Many photographers shy away from photographing people, but environmental portraits can be a great way to capture the personality of your subject and tell a story.
In this post, we’ll share some tips on how to create environmental portraits that capture your subject’s personality.
We’ll also share some examples of stunning environmental portrait photography.
So if you’re looking to try out this style of photography, keep reading!
What is Environmental Portrait Photography?
Environmental portrait photography is a type of portrait that captures a subject in their natural surroundings.
This could be anywhere, from their home or office to a favorite outdoor spot. The aim is to capture the subject in a way that helps to tell their story and to show them in a relatable and realistic light.
This type of photography can be particularly effective for business portraits, as it conveys a sense of the person’s work environment and can help to add context to their story.
It can also be used for more personal portraits, such as family photos or engagement shots.
Whether you’re looking to capture a professional headshot or a more intimate image, environmental portrait photography is an excellent way to achieve your goal.
16 Environmental Portrait Photography Tips
Let’s dive into 15 environmental portrait photography tips that you can implement in your next photo session.
1. Tell a Story
When taking environmental portraits, it’s important to think about the story you’re trying to tell.
What is it about your subject that you want to capture? What does their environment say about them?
Answering these questions will help you to determine the best way to approach your shoot.
For example, if you’re photographing a business owner, you might want to emphasize the importance of their workspace and the tools they use in their job.
On the other hand, if you’re photographing a family or couple outdoors, you’ll likely want to focus more on conveying a sense of place and capturing natural interactions between your subjects.
2. Choose Your Lighting and Background Carefully
The lighting and background you choose will also play an important role in how your subject is perceived.
Whether indoors or outdoors, try to find a location that naturally provides good lighting and flattering backgrounds.
If you’re shooting indoors, this could mean finding a window with plenty of natural, ambient light.
Or if you’re photographing outdoors, it may mean looking for interesting natural features such as trees or flowers that can add depth and dimension to your image.
You should also be aware of any distracting elements in the background, such as power lines or busy streets.
If possible, move your subjects away from these distractions or use a shallow depth of field to blur them out.
3. Include People and Animals in the Frame
One of the best ways to add personality to your environmental portraits is to include people or animals in the frame.
This could be a family member, pet, or even a stranger who happens upon your shoot. Capturing interactions between your subject and their loved ones can help to create more natural and candid shots.
For example, if you’re photographing a business owner in their office, try to capture them working with a colleague or talking on the phone.
If you’re photographing a family at home, look for moments when they’re cooking, laughing, or playing together.
4. Use Candid Shots
In addition to staged shots, be sure to also take plenty of candid photos of your subject.
These candid shots can be particularly effective when capturing children or pets, as they can often convey a more genuine sense of emotion and personality than posed photos do.
5. Use a Wide Angle Lens
A wide angle lens is an essential tool for environmental portrait photography, as it allows you to capture more of the surroundings in your frame.
This can be particularly helpful when shooting in small spaces, such as an office or home.
Just be sure not to get too close to your subject with a wide-angle lens, or you may distort their features.
6. Experiment with Different Angles
As with any portrait photography, it’s also important to experiment with different angles when taking environmental portraits.
Try shooting from directly above your subject as well as at various angles around them.
This will help you find the best angle for each individual shot and create more variety in your final images.
7. Immerse Yourself in Their World
One of the best ways to capture your subject’s environment is to actually immerse yourself in it.
This means spending time with your subject in their natural setting, whether that’s at home, work, or play.
This will not only give you a better understanding of their everyday life, but it will also help you to scout out potential locations and photo opportunities in advance.
Spend some time talking with your subject and getting to know them on a personal level.
This will not only make them feel more comfortable with you, but it will also help you to capture more natural and candid shots.
8. Fill the Frame with Essential Elements
When shooting environmental portraits, it’s important to focus on the subject while still including enough of their surroundings in the frame.
To achieve this, try zooming in as far as possible without losing too much detail or increasing the size of your aperture.
This will allow you to capture your subject in sharp focus while still maintaining some context with their environment.
9. Use Layers in Your Depth of Field
While using a shallow depth of field to blur out distracting elements in the background is an effective technique, you can also achieve a similar effect by using layers in your depth of field.
This involves focusing on one element in the foreground, middle ground, and background of your image to create more visual interest.
For example, if you’re photographing a person in front of a building, you could focus on the person’s face while keeping the building slightly out of focus.
Or, if you’re photographing a person in a field, you could focus on the person while keeping the flowers and trees in the background slightly out of focus.
10. Choose an Interesting Location
When choosing a location for your environmental portrait, look for settings that are unique and tell a story.
This could be the office where your subject works or it could be their home if they’re comfortable being photographed in their natural environment.
Also consider choosing locations that have interesting lighting or textures, as these can add visual interest to your image.
For example, you might choose to shoot in a location with soft, natural light or in a location with interesting shadows and patterns.
