Top Tips to Shoot Amazing Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits are hands down, my favourite type of photography.

 

Why I hear you ask?

 

I love the process and challenge of trying to capture the connection between an individual and an environment.

 

Find this connection and not only do create a great image, but you also provide the viewer with a context which instantly elevates the story-telling capacity of a shot.

 

Two photographers, who I believe, do this better than most is Chris Crisman and Andy Hook. Be sure to check them out. Their work has served me well on my own photographic journey.

 

Before we dive into my top tips for taking amazing environmental portrait photos, let’s first understand what exactly an environmental portrait is?

 

What Is Environmental Portraiture?

 

Environmental portraiture is the practice of capturing an image of someone in their natural environment; this could be where they work, live or perhaps even where they like to unwind.

 

An excellent environmental portrait should help the viewer understand what relationship the person has with the environment they are shot in.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I shot for Fine Art Painter – Paul Stangroom.

 

When looking around the photo, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that Paul is an artist who works out of a studio.

 

 

man standing in art studio 

Now that we know what an environmental portrait is let’s try to understand what tips will ensure your photos are as impactful as possible.

 

Take a Moment to Recce the Scene

 

The first thing you need to do when you arrive at your shooting location is to have a walk around to understand where the best place is to set up your composition.

 

Below is a list of things to consider:

 

  • Whether shooting someone outdoors or indoors study where the ambient light (Sunlight or practical light sources, such as lamps) is coming from and ask yourself, can it be harnessed to light part or all of your scene? Whenever a location’s; ambient light can be utilised, it’s always going to create a more believable image.

 

  • Ambient light too dim? Don’t fear flash lighting is the perfect solution. To maintain the natural aesthetic position your artificial lighting, so it comes from the same direction as the ambient light source.

 

  • Clutter can destroy an image. To ensure your talent stands out be sure to discard any objects that will draw the viewers eye. Consider everything that appears in the frame and ask does it add to the subject’s story or not? If not then get rid of it.

 

  • Often the bain of a photographer’s life, reflective surfaces can wreak havoc on-set. Flagging off flash lighting or moving them and bouncing light from another direction are some of the ways you can reduce the impact of reflections.

 

  • During my shoots, as I often use a tripod and at least one studio light, space is always a concern. You could have the perfect scene framed up in your mind, but if you can’t get access to it, it’s useless.

 

  • It’s rare for you to take a photo from a fully standing position so don’t forget to get low, or high, and frame up potential shots in your mind. If you don’t, you could very easily choose a position that doesn’t work once you are ready to shoot.

 

The list above is not exhaustive but provides an insight into how much work goes into planning a shot.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I captured for Fine Art Painter – Carol Davison.

 

To ensure my talent was lit sufficiently, I had to use flash lighting.

 

While I could have placed my light in several positions, I decided to put it camera left then place a practical (Lamp) in front of it to create the illusion that the lamp was lighting the subject, helping to make the scene look more natural.

 

 

Ensure the Background of the Image Is Bright Enough

 

Don’t get carried away focusing on lighting your subject, remember, the background of the composition is just as necessary.

 

If your background is too dark to make out any details, your environmental portrait quickly becomes, simply, a portrait.

 

If you find your scene is too dark use flash lighting or a bounce card to brighten it up.

 

If you don’t have flash lighting, lowering your shutter will assist in bringing more ambient light into the scene.

 

Be careful, however, not to lower your shutter too much, especially if you are handholding the camera, as this can increase the chances of motion blur.

 

A tripod is a great tool to have at your disposal that allows you to drop the shutter lower than you would if you were shooting handheld.

 

Finally, be aware that if you introduce an artificial source of light into a scene, it can cause cross lighting issues and create unnatural shadows. Pay attention and always use the back of your camera to check every part of the composition.

 

Ensure That Your Talent Is Comfortable

 

Whether you have met your talent before or it’s the first time you have spoken, always ensure that you are polite and courteous.

 

Rather than jumping in and focusing on the job at hand don’t be afraid to entertain a little bit of small talk. As well as alleviating nervousness from the talent, it’s also an excellent opportunity to learn even more about them.

