How to Take an Enironmental Portrait

Learn how to take an environmental portrait from professional photographer Joe Sinnott in this Howcast photography tutorial.

I’m Joe. I teach photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York. These are a few environmental portrait ideas.

You can actually make a good environmental portrait almost anywhere. Don’t make the mistake of looking for an interesting background. An interesting background doesn’t help you, your subject is what’s interesting. Let the background be really soft and out of focus and indistinct. Try and choose things in your background or position them in such a way that you’re not actually going to have anything growing right out of your subject’s head but other than that, almost any kind of decoration or bookshelf or books or something like that in your background will work fine so long as it’s outside of your depth of field and out of focus.

Try to shoot it at relatively large F-stops like 2 and 2.8 to make sure that happens. And make sure you’ve got 3 or 4 or 5 feet or more between your subject and the background.

A window is an outstanding light source. Not with the sun shining right into it on the side of your subject. The sun shouldn’t be coming right in the window but even so, there’s always a lot of light coming in the window compared to the rest of the room.

Have somebody hold the reflector on the other side of the model so that you don’t have a really dark shadow on one side of the face.

Eyes on me, Cin. Just make sure that there’s nothing growing out of your head. That’s great. Move the reflector in a little bit, Mary Ann. That’s terrific. Cin, lift your head up just a little tiny bit. Turn your head a little bit to your right. A little more. That’s terrific. Lift your chin up a little.

If your subject is particularly short and not really above the edges of the couch or whatever you’re having them sit on, throw some cushions under them so they get a little height and the light comes in and illuminates their face really nicely.

Don’t look weird and creepy. Don’t look like, not your serial killer smile, your happy smile. There you go. Lift your chin up just a tiny bit. Turn your head a little bit to your right. That’s fabulous. Now lean towards me. That’s it. Bring it. Oh, that’s outstanding.

And those are a few good environmental portrait ideas.