Problem Statement: Compose a portrait of someone within a specific environment that helps provide insight into who they are.
Environmental portraits are photos of everyday people in their everyday surroundings whether at work, home, or play. Through this assignment, you should learn to shoot and enhance a portrait that "tells the story" of your subject.
The idea is to include things that tell us something about the person, and the background becomes their ‘backstory’, so you need to show details and objects that help to explain who they are and what they do. Of course, it helps if you’ve got an interesting subject and environment to shoot.
Photography as a fine art is a no-cheese-zone so no snapshots. INTENT is what will separate a snapshot from a portrait. In order to fulfill this assignment, you'll need to intentionally consider the following:
location - When choosing your environment you ideally want to get one that:
facial expression - 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 have your subject with a big cheesy smile and you might like a more somber or serious look.
props - Props can make or break an environmental portrait. If they are subtle and naturally fit within the context of the environment they can be very appropriate and add to the image nicely but you’ll want to avoid anything that doesn’t quite fit or that potentially distracts the attention of viewers. The same goes for the clothes that your subject wears. Try to be true to the context without getting too outlandish.
lighting - The world is made up of a whole ton of broad lighting so pay attention to your surroundings and set up accordingly. You can also try DIY light modifiers like putting up a translucent screen to soften light, using an umbrella to deflect, trying secondary light sources to backlight your subject... It's rare that we come across focused light in the day to day, but specific, pinpoint lights can literally what you want to show. You are the director of the scene. Where do you want to draw the eye? Put light there or take it away everywhere else.
viewpoint of the photographer (angle in which the shot is taken) - An easy way to elevate your photo from a standard eye-level snapshot is to consider low and high angle vantage points. Based upon what you're trying to communicate, also think about how close or distant you'll be from your subject.
**Your goal is to try to express the personality and expression of your subject through your photographs. Put your viewer in familiar situations, so they don’t think about the fact that they are being photographed.
CHEESE vs. NO CHEESE
Artists to consider: Platon, Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Alfred Eisenstadt, Annie Liebowitz, Helmut Newton, Catherine Opie, Finn O'Hara
Resource: Pinterest Board for environmental portraits