Capturing photographs of people always seems to be the most daunting element of photography for a lot of beginners. This is often due to shyness but the fear of the person you are photographing getting angry also plays a role in discouraging people to capture photographs of people. But if you really want your travel photos to stand out from the crowd then you need to overcome these barriers. Often the most powerful photos in history are those that show a human element. So here are 7 tips to help you capture better environmental portraits.
Think About The Story
The difference between a traditional head and shoulder portrait and an environmental portrait is that with a traditional portrait your only point of interest is the person you are photographing. The main focus is on the eyes and you can almost crop out anything around the person.
An environmental portrait has many more elements as you are capturing the person in their setting or environment often going about their normal life. In this scenario the main focus might not be the person’s face or eyes but rather their hands as they are making something.
Your first action should be to think about the story that you are trying to tell. Think about what someone looking at your photo will think, feel or do. Once you have worked out the story you will then be able to frame your photograph to portray that story.
Start With A Smile
It’s incredible how many people are gripped by the fear of asking or taking someone’s photo but at the same time, they would have no hesitation asking someone to take their photo. The reality is that most people most of the time will have no problem with you taking their photo. Whether you ask permission or not is really down to you and you need to evaluate the situation and act accordingly.
Obviously if you want to take a photograph of a policeman, for example, you would probably be advised to ask permission, but if a market vendor is making a sale and you want to capture that moment you might snap away. Whatever the scenario is, if you start with a smile and point to your camera, it will normally have the desired effect. Remember, that the worst that could happen if you ask is that the person can say no.
Engage With The Model
Snapping away without being noticed has its merits and sometimes it is the best way forward if you want to capture a moment. But if you really want to capture an intimate environmental portrait, you need to engage with your subject. Speak to them, ask them questions and be interested in what they have to tell you and not only will it allow you the opportunity to capture a great photo but it will also give more of a knowledge of them and as a result you might have a better idea of how to tell their story.
Wide Angle Lens
The whole purpose of environmental portrait is to tell that person’s story with what they are doing or their surroundings. As such you will need to capture a wider photo that does show what’s happening around them. Whilst for head and shoulder portraits often telephoto lenses can work wonderfully well, for environmental portraits you would want a wide-angle lens.
Only The Relevant
One of the biggest dangers to an environmental portrait is having too much in the photo. Yes, it’s important to show the person’s surroundings, but you also need to keep the viewer engaged and give them a clear path and journey around your photo. Too much clutter or unnecessary details around the main subject and it will divert attention.
This again comes down to evaluating the scene and considering every element of the composition. Is the person standing in the background necessary to the story or is it cluttering the shot? A good environmental portrait will only focus the viewer on most relevant and important part of a scene and avoid the unnecessary parts.
Whilst sometimes it’s good to ask for permission and get to know the person before photographing them, at other times you just need to act quickly to capture a unique moment that might not present itself again. It might be a moment of interaction with someone else, a facial expression or even just the way that light and conditions are at that moment. Whatever the reason is, it pays to always be ready. This means that your camera should be on with the sort of settings you might need already set.
The last thing you would want to do is to have to mess around getting your camera out of your bag, changing lenses, setting your aperture whilst watching the moment pass in front of you.
As much is it is important and will help your photos if you get to know your subject, you should still aim to work quickly to get the photo you want. The person you are photographing isn’t a model and the longer you take the more agitated they might become especially if they are working and you are stopping them. So before you ask them to model for you think about the scene, get your settings set so that you can capture the shots you want in the minimum time needed.
Capturing environmental portraits isn’t difficult and shouldn’t fill people with dread. The good news is that with practice over time not only will your photos get better but you will also become more confident and quicker in the way you work. Next time you are out and about taking photos give it go, you might be surprised by how easy and enjoyable it can be.
Images by Kav Dadfar. All rights reserved. No usage without permission.