Environmental Portraits: What Are They, Importance and Tips

Ivan Martinez
Corporate photographer with expertise in business headshots, events, commercial, and construction photography.

There’s an open discussion going on about what exactly is environmental portraiture. Contrary to what most people might think, this is different from pics about climate change or nature photography.

This fine art takes so much from other branches of photography that it would be difficult to stick it into any category. One could say that it fits in between a staged studio portrait and candid portraiture.

This article will help you better tell the aspects that make environmental portraiture unique and how it can be a great asset for a branding plan.

What Is an Environmental Portrait?

Environmental portrait photography is the art of taking pictures that will be used to tell a person’s story via its connection to a certain place. This connection often reflects the message that the environmental portrait photographer wants the viewer’s eye to receive.

Spontaneity is not as important for the end result as it is for other types of images. As stated before, environmental portrait photos can be obtained by doing either a candid or a staged photoshoot.

Great portraits of this sort will capture people’s interaction with their natural surroundings to tell strong stories that generate an emotion in the viewer, giving insight into where these people are, what they do and who they are.

This is a really popular practice in travel and street photography and it is also the core of documentary photography and photojournalism.

Recently, it has become very common to see companies use environmental portraits instead of the classic business portraits or headshots, and it works. However, that doesn’t mean business headshots and environmental portraits are the same thing. Business headshots—vertical 8x10 photos that are evenly lit and usually have a neutral background—are still a reliable go-to for introducing the members of an organization to the public.

An example of environmental portrait at workplace

But when going for a more “real” depiction of a person in their workplace, an environmental portrait will deliver a better result. This is a way to describe the subject’s life in their everyday job from an authentic and spontaneous perspective.

This candid approach to portraiture can captivate the viewer and help them understand the subject’s sense of humor, playfulness, thoughtfulness, intensity and other aspects of its character at work.

7 Tips to Consider Before Shooting Environmental Portraits

To take a successful environmental portrait there are several things you can consider. Here’s a list of photography tips to get the best out of an environmental photoshoot:

Environmental photography at night

1. Get to Know the Location

Knowing your surroundings prior to a photoshoot is something rather obvious. Despite that fact, sometimes it is difficult or impossible to visit the location before the event—in those cases it is recommended that you find out as much as you can beforehand, to get a better idea of the available light on location.

2. Research About the Subject’s Occupation

As a part of your research, you should also take some time to get acquainted with the subject’s occupation to develop a way to best represent the connection between the person and the place.

3. Talk About the Outfit

Instead of letting the topic slide, take the initiative and talk about potential outfits that can enhance the message that you want to communicate with your environmental portraits.

An example of environmental portrait where a man smile in front of a computer at his office

4. Set the Scene

Even if the intention of the photoshoot is to create a great portrait by representing the connection of the subject with a familiar location, don't be afraid to move things around: use props, or juggle with lighting setups.

Environmental portraits of a woman at work

5. Be Careful with Lighting

Use the natural light available on site to position the equipment and adjust camera settings. You should also consider how to take advantage of the ambient light at your disposition to give the most realistic feel to the scenery.

Example of environmental portrait for businesses

6. Understand the Needs of the Client

Don’t let your ideas exclude those of the client. Maintain a fluid communication and try to incorporate as many of their ideas as you possibly can, while trying to make them feel comfortable through the whole process.

7. Check Your Photos

Don’t forget the importance of taking a look at the pictures once the session is over. Take a close look at every detail to make sure that everything is in place, that you accomplished a shallow depth of field and that even the edge of the frame is as you envisioned it. Minor errors can always be fixed with photoshop in the post-processing.

How Can Environmental Portraits Improve Business?

To keep up with the global trends in the business world, where marketing is becoming more and more important for an organization to separate itself from the ever-increasing competition, environmental portraits are tools that can help a business connect with its potential clients at a deeper level.

Setting aside the use of traditional business headshots, showing more realistic and authentic representations of a worker’s everyday routine is a great way to make a business more appealing to the viewer’s eyes.

It’s understandable that shooting in a semi-controlled environment can be daring to even the most seasoned photographer, but modern equipment available in the market keeps making this task’s success rate less reliant on photography skills and more on the ability to manipulate professional level cameras.

Nowadays, the best cameras are equipped with flash photography assistance, wide angle lens, extremely high light sensitivity and many more traits.

Workplaces, like offices, tend to be flatly and evenly lit, which makes them good for a photoshoot without needing to set up a background. To improve lighting when needed, you can use LED lights that are subtle and even soothing to the subject. Although, most details involving lighting can be retouched with tools like Adobe Lightroom.

For these very reasons, it is also advisable to try to shoot in different locations, like the different areas inside a business building. This way the subject can be captured going through its many interactions inside the workplace, adding even more authenticity.

Additionally, environmental portraiture offers more options than traditional headshots when it comes to cropping photos. Capturing the subject’s stance, gestures, and corporal expression shows they are real people.

My name is Ivan Martinez and I have over 36 years of experience in marketing and advertising, 15 of them as a professional photographer.

I have worked with hundreds of clients, and one thing I have learned throughout the years is that everyone is unique. I take the time to get to know my clients, answer their questions and help them through the process.

When it comes to promoting yourself online and in print, you need photographs that show you and your business thoughtfully and accurately. Let me help you with that! Contact me.

Stand Out with a Headshot That Truly Represents You.
As a professional headshot photographer, I’ll make sure to reflect the best version of you.
Capture Emotion & Drive Sale
Let's plan your commercial photography session!
Book Your Construction Photography Session
Let your hard work shine!
Showcase Every Emotion at Your Corporate Events
As a professional headshot photographer, I’ll make sure to reflect the best version of you.

Your Business Presence Is Only as Good as Its Visual Representation

Get high-quality, professional, and consistent photographs to market your goods and services.
Let’s talk
Stand Out with a Headshot
Stand Out with a Headshot That Truly Represents You.
As a professional headshot photographer, I’ll make sure to reflect the best version of you.