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Environmental Portrait Photography Tips

environmental portrait photography tips
Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

Many features that appear in media sport unique people with their achievement; it can be one great farmer who raised a wonderful farm and has won the national award for the best farmer; or a great scholar who has been conferred the President’s award for his great works like that.

The farmer is shown standing in a well brought-up farmland; whereas the scholar may be seen in his study flanked by invaluable books which made him that. The above mentioned are environmental portraits and we can see the subject photographed in his/her natural environment; it can be at homes, work place, farm or anywhere. The picture is framed so as to include the immediate surroundings which will give a powerful narrative of the person to the viewer.

Environmental portraits are generally shot with wide angle lenses with subject placed in the near foreground and the background showing related elements. Photographing a person in his/her natural surroundings gives visual clues to the viewer by conveying the essence of the subject’s personality, rather than their physical features.

Photographing persons in natural surroundings has many advantages, subjects will be more at ease and more conducive to expressing themselves. Whereas shoot at a studio with all the lights and settings can be rather detached and artificial experience. Without the environment the theme is barren and conveys nothing to the viewer.

What is the difference between Environmental Portraits and Candid shots?

environmental portrait photography
Photo by: hobvias sudoneighm

Candid shots are made while people go about their daily life without the person being aware of the process. On the other hand the person being shot is made to pose for environmental portraits.

Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

Get to Know Your Subject

In order to effectively convey the personality of a subject; the photographer should first have a fair idea about his/her character. The photographer should spend some time with the subject; pay one or two visits to his/her residence or at work place. Each time observe the subject closely and gain some insights about the part of your subject’s personality to be highlighted.

Choosing the Right Location for Shooting Environmental Portraits

environmental portrait
Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

The perfect location for environmental portraits will be one that gives context to the subject, a place where the person being shot naturally belongs; somewhere he/she will be perfectly at ease / relaxed a location which will give the viewer an insight into the personality and lifestyle of the subject. A vast majority of environmental portraits are made either at the subject’s home or workplace.

The Importance of background in environmental portraits

environmental portrait photography ideas
Photo by: Sunsurfr

The immediate environment or background is a key element in environmental portraits; hence it is important to record details in the surroundings. Even seemingly small details in the background could be very significant. The key to success lies in the symbolism expressed by various elements in the background.

Use Large Depth of Field

portrait photography
Photo by: Alvaro

The general trend in portrait photography is to use wide apertures for shallow depth of field effects. But when shooting environmental portraits you need to use small apertures and great depth of field to render background elements reasonably sharp.

Use Props Judiciously

Used well, Props could greatly enhance your environmental portraits. However the ones you choose to use should be subtle and appear as if it naturally belongs there. Avoid anything that doesn't quite fit and seems like an afterthought; such things will only serve as a distraction from your main intention. The same also appears for cloth selection, be true to the context and keep things real. Just think of an Indian farmer in suit and shoes!

How to Pose Your Subject for Environmental Portraits

environmental portraiture
Photo by: Mateus

Environmental portraiture is not that much different from traditional portraiture and so feel free to direct your subject, ask him / her to sit, stand, turn, or give certain expressions; explain to him/her what you wish to accomplish in your photograph this will make your job easier. More often the purposefully posed shots come out better than others even though they might have seemed slightly unnatural and dramatic during the shoot.

Perhaps the most important element that could make or break a shot is the expression on the subject’s face. It should fit the overall mood of the picture, decide what you wish to convey in your shot, talk to your subject, ask him/her to think of either pleasant or unpleasant things which would help get a more focused look and also get a range of emotions from them. Try mixing things a bit to see what does and doesn’t work. 
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