woman with champagne celebrating new year holiday at home
Photo by Tim Douglas on

What is an environmental portrait?

An environmental portrait is a photo taken of a person in a place that says something about who they are. It is often a place where they work, rest, or play.

positive businesswoman doing paperwork in office
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Advantages of environmental portraits:

  • gives context to the subject you’re photographing
  • adds additional points of interest to compositions (though this is something you need to watch, as you don’t want to distract from your subject too much)
  • helps the subject relax
  • often gives the viewer real insight into the personality and lifestyle of your subject

Environmental portraits sit somewhere between the purposely posed shots of a studio portrait (environmental portraits are posed and are unmistakably portraits) and candid shots, which capture people almost incidentally as they go about their daily lives.

Tips for beautiful environmental portrait photography

Capturing gorgeous environmental portraits can seem tough.

But there are actually a few simple ways to enhance your portrait photos, starting with:

Spend time getting to know your subject

Before you take your environmental portrait, spend some time with them, learn about the places they like to be. If at work, see if you can spend time with them at work, and find when they are most comfortable at work.

If you can spend time with them at work, following them around (if possible) will only get you comfortable with them and them with you. If you can make it comfortable for them, then you will get the good photo.

man leaning on beige post
Photo by cottonbro on

Choose the right location

Sometimes a location chooses you – but on other occasions, you need to be quite deliberate and purposeful when making your choice. It can take a lot of searching.

You ideally want to find a location that:

  • says something about your subject. After all, that’s what this style of photography is all about.
  • adds interest to the shot. As I’ve written in previous tutorials, every element in an image can add or detract from the overall look. The environment in which you place your subject needs to provide context and interest without overwhelming the composition.
  • doesn’t dominate the shot. Sometimes the location can dominate the image so much that it distracts your viewer from your main focal point (i.e., the subject). So try to avoid cluttered backgrounds (and foregrounds) and colors that are too bright, etc. Keep in mind that you might be able to remove the distractions with clever cropping, depth of field, and subject placement.
woman in blue suit jacket
Photo by Jopwell on

Use natural props:

portrait photo of a woman in black coat
Photo by Vinícius Estevão on

Props can make or break an environmental portrait.

If your props are subtle and naturally fit in the environment, then they can be very appropriate and add to the image nicely.

But you’ll want to avoid any props that don’t quite fit or that distract the viewer.

The same goes for the clothes that your subject wears. Try to be true to the context without getting too outlandish.

Actually try some portraits that the subject is posing for the photo:

man in gray suit
Photo by emre keshavarz on

What sets an environmental portrait apart from a candid portrait is that you pose your subject.

(In truth, it’s a fine line between candid portraits and environmental portraits; you might end up doing a bit of both in any given shoot.)

Don’t be afraid to direct your subject to sit, stand, or act in a way that fits the environment. Some of the poses might seem slightly unnatural and dramatic, but it’s often these purposely posed shots that are more interesting and give a sense of style to your photography.

The expression on the face of your subject is also very important in environmental photography, and you should consider how it fits with the overall scene.

For example, if you’re shooting in a formal environment, it may not be appropriate to photograph your subject with a big, cheesy smile; you might prefer a more somber or serious look.

Ultimately, just mix it up to see what does and doesn’t work!

What kind of equipment should you use for portraits:

monochrome photography of person taking photo of a woman
Photo by Gustavo Borges on

Hopefully, by now you will be using a DSLR camera or the new camera with mirrorless features. You need to be able to control your depth of field to get the best images for portraits. Also, (click here: telephoto lenses ), such as 55 – 85 mm lens would be the ideal lens. The reason for the telephoto lens is that it won’t distort the face of the person, and gives it a more natural look.

Once again, for cameras with depth of field that you can work with, here is a link that shows the best rated cameras:

men s wearing black suit jacket and pants
Photo by mentatdgt on


Doing environmental portraits, like you have seen here are really fun to do. Find someone you know who is willing to let you take their picture and practice with them. I am sure you will come up with some good portraits if you follow the tips here.

Note: some of the content of this article was courtesy of DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL.

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