11. Use Props to Enhance the Story
Props can be a great way to enhance the story you’re trying to tell with your environmental portrait.
This could be something as simple as using a chair or table to create a more intimate setting, or it could be something more specific to your subject’s interests or occupation.
For example, if you’re photographing a musician, you might use their instrument as a prop. Or, if you’re photographing a chef, you could use their cooking utensils as props.
12. Converse with the Subject Throughout the Photoshoot
One of the keys to taking great environmental portraits is capturing candid, natural-looking shots.
To do this, it’s important to engage with your subject throughout the photoshoot and get them talking about their interests, hobbies, or work.
This will help you capture more genuine emotions and expressions in your images, as well as help you find interesting photo opportunities that you may have otherwise missed.
13. Guide Don’t Pose Your Subject
While it’s important to engage with your subject throughout the photo shoot, you should also avoid losing them too much. Guide, don’t pose!
Instead, let them move around naturally and capture them in candid moments.
This will help you to create more natural-looking images that better represent your subject’s everyday life.
14. Capture a Variety of Shots
When shooting environmental portraits, it’s important to capture a variety of shots.
This includes close-up shots, wide shots, and everything in between.
By capturing a variety of images, you’ll be able to tell a more complete story of your subject and their environment.
15. Edit Your Images Carefully
Once you’ve taken all of your environmental portraits, it’s important to edit them carefully. This includes choosing the right images to keep and editing them to enhance the story you’re trying to tell.
When editing your images, pay close attention to the composition, lighting, and overall tone of each image. These are all important factors in creating successful environmental portraits.
When editing, since it is an environmental portrait where the whole purpose is to look natural, be careful not to go too overboard with the color grading and editing.
The goal is natural and candid, not cartoonish.
16. Be Patient and Wait for the Right Moment
Like with any type of photography, patience is key when shooting environmental portraits.
This means taking the time to wait for the right moment to capture your shot, whether that’s waiting for the perfect expression or waiting for the perfect light.
By doing this, you can ensure that you end up with the most polished and high-quality images possible.
And, it will also help you avoid missing any photo opportunities or snapping a shot too quickly and ending up with blurry or out-of-focus photos.
- Lighting Equipment (Optional)
- Tripod (Optional)
- Reflectors (Optional)
- Know Your Subject: Take the time to understand your subject, their personality, interests, and activities. This knowledge will guide your decisions when selecting the location, props, and composition for the environmental portrait. Engage in conversation and build rapport to make your subject feel comfortable and authentic in front of the camera.
- Choose the Right Location: Select a location that is meaningful and relevant to your subject. Consider places where they spend time, such as their home, workplace, or a location that reflects their hobbies or profession. The environment should complement the subject's story and add context to the portrait.
- Plan the Composition: Visualize the composition before capturing the image. Consider how you want to position your subject within the environment and how the surroundings will frame and enhance the narrative. Pay attention to elements like leading lines, colors, and textures that can add visual interest and depth to the photograph.
- Lighting and Exposure: Evaluate the lighting conditions in the chosen location. Natural light can often create a beautiful ambiance for environmental portraits. Determine the direction, quality, and intensity of light, and adjust your camera settings accordingly to properly expose the subject and the environment. Be mindful of shadows and highlights, ensuring a balanced exposure.
- Pose and Direct the Subject: Guide your subject through posing and provide direction to achieve natural and authentic expressions. Encourage them to interact with their environment, whether it's sitting, leaning, or engaging in an activity. Aim to capture genuine moments and emotions that convey the subject's connection with their surroundings.
Overall, if you’re looking to take great environmental portraits, it’s important to choose an interesting location, use props to enhance the story, engage and converse with your subject throughout the shoot, and capture a variety of different shots.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to create stunning images that tell a compelling story about your subject.
This guide is also a part of our Portrait Photography Resources Hub, so be sure to check that out for more tips on portrait photography.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the characteristics of an environmental portrait?
An environmental portrait is a type of portrait photography that aims to capture a person within their natural or familiar surroundings, often highlighting their personality, lifestyle, or profession. It typically includes elements of the subject’s environment, such as their home, workplace, or a meaningful location, to provide context and tell a deeper story about the individual being photographed.
What makes successful environmental portraits?
Successful environmental portraits are characterized by a harmonious integration of the subject and their surroundings. This integration can be achieved through careful composition, lighting, and posing, ensuring that both the subject and the environment work together to convey a cohesive narrative and evoke a sense of connection and authenticity.
What is the difference between an environmental portrait vs candid?
The main difference between an environmental portrait and a candid photograph lies in the intent and control over the image. An environmental portrait is a deliberate composition where the subject and their surroundings are carefully chosen and arranged, while a candid photo captures genuine, unposed moments, often without the subject’s awareness, resulting in a more spontaneous and authentic representation of the subject and their environment.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.