Environmental Portraits – Tips & Tricks

One of my favourite types of portraits to shoot is environmental portraits. To give you a bit of an understanding of what environmental portraits is, it is shooting a subject Usual environment, such as in their home, workplace or where the environment is also the main focus of an image. Typically illuminates the subject’s life and surroundings.

For me environmental portraits I like to shoot a portrait in an interesting area or surroundings, where the model will blend nicely and suit the surroundings. So once the viewers see the image the subject doesn’t look out of place from the surroundings. It also depends on the theme or outfits the subject is wearing to know whether or not it will suit the environment you are trying to capture. Here I will go through with you on the type of lens I use to shoot this genre and what I look for when shooting environmental portraits.


For me, the lens I choose to shoot in capturing environmental portraits is either the Sony 24mm f1.4 GM or the Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss. The reason why I rarely use a longer focal length is I want to show more of the environment and by using a wider lens it will achieve that. Here is an example where on my trip to Melbourne I wanted to do some City night portraits, and to showcase that you are in the city I needed to use a wider lens which my choice for this shot was the 35mm f1.4. Looking at this image you can see the city in the background showing that city night light, I choose to shoot wide open to create some nice bokeh with the f1.4 aperture but having my subject nice and sharp.

Here is an image where I used the 24mm f1.4 GM. I was limited with space to move and the 24mm allowed me to get a bit closer to my subject and capture her with a large portion of the environment. Showing the leading lines of the escalators giving that urban style look.


With locations, it is best to pick something that will match an outfit that will suit the environment the subject is in. If the outfit doesn’t suit the location it will throw the image off balance and will look out of place. Locations is a very vital part of capturing an environmental portrait as the surroundings will help draw the viewers eyes to the image. I know I said I prefer to use wider angle lens showcasing more of the environment but where I find it is exceptional to use a larger focal length is when you have plenty of room to move to get more in the frame. Here is an example of a wedding I shot where I used the Sony 70200 f2.8 GM. Now you don’t always have to shoot wide open as the whole point of environmental portraits is showcasing the surroundings. Here I used an aperture of f4, due to shooting at 200mm the depth of field still allowed the background with a slight blur but showcasing the surrounds of the sand dunes and allowing the subject to still to be the main focus. I used the Godox ad600 to fill in the shadows giving an even light on my subject since we were shooting in harsh lighting.

Here is another example of using the 70200 f2.8 where I captured this image for a client on their wedding day. I wanted the waterfall to be in the background so I placed the couple on the rocks and due to limited space, I couldn’t use a wide-angle lens so I can to go across the lake and use the 70200 at 200mm. Shooting at f4 allowing the background to show clearly and putting a slow shutter speed to show movement in the water. I used the Godox ad200 with Magmod mag grid and Magsphere to light the couple.


Earlier I mentioned about clothing, You don’t want to pick a surrounding, for example, a graphite wall that is colourful and the subject is wearing colourful clothing that when you look at the image they blend into the background and the viewer’s eyes get lost on what they are looking at. Or another example where the subject is positioned in an environment where it looks messy or there is a lot of stuff there that will distract the viewers and doesn’t look pleasing to look at. Here is an example of an image I captured which it was a last-minute rushed shoot so had limited time to prepare and pick the outfit to suit. Now I love the reflection, the sunset, the colours BUT the outfit didn’t 100% suit the environment she was in. The colours didn’t blend in nicely to go with the flow of everything.

Here in this image is a great example of how the outfit plays a big role when shooting environmental portraits. A designer had recently received a new dress and wanted to get some fashion portraits done but she wanted more of an environment in the image. So we picked this place which didn’t have much of background but had these amazing stairs. When we placed the couple on the stairs with the colour of their outfit everything started to fall into place. The stairs showcased like they are going to a ball or wedding. Here I used the 35mm f1.4 to capture this image shooting at f4 as I wanted the surroundings to also be in focus. The stairs also act as a leading line to help draw the viewers eyes to the couple. Here I used 2 x ad200 in the Magmod Magbox to light the subject allowing that pop and separation from the background bushes.

This next image I want to show you why I don’t intend to use longer focal lengths for environmental portraits especially wide open. This was shot with Sony 85mm f1.4 GM lens wide open, in this shoot, we were doing a fashion shoot and by shooting wide open it allowed for some nice bokeh but you can’t tell 100% what the surroundings as everything is blurred out.

But here I changed my f stop down to f2 giving that slight separation between background and my subject but still allowing you to make out what the environment is. Again picking the right outfit to suit your environment is very crucial, here the model is in a suit and we wanting to have the city in the background showcase that business look. I choose to have the windows shown as it was more pleasing to look at. Whereas right behind him there were bins and plenty of cars which would put off the look I wanted to achieve.

This is another shoot we did in the Blue Mountains, where I had the model wear a red dress to stand out from the background. Here I used the 70200 f2.8 but shooting at f4 still showing the background and the environment she is in

Always remember for environmental portraits you don’t want to always shoot wide open you want to showcase the surrounds so best to shoot around f4. With the surroundings make sure your subject is wearing an outfit to blend nicely with the background and don’t get lost. The composition is also important making sure you frame the surroundings and subject well.

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