How to Take Good Environmental Portraits

Portrait photography is a unique challenge. Light bounces off parts of the face that you usually don't want to emphasize and the most beautiful parts of the face remain in shadow. There are ways to avoid this, however, even if you're shooting without the convenience of flash units and controlled backgrounds.

1. Pay attention to the kind of light you're shooting with. Morning or evening gives a gentler, softer, light to work with, which goes better with most faces than harsh mid-afternoon sunlight. Bright sunlight will give you harsh shadows across the face, especially with things like eye sockets. Likewise, cloudy days are better than sunny ones.

2. Know your subject. Know what makes him or her smile, especially. The best facial expressions are natural and unforced. Talk to whoever it is you're shooting. Try to make them smile. Capture the moment when that person is the most himself.

3. Be careful with your backgrounds. Choose carefully where you shoot. If you can, scout locations out in advance so you have a good idea of how much time you will be investing in this shoot and what they'll look like in whatever weather you'll be shooting in. Make sure it will actually look good as a background for a portrait.

4. Use a wide aperture. This will allow your subject to be in focus, but blur out the background just slightly so that it is not distracting to the viewer. Be careful, though, that you do not have your depth of field so shallow that you put your subject out of focus or underexpose your image.

5. Don't be afraid to experiment. Shoot from unusual angles. Make your subject do something ridiculous. Try something new and you might be amazed at the result. Photography is an art, not a science.

6. Take lots and lots of pictures. Odds are, you're not going to get the perfect portrait right off the bat. Keep shooting until you get something fabulous, then keep going until you get something even better.

7. Enjoy yourself. Have fun! Do something crazy! Odds are, your subject will start having fun too, and that will improve your portraits more than anything else.

Even though it seems like a lot to think about, once you're in the field with camera in hand, time flies by. Environmental portrait photography is fun, rewarding, and a great way to expand your photography skills. It doesn't require a lot of equipment, and it is possible to do almost anywhere. So go, have fun, and enjoy your time shooting!
How to Take Good Environmental Portraits | Victoria Knight | 5