As it is often stated, a picture is worth a thousand words. It speaks for itself. This is evidently so in environmental portraits photography. In the age of discovery and love of nature, this mode of photography takes its rightful place.
There are so many reasons why most people love these kinds of portraits. Key among them is that the camera captures the subject at the center of the photography in their most revealing, natural scenery; a natural environment that subject is acclimatized and accustomed to.
The result is a true reflection of who and what this individual is. It is not just about the physical features of the subject at hand, their character, and style tend to replicate as well. According to experts, environmental portraits photography works magic in illuminating the whole as opposed to the superficial.
The subject at hand feels more at ease in their natural habitat and exhibits all that they are. Most of the natural spots for these kinds of portraits include a person’s home, workplace, or somewhere they are more familiar with.
If you are looking to shoot more genuine and natural portraits of your subjects, some of these environmental portraits photography tips could help.
1) Carefully Choose Your Location
@8mm, F/8, ISO: 800, SS: 1/60
Choice of location of the shoot is critical to creating good portraits. Ensure that before the actual shoot, you make a survey of the best spots, while taking into consideration all the key details that often go into a typical shoot. Specifics include all the angles and lighting. Mark out spots that you think your subject would come out naturally with good lighting, always consider shooting at the golden hour it really helps to avoid harsh shadows that may appear on your subject’s face if you didn’t use any flash to fill those shadows.
Lighting is remaining essential and it allows you to interpret what the final outcome of your portrait. You can also use light modifiers such as hard light and soft light appropriately.
Read more about Lighting Modifiers:
2) Create Rapport With Your Subject
@16mm, F/8, ISO: 200, SS: 1/125
This helps to break the ice and make both of you at ease, while gradually building trust. The best way to build rapport is to begin by giving true and genuine compliments to your subject. Thinks of a common topic of discussion.
Be inquisitive and bring forth conversations that are both meaningful and interesting. Let the subject also talk about themselves and set them as free as possible. Once you make your subject comfortable, they become themselves and the portraits tend to reflect this kind of relaxation and feeling at ease.
3) Give Your Subject a Voice
@24mm, F/6.3, ISO: 100, SS: 1/640
Basically, this means allowing your subject to have a choice on where they would like to be photographed. Definitely, this makes them more involved as well as valued. Apart from just feeling comfortable, their input could lead you to more favorable spots for the shoot.
Quick Tip: I think you noticed that most of the above photos were captured at narrow aperture opening (High F) which something isn’t familiar in portraits but hey we are talking about environmental portraits so the background really matters and you need it to be in focus but this is not a rule, sometimes you need to blur the background a bit for a reason, so keep reading.
4) Factor in the Pose
@16mm, F/8, ISO: 100, SS: 1/500
The outcome of your environmental portrait is also determined by the kind of pose by your subject. Employ the techniques and styles that are required and then guide your subject into posing for a perfect portrait. This is especially so if it is the first time your subject is posing for such kind of photographs. By doing so, you have the ability to control their face and the whole body to correctly face the camera.
While doing so, endeavor to bring in effective communication as this is a vital part of the whole process. What you may not do is to condition them to pose in the exact way you want when they are not comfortable with that kind of style. Eventually, this could lead to an unnatural way of posing, so communicate, and let everybody relax around the shoot.
You may pose the subject at the edge of the frame if you want to show the beauty of the surroundings as sometimes it might be distracting.
5) Check Your Background on Frequent Basis
@16mm, F/8, ISO: 100, SS: 1/350
Doing so helps you to eliminate unwanted intrusions such as photobombs and images that are not complementary to what you would want in your final portrait. So, keep a keen eye on the background as often as possible and make sure it is all clear before you press the click button on your camera.
6) Be Entertaining And Capture Movement
@70mm, F/2.8, ISO: 100, SS: 1/1000
The use of humor and entertainment places every one concerned in proper moods, while making them comfortable and relaxed; In fact, you can go step further to capture movement which oftentimes makes the whole session and the outcome quite interesting. It showcases the subject in their true nature and without a mask.
