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Environmental Portraiture: 6 Tips for a Great Storytelling

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The genre of the environmental portrait has nothing to do with ecological issues as you might have thought when first heard these words. Just kidding ☺ As you know, environment portraits are taken of people in an environment familiar to them. It can be a place they live, work, play in, and it tells a story about who these people are.

A good environmental photographer possesses a skill of storytelling without using the words. Can anyone become a grandmaster in this field? We don’t know but share our tips on what to mind when shooting environmental portraits.

Create a clear concept. Environmental portraits are usually taken after some preparation. Think well about the concept. What do you want to tell viewers about your model? What kind of props can you use to tell the story? What color scheme and lighting will show your object the best? Get precise answers to all these questions before you start to shoot.

Find out how to ask power questions. You can spend half of a day with people you’re going to shoot and become friends with them if they’re open and want to talk but what if they don’t? That’s why a good portraiture photographer is also a psychologist or, at least, knows what to ask people. Read something like the Power Questions book by Andre Sobel and Jerold Panas, and you’ll see that you can get in contact with people much easier then you thought. It’s a skill that can be developed.

Learn how to talk to locals. Environmental portraiture is closely connected to travel photography as you meet many interesting people when you travel. It’s a tricky issue when you’re going to shoot them without permission, and it’s up to you to ask them or not. However, this genre differs from street photography, and it’s always good to talk to people you’re going to take pictures of. So, knowing even a couple of phrases in their language may help. And don’t forget to smile and show you’re friendly. In many cases, you want your model to look at you, so try to make eye contact (read here how to make eyes sharp in the photo).

Choose the right location. Location is crucial in this genre of photo storytelling. So, choose a place that says something important about the person you shoot whether it’s about their work, lifestyle, or principles. Make sure the objects in the background add something relevant to your story but don’t let them dominate in the picture.

Ask your model to pose for you. Don’t be afraid that portraits, when your model sits or stand in an unnatural posture, will not look good. It’s often the intended pose that adds drama and dynamics to the photo. Sometimes people don’t know how to pose so it’s a photographer who takes the lead but remember that your model should feel comfortable and natural. People tend to be more stressed in the beginning but after you take a couple of pictures, they relax more. Keep on talking to them and keep on shooting. Be patient.

Set your camera correctly. There are no specific requirements for the camera settings as it all depends on conditions you shoot in. However, in many cases, it might be easier to shoot at a narrower aperture so that all objects will be in focus.

Photos:, Laurent Ponce, Antony Kurtz, Jonathan Bielaski, Westcott University


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