Environmental portrait

Cambulo girlz

Originally uploaded by angelmaramot.

An environmental portrait is a portrait executed in the subject’s usual environment, for example their home or workplace, and typically illuminates the subject’s life and surroundings. The term is most frequently used of a genre of photography.

By ‘on location’ or ‘environmental’ portraits I mean portraits taken of people in a situation that they live in (work, rest or play) and/or a place that says something about who they are. Before I get into some ‘how to’ tips for taking environmental portraits let me chat a little about ‘why’ I like them.

Why do I prefer environmental portraits?
they give context to the subject you’re photographing
they give points of interest to shots (something you need to watch as you don’t want to distract from your subject too much)
they help your subject relax
they often give the viewer of your shots real insight into the personality and lifestyle of your subject

These shots sit somewhere between the purposely posed shots of a studio portrait (they are posed and they are unmistakably ‘portraits’) and candid shots which capture people almost incidentally as they go through their daily life.

So lets turn our attention to some ‘how to’ tips on environmental portraits.

Spend time getting to know your subject

Before you select a location and start shooting, spend some time getting to know your subject. Find out where they spend their time, what the rhythm of their life is like and observing their personality. Out of this you’ll not only find appropriate locations but will begin to get a feel for the style of shots that might be appropriate and you’ll begin the process of helping your subject relax into the photo shoot. If possible it might even be helpful to accompany your subject to some possible locations to see both how they look but also how your subject behaves and interacts there.

Choosing a Location
Sometimes a location chooses you (it’s easy) but on other occasions you need to be quite deliberate and purposeful in making your choice (and it can take a lot of searching). When choosing your environment you ideally want to get one that:

says something about your subject – after all that’s what this style of photography is all about
adds interest to the shot – as I’ve written in previous tutorials – every element in an image can add or detract from your shots. The environment that you place your subject in needs to provide context and be interest without overwhelming the shot
doesn’t dominate the shot – sometimes the location can dominate the image so much that it distracts your viewer away from your main focal point (the subject). Try to avoid cluttered backgrounds (and foregrounds), colors that are too bright etc. Keep in mind that you might be able to decrease the distractions with clever use of cropping, depth of field and subject placement.