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An environmental portrait shows the subject encompassed in its surroundings. It reveals a habitat in which it belongs, lives, works, or plays. It provides a visual representation of what the human or wildlife subject does or who it is. Environmental portraits are frequently used in magazines, newspapers and by photojournalists recording images for varied publications. In a single capture, it should tell a complete story about the subject.

 

The primary difference between a standard portrait and an environmental one is two fold: a standard portrait depicts the subject from full frame down to a typical headshot and a long lens is often used with a wide open aperture to throw the background out of focus. To make an environmental portrait, a wide angle is used to include the surroundings and the lens is stopped down to a small aperture so all compositional elements are in focus. 

 

environmental portraits

©Russ Burden

 

A wide angle lens provides a wide angle of view so more can be included in the photo. If you work indoors, it’s essential one is used due to the cramped spaces in which you’ll work. For instance, a writer’s office may be small. It’s necessary to show him or her woking at the computer along with other important elements within the space to create a successful environmental portrait. A small aperture provides a lot of depth of field so everything is sharp. Be sure to mount the camera on a tripod to prevent camera shake. 

 

how to make environmental portraits

 

©Russ Burden

 

To show the essence of what the subject does, it’s imperative to include the tools of the trade, machines, equipment, and props of the subject. If the subject is a blacksmith, capture him when the compressed bellows creates the huge flame used to heat the metal. If you’re commissioned to photograph a chef in a restaurant, possibly frame him or her with pots and pans that hang from the racks. If you photograph a radio talk show host, angle the microphone as a leading line. Show the control panel and use a slow exposure so the colored LED’s add some spice to the photo. Look for different angles, Get in close with the wide angle on one of the subject’s tools to exaggerate its perspective. 

 

take the best environmental portraits

 

©Russ Burden

 

It’s essential you to learn how to light a subject with flash. For outdoor environmental portraits, the flash will mostly be used as a fill source, although the ambient light may dictate otherwise. If the sun is intense and contrasty, use the flash to overpower it and make it the primary source of illumination. The same holds true if the light is terrible. Set up some flashes with yellow gels to simulate sunlight. 

 

For indoor shoots, multiple strobes allow you to highlight specific areas of the composition. Dial down the power of specific ones so some act a sources of fill while others become main lights. Use gels over some to add color. Place the main light used to illuminate the subject in a soft box to reduce the harshness of the straight flash. If one is not available, bounce the main light off a white colored wall. As there’s not enough space in this tutorial to explain an entire lighting process, use the above tips and also do some additional research using flash in commander mode. An alternative is to put the flashes in manual mode and individually adjust their output to obtain the effect you desire. 

 

Think of environmental portraiture as documentary photography. A simple head shot does not tell a story about who the person is or what he does. And don’t limit your environmental portraits to just people. Animals make fantastic subjects. As a matter of fact, a huge benefit for wildlife photographers who specialize in this category of photography is they don’t need to go out and drop $10,000.00 on a super fast telephoto. More of their images are made with wider lenses. 

 

To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Nature Photo Tours. Visit russburdenphotography.com and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, email me to be placed on my Tip of the Week list and to receive announcements about upcoming tours specials. Contact me at rburden@ecentral.com. Pick up a copy of my book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography, from Amazon.

 



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