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9 tips for better environmental portraits

The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Good ecological portraits tell a story. At a glance you know something about the person in the photo. The best environmental portraits offer a lot of visual information.

9 tips for better environmental portraits Kebab Chef in Istanbul

Kebab chef entertaining passers-by with his constant joke. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Here are 9 tips to help you take more illustrative photos of people in their area.

1. Do your research

Know your subject well. Not only who they are, but also what they do. If you know who you are going to photograph, do some research and be informed about what they do.

Have at least one conversation and show interest in them by asking questions. This will not only provide you with insight, but your topic will also appreciate your interest in who they are.

Where they are located is also important. Know about the area. If you are unsure, ask questions. When you hear the answers, you may be surprised and learn things you didn't know. Even if you are familiar with the area.

Copper Craftsman 9 Tips for better environmental portraits

Copper Craftsman finishes a new piece while his father proudly watches. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Take the environment into account

Let all your senses work. Listen and see what happens around it. You may see things that you want to record or that you do not want in your photos.

Go around and take photos of different places so that you get alternative backgrounds.

Try to avoid bright lights or other distractions in your composition. It is important to only fill the box with what is relevant to the story you are telling.

9 Tips for better environmental portraits Mandalay Market Vendor

A supplier on the Ghost Train Market in Mandalay, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

3. Tell their story

If you have chatted for a while or at least have been keenly observing, tell their story.

Focus on what communicates most visually about the person, where they are and what they do. This is the whole nature of ecological portraits.

Are they a calm and reserved person? Or are they a loud and boisterous character? Some people change when they come in front of a camera.

If they chat and freeze in an animated way when you point your camera at them, it's your job to help them relax. Frozen is not who they are by nature.

9 Tips for better environmental portraits Taxi Rider with tricycle

Tricycle taxis in Thailand are called Samlor, which translates as ' three wheels & # 39 ;. The riders enjoy the camaraderie that the track entails. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

4. Connect to your topic

I know this is difficult for many people. The more you can connect to your subject, the better photos you'll get.

A pleasant conversation builds trust in people you want to photograph. They will be more interested in what you do and will be compliant if you show interest in them.

Sometimes you want to give your subject some instructions to help the composition. If you are already connected to them, they will be more receptive to your ideas.

9 tips for better environmental portraits Moken Sea Gyps

This Moken gypsy told us stories about how he lost part of his arm in a fishing accident in southern Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

5. Know your camera

Your subject will probably lose interest in what happens if everything he sees is the top of your head as you stare at your camera.

Set your camera in advance so that you know the settings are correct. Do this as quickly as possible so that you have time to focus on communicating with your topic and other important things.

Check if you have the best lens for the job on your camera.

9 tips for better environmental portraits Hmong amputee

Hmong mountain tribal man who is an amputee after his leg has been blown away by a land mine on the Laos / Thailand border © Kevin Landwer-Johan

6. Make a conscious lens choice

Showing the environment is important. So is communicating with your subject while you work.

If you have a telephoto lens on your camera, you will have to position yourself far from your subject to take enough of their surroundings.

With a medium to wide lens you can be close enough and also record more of the setting. I love using my 35 mm f / 1.4 lens on a full-frame body for portraits of the environment. It allows me to be close enough to converse comfortably and still show a fair amount of background.

Use caution when using a lens that is much wider than 35 mm, as you risk distorting your subject.

Shan Waitress 9 tips for better portraits for the environment

Shan waitress poses for a portrait at the entrance of the small restaurant along the way she works near Mandalay, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Check your depth of field

It is important to ensure that sufficient detail is visible in the composition.

If you're a fan of taking photos with your aperture wide open, you may not be taking the best ecological portraits. Too much background blur will not help you to transfer information.

Choose a diaphragm that provides a balance between too blurry and too sharp and distracting. Avoid extremes. This will help to keep the focus on your topic and improve the story with what else is around.

9 tips for better ecological portraits Akha Coffee Harvest

Akha woman harvesting coffee in north Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Make good use of props

There is not always a possibility to use props, but if possible, they can have a big impact.

If your topic contains something important, it can contribute to the story.

This Lahu man is a fantastic subject in itself and I have photographed him many times during our workshops. He likes to smoke tobacco in his bong, which adds even more visual interest and tells us more about him.

9 tips for better environmental portraits Lahu smoker

Lahu Ethnic minority man enjoys smoking tobacco in his bamboo bong near Chiang Mai, Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Write good captions

A good caption gives extra details that you may not be able to clearly convey in your photo. Informative captions help to keep people's interest by further stimulating their imagination.

Offers a little more information about the person. This is another good reason to get in touch with them while you photograph them.

If you do not know clearly what to write, search the internet.

I recently watched this documentary about the photographer Dorothea Lange. She is best known for her work in the Midwestern US during the Great Depression. The documentary emphasizes the necessity of the well-written captions that she supplied with her photos.

9 tips for better environmental portraits Sea Gypsy

Moken sea gypsy fisherman waiting his time on the bow of his boat waiting for a catch. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Conclusion

Not all of these tips may be relevant every time you take environmental portraits. Use as many things as possible to improve your photography experience.

Ask yourself a checklist with these tips and everything else that you can imagine. Consult your list as you prepare to take your next series of portraits. This will help you grow as a photographer.

If you have other useful tips on creating fantastic portraits for the environment, add them in the comments below.

The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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