How to Take Environmental Portraits

by David Em

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Environmental portraits are all about your subject in a situation or location that says a lot about them. It’s an image full of personality.

Person wearing a hat and carrying fruit with a stick over their back.

What are environmental portraits?

An environmental portrait is one that’s taken in the subject’s normal environment, which can be their home, workplace, or somewhere that they frequently spend time.

Related: Different types of portrait photography

It’s a genre of photography that tells the viewer a lot about a subject by looking at the image.

You can learn about what the subject likes to do, where they live, and many other details that can be seen in this style of photography.

Aside from helping the viewer understand the photo, it’ll be great for you subject because they’ll be more comfortable in their natural environment.

Related: 10 best photography prompts

This will lead to genuine emotions, actions, and your subject will be relaxed, which is important in portrait photography.

The most important thing is that the location and the person should be connected and purposeful. If you can do that, you’ll be successful.

Related article: How to photograph runners

How to take an environmental portrait

Before you start shooting, take the following steps to ensure you have a successful photoshoot:

1. Take time to get to know your subject. If you want to take an image that portrays your subject, you must know who they are. Before your photo shoot, take time to talk to them.

Learn about what they like, dislike, where they grew up, what they do, and what things are important to them.

2. Figure out how you can answer questions. Through the image, you’ll be able to answer questions that a viewer may have.

Think about how you can portray your subject, what they do, where they live, and how they feel.

3. The location is key. Based on what you learn about your subject, decide on a location that would be meaningful.

It’s one of the most important aspects of an environmental portrait because it’ll be all around your subject.

4. Utilize props. To make your subject look more candid and feel comfortable, utilize the props that they’d normally use.

For example, a basketball player might have an image in a basketball court and holding a ball.

5. Pose candidly. With this style of photography, everything needs to feel natural. You don’t want an image to look staged, even if it is.

6. Use natural light when you’re shooting outside. Natural light is simple and looks the most realistic. If you need to use supplemental lighting, that’s totally fine. However, try shooting with natural light outdoors when you can.

7. Use a model release. As a best practice, make sure you have a signed model release so that you can publish the images on your website or for marketing purposes.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the right focal length for an environmental portrait?

A short focal length, such as 24mm or 35mm is perfect because it’s wide enough to capture a good amount of the background.

How can I make my photos look genuine?

The best way is to build rapport with your subject and have a conversation throughout the photoshoot. When they feel that you’re being present and focused on serving them, they’ll lighten up.


Environmental portraits are powerful and tell viewers a lot about a subject. It’s your job as the photographer to draw out genuine emotions, and capture your subject in a place or around things that are meaningful to them.

More resources:

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

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