Frank Myers, Latow Photographers Guild, Burlington
An environmental portrait can be defined as a photo of a person that includes enough of their natural surroundings to tell a story about the individual. The shots may be “posed” but the setting is ideally rich with visual information about the person’s life. If you’re successful, the viewer gains some insight into the person you’ve portrayed.
My subjects are mostly people whose work or skills impress me. Often they are family or friends, but occasionally it is necessary to break the ice and approach a perfect stranger for permission to photograph them. Ideally, being in their own environment will help your subject to be natural and at ease. I always offer prints of the finished work, which seems only fair.
I find a wide-angle lens is often useful, allowing me to work in close while including elements of the person’s surroundings. Occasionally, however, a longer lens and closer crop can incorporate just enough additional detail while emphasizing the appearance of the subject. Bounce flash can maintain a fairly natural look, as can using higher ISO to work with the light available.
The key to good environmental portraits is finding that fine balance between the individual and his or her environment. A cluttered scene can detract from the main subject. The person must remain the focus, while the surroundings provide detail about their life. Chose that detail carefully and don’t be afraid to ask your subject to move around; everything in the scene should contribute to the story you are telling.