 

You never know, you may find a nugget of information that could make your portrait even more impactful.

 

Once you feel comfortable, then it’s time to explain what your process involves and why you are going to be doing the things you do. Having a clear plan and relaying it, at the beginning, can save a lot of questioning in later.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I captured of Creative Lifestyle Coach Jill Fenwick.

 

I have known Jill for several years, so we have a great rapport.

 

Having such a relaxed environment not only made the shooting process more comfortable, but it also allowed us to get imagery that portrayed her exactly how she wanted.

 

woman sitting at kitchen table

 

Do Your Research on the Person You Are Shooting

 

To make an environmental portrait work, you must do your research!

 

By taking time to understand your subject, you formulate a plan, even before the shoot, of what elements would be appropriate to include to help you tell their story.

 

Below are some methods you can use to cultivate an understanding of someone:

 

  • Do a pre-interview, either over the phone or face to face.

 

  • If they have a website, visit it.

 

  • If they have performed any interviews in the past, look them up.

 

  • Speak with their friends and family. Opportunities to do this may be few and far, but it’s always worthwhile considering.

 

  • Spend a little time with the subject in their natural habitat.

 

On the day of the shoot, this new knowledge can serve as a great time saver as you should have a clearer idea of who this person is and what composition would suit them best.

 

Next, comes the hard part, making the scene practical.

 

Don’t Rush

 

I have found the more environmental shoots you perform, the more relaxed you become.

 

The more relaxed you are leads to less stress which has two significant impacts – You don’t rush and make unnecessary mistakes and, you have a much more enjoyable time.

 

Having the confidence to take your time allows you to spot opportunities that you may have missed if you were rushing, such as the perfect angle or objects that you should include to enhance the portrait.

 

Another benefit of not rushing is it creates an assured persona which is vital to gain the trust of your subject. Once you have the faith of your talent, they will do things without questioning.

 

Be Mindful of Distortion at the Edge of the Frame

 

One of my favourite lenses to shoot environmental portraits is my Canon 24mm on a full-frame camera. I love it because while it still allows you to get a large surface area in the frame, it doesn’t stretch objects in the image as much as wider lenses do.

 

Be mindful, though, as you still have to be careful when using it. Generally keeping the talent in the centre of frame negates any distortion problems as this tends to happen at the edges.

 

It’s not to say that all distortion is always wrong. There are many photographers out there that use it to significant effect to emphasise certain elements in a scene.

 

I guess, what I am trying to say is be aware of it first then make your creative choices after.

 

Consider What Mood You Want Your Portrait to Have

 

Everything, including, the position of the camera, objects in the frame, could be perfect but if you have a pose or an expression that doesn’t fit the mood of the shot, you are in trouble.

 

Before any shoot always consider the target audience of the shot, the talent, and the location. Think about what emotions fit the scene.

 

If you get it right, you will have an image that not only tells a story but one that makes the viewer feel an emotional connection with the subject.

 

Here is a shot of The Hand Dyed Shoe Company Founder – Simon Bourne.

 

Although Simon is a very gracious and approachable guy, I wanted to focus on his entrepreneurial spirit and create a shot that portrayed him as some type of ”Shoe Godfather”.

 

Everything works in the shot from the framing to the colour tones, but the thing I believe that really helps it stand out is the confident pose, and a lower angle used to shoot him creating a feeling of power.

 

man sitting in-front of shoes

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak a Scene to Make a More Relevant Composition

 

Once you have found the perfect location for your subject have a think and ask the question, is there any way of elevating the image?

 

One of the great ways of adding to the story of a character is by using props that help tell who they are.

 

Here are a few examples of how you can use props to aid the viewer’s understanding of what someone does:

 

  • Gardner holding a spade.

 

  • Painter holding brush.

 

  • Butcher holding a knife.

 

Here is a shot of For the Love of The North Founder – Paul Hull.

 

Having a variety of items that the shop sells in the scene helps you quickly understand that Paul is a Shop Owner.

 

If you look closely, you will also notice that Paul is wearing a badge with the name of his store. Any element that helps the narrative is always worth considering but don’t go too far as too much product placement can have an adverse effect and make and image seem too set-up.

