Photographing people is one of the most vital types of travel photos to cover off on any given trip. Often these are the types of photos that can really bring a destination to life and offer a unique view of the world. But there are different types of “people photos”. In this short guide, we will discuss the differences between traditional head and shoulder portraits and environmental portraits as well as some tips on how to capture great environmental portraits.
Portraits or environmental portraits
As mentioned above, there’s a difference between portraits and environmental portraits. Portraits usually consist of head and shoulder shots with the focus being on the person’s eyes. Environmental portraits on the other hand not only focus on the person but also the wider context of what they are doing. In other words, we see their surroundings. So the first element of an environmental portrait is to ensure you capture the wider context of the scene.
Use a wide-angle lens
Just because you are capturing a wider scene doesn’t mean you should stand across the road and zoom in with a long lens. You will usually find that if you get closer to your subject it will help build that connection that will become apparent in the image. So get close to your subject and use a wide-angle lens to give you a wider angle of view. The other benefit of getting closer is that you will find it less difficult to take a photo without people stepping into your composition.
Think about your depth of field
Your depth of field (controlled by your aperture) is incredibly important in environmental portraits. In traditional head and shoulder portraits, you can afford to select a wide aperture as you are only really concerned with the person’s face. So as long as you focus correctly on the eyes and they are sharp, the background can be blurred. In fact in these types of portraits, the blur helps the subject stand out against the background and so it is usually preferred.
For an environmental portrait, you do need to also capture some of the surroundings. So you may have to select a slightly smaller aperture to increase your depth of field. This can be tricky in places like markets where you are likely to face low light conditions. Without using artificial lighting, the only solution will be to increase your ISO.
Know your shutter speed limit
The other important setting when it comes to any type of photography is your shutter speed. For environmental portraits, you may not have the luxury of the person remaining perfectly still (like they would for a head and shoulder portrait). For example, they might be making something or moving their head as they are interacting with someone. This means that your shutter speed will need to be faster than when taking a portrait of someone. How fast will depend on various factors such as your camera’s image stabilization and your own ability to hold a camera steady.
Some people may find that they can hold a camera steady at 1/60th sec whereas someone else has a limit of 1/100th sec before they start seeing blurred photos through camera shake.
Compose your shot carefully
Environmental portraits can be tricky to compose and it becomes tempting to place your subject in the centre of your composition. While sometimes that might be the best scenario, there are also times when you can place your subject to one side to show more of the scene. This also has the added benefit of allowing photos to be used as double-page spreads in magazines when your subject needs to avoid being in the centre of the page (which is known as the gutter). So try to play around with your composition and take multiple shots with different setups involving your subject. Not only will this ensure you have different crops in case a client needs it, but you can also select the best composition in post-production.
Don’t be shy, but don’t get in the way
As a photographer, it’s important to be confident in your ability and also in managing the shoot. This doesn’t only refer to a professional setup with models and lighting, but also simply photographing a market vendor. Before you approach the person to take photos try to envision the shot in your mind and get your settings correct. Once you begin taking photos, be confident but also always be aware not to get in the way. This is especially important if you are photographing someone who is working, as the last thing you want is for them to miss out on a sale because of you.
Environmental portraits can be very rewarding and give you some incredible and unique photos. Use the tips above and you will be well on your well to capturing great environmental photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.