In the above photo, the background is not interesting that’s why as said above you might need to use a wide aperture (Low F) to blur the background a bit but still showing the surroundings.
7) Add a Dramatic Effect to the Portraits
@135mm, F/2, ISO: 5000, SS: 1/100
Well, this is an environmental portrait but I just want to show how smoke may add a dramatic effect to your image.
One of the best ways to bring a dramatic effect to photographs is to work under natural light. There is a technique in photography where you are able to observe the environment while studying the light. You can easily register the change of light and the kind of mood that comes up depending on the environment.
For example, did you know that if you want to bring the true facial effects of an elderly person; the best way to capture the dramatic effects of the wrinkles and facial expressions is in low light? Likewise, another perfect way to add drama to your portrait is by adding smoke.
You can use darker backgrounds to illuminate the effect of smoke which is basically light in itself, to bring forth a dramatic impact. Candlelight is also a perfect source of natural light; it helps to create ambiance and coolness to a portrait. Care must be taken though, to avoid fire and hot wax accidents.
8) Patience Pays
@45mm, F/2.8, ISO: 3200, SS: 1/750
In this one I shoot wide open (Low F) as I found the trees at the background is a little distracting but using a wider focal length (45 mm) created a cool environment and add value to the image.
In order to bring the desired impact to a portrait, it helps to be as patient as possible, especially with your subject. If you have to wait for some time for your subject to be composed and ready, so be it.
Hurriedly trying to shoot pictures could cause unnecessary anxiety and disruption to the whole process. An effective technique often used by professional photographers is to excuse yourself, walk briefly away to let your subject be on their own to get composure without awareness of the camera around them.
You may also try something unique like long shutter speed shot, place the camera on the tripod & use ND filter then ask the subject to stay steady for 15 or 30 secs depends on your exposure settings, it might sound hard and the subject may look a little blurry but you can overcome this by taking 2 shots one long shutter for the background & the other for the subject without ND filter and then blend both images in photoshop, here is an example for one long exposure shot with ND Filter.
@16mm, F/19, ISO: 100, SS: 30 Sec, 6 Stops ND Filter
Have a look here for my recommended ND Filters.
Watch the below video by Nick Page if you want to get a better idea on how to edit your environmental portraits either by exposing for highlights or bracketing.
Environmental portraits photography is all about the smart moves tips you can effectively use to secure an award-winning portrait. Once you incorporate these environmental portraits photography tips and more of others, you are sure to stand out from the crowd.
Some of the best techniques which you can easily use are the application of appropriate soft skills such as effective communication and building of rapport. Again, endeavor to find a good location for a perfect portrait.
Gear Used in the Above Images:
- Canon 5D Mark Iv
- Canon 16-35 F/4
- Canon 135 mm F/2 (Smoke Image)
- Rokinon 8mm (First Image)
- Sigma 24-70 mm (Snow Images)
- Haida ND 6 Stops ND Filter
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article if you have any questions just post them below & I will be happy to answer you.
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This post just goes to prove that I’m reading a professional photographer’s review. There is way too much information that can help someone produce a quality environmental portrait. I really love your detailed explanation on enhancing our skills. I love the good work you do. I’ll always be checking your sites for new post.
Thanks, glad that you find it helpful.
It never occurred to me that this kind of portrait exist, I know that this type of shot exist but I have no idea what it is called. I thought portrait covers only a part of the subject body, not entire body and background. Photography is a very interesting art, your website is full of amazing guides.
Thanks for your input.
Such an informative post, thanks for providing step by step tutorials and giving the right tips on how to enhance portraits skills .i can’t agree less with you that the first step Starts with selecting the right location ,I think one has to be entertaining so as to be able to capture meaningful moments.i look forward to follow all this tips.
You are welcome Clement.