 

 

Don’t Forget About the Power of Post-Processing

 

So, you’ve captured your image and are now sitting in front of you Mac/PC preparing to open it up and edit it.

 

For me, this is truly where the fun begins!

 

Due to the power of amazing tools such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop, you have an assortment of ways to manipulate an image to create something truly unique.

 

Below are some of my favourite tools:

 

  • Dodge and Burn: This is a fantastic tool that allows you to lighten and darken parts of an image. By targeting specific elements, you can control exactly where the viewers’ attention goes.

 

  • Colour Balance: Adjusting the hue of an image is an excellent way of creating a specific mood. Blue tones can evoke feelings of separation compared to orange hues that evoke feelings of warmth and closeness.

 

  • High Pass Filter: This tool allows you to target specific elements of a photo and sharpen them. Like brightness, sharpness is an excellent way of gaining someone’s line of sight.

 

  • Although it’s been around for years, applying a vignette is another way you can control where someone focuses on an image.

 

Here is a shot of my father at his home.

 

Although the shot was taken in summer, I wanted to create a more solemn mood. I did this by overlaying a cool blue hue on the image.

 

 

Conclusion: Top Tips to Shoot Amazing Environmental Portraits

 

So, there you have it, my top tips for capturing environmental portraits that really hit the mark.

 

  • Take a Moment to Recce the Scene

 

  • Ensure the Background of the Image Is Bright Enough

 

  • Ensure That Your Talent Is Comfortable

 

  • Do Your Research on the Person You Are Shooting

 

  • Don’t Rush

 

  • Be Mindful of Distortion at the Edge of the Frame

 

  • Consider What Mood You Want Your Portrait to Have

 

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak a Scene to Make a More Relevant Composition

 

  • Don’t Forget About the Power of Post-Processing

 

Follow these and I guarantee you will get better results.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

 

If you are in need of an environmental portrait or are fellow shooter I would love to hear from you.

 

Top Tips to Shoot Amazing Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits are hands down, my favourite type of photography.

 

Why I hear you ask?

 

I love the process and challenge of trying to capture the connection between an individual and an environment.

 

Find this connection and not only do create a great image, but you also provide the viewer with a context which instantly elevates the story-telling capacity of a shot.

 

Two photographers, who I believe, do this better than most is Chris Crisman and Andy Hook. Be sure to check them out. Their work has served me well on my own photographic journey.

 

Before we dive into my top tips for taking amazing environmental portrait photos, let’s first understand what exactly an environmental portrait is?

 

What Is Environmental Portraiture?

 

Environmental portraiture is the practice of capturing an image of someone in their natural environment; this could be where they work, live or perhaps even where they like to unwind.

 

An excellent environmental portrait should help the viewer understand what relationship the person has with the environment they are shot in.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I shot for Fine Art Painter – Paul Stangroom.

 

When looking around the photo, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that Paul is an artist who works out of a studio.

 

 

man standing in art studio 

Now that we know what an environmental portrait is let’s try to understand what tips will ensure your photos are as impactful as possible.

 

Take a Moment to Recce the Scene

 

The first thing you need to do when you arrive at your shooting location is to have a walk around to understand where the best place is to set up your composition.

 

Below is a list of things to consider:

 

  • Whether shooting someone outdoors or indoors study where the ambient light (Sunlight or practical light sources, such as lamps) is coming from and ask yourself, can it be harnessed to light part or all of your scene? Whenever a location’s; ambient light can be utilised, it’s always going to create a more believable image.

 

  • Ambient light too dim? Don’t fear flash lighting is the perfect solution. To maintain the natural aesthetic position your artificial lighting, so it comes from the same direction as the ambient light source.

 

  • Clutter can destroy an image. To ensure your talent stands out be sure to discard any objects that will draw the viewers eye. Consider everything that appears in the frame and ask does it add to the subject’s story or not? If not then get rid of it.

 

  • Often the bain of a photographer’s life, reflective surfaces can wreak havoc on-set. Flagging off flash lighting or moving them and bouncing light from another direction are some of the ways you can reduce the impact of reflections.

