Alissa

    IMG_0293 – Alissa

  • IMG_0334 - Chrissy

    IMG_0334 – Chrissy

  • IMG_5246 - Haley

    IMG_5246 – Haley

  • IMG_6839 - Brittney K

    IMG_6839 – Brittney K

  • IMG_7392 - Marie

    IMG_7392 – Marie

  • IMG_7404 - Marie

    IMG_7404 – Marie

  • IMG_7830 - Yadira

    IMG_7830 – Yadira

  • IMG_8377 - Rebecca Ann

    IMG_8377 – Rebecca Ann

  • IMG_8385 - Rebecca Ann

    IMG_8385 – Rebecca Ann

  • IMG_9429 - Liz D

    IMG_9429 – Liz D

  • IMG_9429 - Liz D_1

    IMG_9429 – Liz D_1

  • IMG_9723 - Rachel

    IMG_9723 – Rachel

  • IMG_9776 - Rachel

    IMG_9776 – Rachel

  • IMG_9815 - Rachel

    IMG_9815 – Rachel


Managing Editor, GlamModelz Magazine I’m a Central New England photographer based out of Worcester, MA, just one hour west of Boston. I specialize in fashion and glamor commercial imagery as well portraiture of all types. My style is a blend of commercially viable work melded with artistic innovation, whether on location or in studio. I prize collaboration quite highly and am proud of the fact that most of my work displays the ideas and designs of my models as much as it does my skills, efforts and planning. Rick has published 79, articles with GlamModelz Magazine.

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