- By Richard I’Anson
Environmental portraits add context and allow the viewer to learn something about the person. This kind of portrait lends itself to the use of wide-angle lenses. The wider field of view offered by 24mm, 28mm or 35mm lenses allows you to get close but still include plenty of information about where the subject is. Getting close also ensures nothing comes between the camera and the subject at the vital moment and is an essential technique in crowded situations such as markets and busy streets. The use of wide-angle lenses also allows slower shutter speeds to be employed to maximise depth of field.
This is important because the location is an integral part of the picture. Look to add variety to your environmental portraits by capturing both formal shots, where your subject is looking into the camera, and informal shots where people are busying themselves with something and interacting with others. People at work make excellent subjects for achieving this combination of shots. They’re often less self-conscious in front of the camera because they’re occupied with familiar activity, and you’ll be able to capture them looking into the lens and at what they’re doing. Markets and workshops are great locations to capture images of people in an interesting environment.
People at work or occupied with an activity make excellent subjects for environmental portraits. They’re often less self-conscious in front of the camera because they’re engrossed in what they’re doing, as was this weaver at a village shop. The 24mm wide-angle lens has allowed me to get close enough to fill the frame with the craftsman and his work but still include plenty of the interesting location in which he is working.
After taking a few initial shots of the two musicians entertaining the lunchtime crowd at Le Select Café, they invited me to join them at their table. This gave me the opportunity to be more directive, which I needed to be because I knew the fi rst shots hadn’t worked. Getting the musician to turn his back on his audience, just briefl y, solved the light problem and also let me include the café sign and some of the setting, placing the musician in context. Working close to the subject with a 24mm wide-angle lens has slightly distorted the head of the guitar but works well to draw the viewer’s eyes to the musician.
If you’ve got a zoom lens with a focal range around 24–105mm and you position yourself well, you can often take an environmental portrait and a frame-fi lling, head-and-shoulder portrait without changing position. Add variety by shooting the wide shot horizontally with the person looking away and the close-up vertically with the subject looking into the lens.
You can’t see a lot of the skateboard, but there’s enough to indicate that this is what the subject is into. The background is just as subtle but the colours and graffiti connect to the subject’s clothes and skateboard to create a contemporary urban environmental portrait.
Other travel photography blogs that might catch your eye:
Read our tips on how to take everyday portraits on the road;
Light, and how to capture it;
How to get unique shots of iconic images.
Get the ultimate guide to travel photography, penned by our very own Richard I’Anson.
While you’re there, pick up a copy of his beautiful pictorial on India: Essential Encounters.