 

  • During my shoots, as I often use a tripod and at least one studio light, space is always a concern. You could have the perfect scene framed up in your mind, but if you can’t get access to it, it’s useless.

 

  • It’s rare for you to take a photo from a fully standing position so don’t forget to get low, or high, and frame up potential shots in your mind. If you don’t, you could very easily choose a position that doesn’t work once you are ready to shoot.

 

The list above is not exhaustive but provides an insight into how much work goes into planning a shot.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I captured for Fine Art Painter – Carol Davison.

 

To ensure my talent was lit sufficiently, I had to use flash lighting.

 

While I could have placed my light in several positions, I decided to put it camera left then place a practical (Lamp) in front of it to create the illusion that the lamp was lighting the subject, helping to make the scene look more natural.

 

 

Ensure the Background of the Image Is Bright Enough

 

Don’t get carried away focusing on lighting your subject, remember, the background of the composition is just as necessary.

 

If your background is too dark to make out any details, your environmental portrait quickly becomes, simply, a portrait.

 

If you find your scene is too dark use flash lighting or a bounce card to brighten it up.

 

If you don’t have flash lighting, lowering your shutter will assist in bringing more ambient light into the scene.

 

Be careful, however, not to lower your shutter too much, especially if you are handholding the camera, as this can increase the chances of motion blur.

 

A tripod is a great tool to have at your disposal that allows you to drop the shutter lower than you would if you were shooting handheld.

 

Finally, be aware that if you introduce an artificial source of light into a scene, it can cause cross lighting issues and create unnatural shadows. Pay attention and always use the back of your camera to check every part of the composition.

 

Ensure That Your Talent Is Comfortable

 

Whether you have met your talent before or it’s the first time you have spoken, always ensure that you are polite and courteous.

 

Rather than jumping in and focusing on the job at hand don’t be afraid to entertain a little bit of small talk. As well as alleviating nervousness from the talent, it’s also an excellent opportunity to learn even more about them.

 

You never know, you may find a nugget of information that could make your portrait even more impactful.

 

Once you feel comfortable, then it’s time to explain what your process involves and why you are going to be doing the things you do. Having a clear plan and relaying it, at the beginning, can save a lot of questioning in later.

 

Here is an environmental portrait I captured of Creative Lifestyle Coach Jill Fenwick.

 

I have known Jill for several years, so we have a great rapport.

 

Having such a relaxed environment not only made the shooting process more comfortable, but it also allowed us to get imagery that portrayed her exactly how she wanted.

 

woman sitting at kitchen table

 

Do Your Research on the Person You Are Shooting

 

To make an environmental portrait work, you must do your research!

 

By taking time to understand your subject, you formulate a plan, even before the shoot, of what elements would be appropriate to include to help you tell their story.

 

Below are some methods you can use to cultivate an understanding of someone:

 

  • Do a pre-interview, either over the phone or face to face.

 

  • If they have a website, visit it.

 

  • If they have performed any interviews in the past, look them up.

 

  • Speak with their friends and family. Opportunities to do this may be few and far, but it’s always worthwhile considering.

 

  • Spend a little time with the subject in their natural habitat.

 

On the day of the shoot, this new knowledge can serve as a great time saver as you should have a clearer idea of who this person is and what composition would suit them best.

 

Next, comes the hard part, making the scene practical.

 

Don’t Rush

 

I have found the more environmental shoots you perform, the more relaxed you become.

 

The more relaxed you are leads to less stress which has two significant impacts – You don’t rush and make unnecessary mistakes and, you have a much more enjoyable time.

 

Having the confidence to take your time allows you to spot opportunities that you may have missed if you were rushing, such as the perfect angle or objects that you should include to enhance the portrait.

 

Another benefit of not rushing is it creates an assured persona which is vital to gain the trust of your subject. Once you have the faith of your talent, they will do things without questioning.

 

Be Mindful of Distortion at the Edge of the Frame

 

One of my favourite lenses to shoot environmental portraits is my Canon 24mm on a full-frame camera. I love it because while it still allows you to get a large surface area in the frame, it doesn’t stretch objects in the image as much as wider lenses do.

