Environmental Portraits …. How to

As I said in my previous post, the term ‘environmental portrait’ is referring to portraits taken of a person in their environment. Most photographers call them location shoots, and the location can be anything from a client’s home, studio or business, to their boat, the local skate park or playground.
As these are the types of photos most people take themselves, whether with a point-and-shoot camera, a DSLR or their smartphone, I thought it could be a good idea to write down some tips to make the result perfect every time  🙂

The Subject
Know the subject, which, obviously, if it’s your kids or Pop, you do know them quite well.
The aim is to take a photo of them in a situation that says something about them. This could be Pop at the jetty with his fishing rod, doing what he loves. Or the kids zooming along the Flying Fox in the park. Or Nan during special Tea & Cake day in the retirement village. Or the early morning birthday celebration.

EnvironmentalPortrait1(All my example photos are from the young ones birthday a while back. As it was early morning, the light changed within minutes, and as I didn’t want to miss actually being there as a Mum, taking photos was not the first priority. Nonetheless, despite so not being a morning person myself, they do show what I mean. And they show that it doesn’t take a gazillion of photos to document one special event. It’ll be in our hearts anyway, and thanks to the few photos, it’ll be in our albums now, too. They are not overpolished, there is bed hair and sleepy eyes and the clothing didn’t matter. Feel the love?)

The Context
In any of these circumstances it will be relatively easy to identify the things and details that say something about the subject. It will also be relatively easy to identify any item or angle that adds interest to the photo. Picture Pop putting the 10th fish in the bucket. Nan folding her hands in her lap after she’s done eating cake. The kids tipping the sand out of their shoes after the Flying Fox excitement. Birthday Presents.
If you get any of these shots you will be putting your subject and their environment into context. It will work every time.

EnvironmentalPortrait2He LOVED the wrapping paper, so I decided on some selective colouring in post production.

The danger will be having too much in the shot. A cluttered background or too many people in the shot can distract from the main focal point, which is your subject. Crumbs or a coffee stain on the table cloth, too many boats in the background …

EnvironmentalPortrait3There’s always the suspense …..

Knee Lock Syndrome
Zooming in on your subject and selecting an appropriate depth of field could be all it takes to make it work. Don’t be afraid to change your position. Kneel down at the jetty to get Pop from a lower angle. Stand on a chair (safety first though!) to get Nan from a higher angle. Don’t suffer from Knee Lock Syndrome: MOVE!

EnvironmentalPortrait4He is a great hugger. I made sure I was much lower than him to show he’s still our baby.

Posing your subjects may well be hard or even impossible for you in these circumstances, and with these subjects – I know that well from my own extended family 😦 . It is easier for me, the photographer who was hired to take photos, to instruct people how to put their head and where to place their hands for a particular shot. Whether to look at me or not. Whether to smile or not.

Camera Settings
There is no point telling you what camera settings to choose, as the thing with environmental portraits is that they will all be completely different and unique every time. If you’re using an DSLR start with choosing the correct White Balance for the day and weather, if you’re not in Automatic. If you do the Flying Fox thing with a smartphone, you may well be out of your depth, because it is not capable of doing such quick photos well.
You will have to adapt not only according to place/time of day/inside/outside but also according to your equipment. And your capabilities.
Be brave, and relax, photography is about creating and documenting a memory.
And don’t give up if at first you don’t succeed 🙂


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