 

Be mindful, though, as you still have to be careful when using it. Generally keeping the talent in the centre of frame negates any distortion problems as this tends to happen at the edges.

 

It’s not to say that all distortion is always wrong. There are many photographers out there that use it to significant effect to emphasise certain elements in a scene.

 

I guess, what I am trying to say is be aware of it first then make your creative choices after.

 

Consider What Mood You Want Your Portrait to Have

 

Everything, including, the position of the camera, objects in the frame, could be perfect but if you have a pose or an expression that doesn’t fit the mood of the shot, you are in trouble.

 

Before any shoot always consider the target audience of the shot, the talent, and the location. Think about what emotions fit the scene.

 

If you get it right, you will have an image that not only tells a story but one that makes the viewer feel an emotional connection with the subject.

 

Here is a shot of The Hand Dyed Shoe Company Founder – Simon Bourne.

 

Although Simon is a very gracious and approachable guy, I wanted to focus on his entrepreneurial spirit and create a shot that portrayed him as some type of ”Shoe Godfather”.

 

Everything works in the shot from the framing to the colour tones, but the thing I believe that really helps it stand out is the confident pose, and a lower angle used to shoot him creating a feeling of power.

 

man sitting in-front of shoes

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak a Scene to Make a More Relevant Composition

 

Once you have found the perfect location for your subject have a think and ask the question, is there any way of elevating the image?

 

One of the great ways of adding to the story of a character is by using props that help tell who they are.

 

Here are a few examples of how you can use props to aid the viewer’s understanding of what someone does:

 

  • Gardner holding a spade.

 

  • Painter holding brush.

 

  • Butcher holding a knife.

 

Here is a shot of For the Love of The North Founder – Paul Hull.

 

Having a variety of items that the shop sells in the scene helps you quickly understand that Paul is a Shop Owner.

 

If you look closely, you will also notice that Paul is wearing a badge with the name of his store. Any element that helps the narrative is always worth considering but don’t go too far as too much product placement can have an adverse effect and make and image seem too set-up.

 

 

Don’t Forget About the Power of Post-Processing

 

So, you’ve captured your image and are now sitting in front of you Mac/PC preparing to open it up and edit it.

 

For me, this is truly where the fun begins!

 

Due to the power of amazing tools such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop, you have an assortment of ways to manipulate an image to create something truly unique.

 

Below are some of my favourite tools:

 

  • Dodge and Burn: This is a fantastic tool that allows you to lighten and darken parts of an image. By targeting specific elements, you can control exactly where the viewers’ attention goes.

 

  • Colour Balance: Adjusting the hue of an image is an excellent way of creating a specific mood. Blue tones can evoke feelings of separation compared to orange hues that evoke feelings of warmth and closeness.

 

  • High Pass Filter: This tool allows you to target specific elements of a photo and sharpen them. Like brightness, sharpness is an excellent way of gaining someone’s line of sight.

 

  • Although it’s been around for years, applying a vignette is another way you can control where someone focuses on an image.

 

Here is a shot of my father at his home.

 

Although the shot was taken in summer, I wanted to create a more solemn mood. I did this by overlaying a cool blue hue on the image.

 

 

Conclusion: Top Tips to Shoot Amazing Environmental Portraits

 

So, there you have it, my top tips for capturing environmental portraits that really hit the mark.

 

  • Take a Moment to Recce the Scene

 

  • Ensure the Background of the Image Is Bright Enough

 

  • Ensure That Your Talent Is Comfortable

 

  • Do Your Research on the Person You Are Shooting

 

  • Don’t Rush

 

  • Be Mindful of Distortion at the Edge of the Frame

 

  • Consider What Mood You Want Your Portrait to Have

 

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak a Scene to Make a More Relevant Composition

 

  • Don’t Forget About the Power of Post-Processing

 

Follow these and I guarantee you will get better results.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

 

If you are in need of an environmental portrait or are fellow shooter I would love to hear from you.

 

Why not subscribe to my blog and get all the latest updates?
Why not subscribe to my blog and get all the latest updates?
Why not subscribe to my blog and get all the latest updates?