Environmental Portraits

 

This story was originally published in May 2014.

I have always enjoyed shooting close-ups, but now I wish to photograph people and give some context about their life while making their portraits. Any tips?
Akshar Agnihotri, Pune, via email

This portrait, shot with a 50mm lens, shows the subject in a rather busy environment, but manages to keep the attention on him because of the framing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

This portrait, shot with a 50mm lens, shows the subject in a rather busy environment, but manages to keep the attention on him because of the framing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Keep it simple. Ask yourself what characteristic you wish to emphasise about your subject and choose your frame accordingly. Studying the works of environmental portrait pioneers like Arnold Newman will help you understand when to let the background take over, and when the subject and expression take more importance. A wide focal length will force you to get closer, which can help if the environment is cramped or the subject needs to be made more dramatic. Don’t make the aperture too wide… you don’t want the backdrop to become completely blurred. The key is to ensure that the person and his surroundings complement each other, and not fight for attention.

Tags: art on the streets, ask the expert, colour portrait, colourful, environmental portraits, india, patterns, portraits, qna, Question of the Day, Raj Lalwani, Street Photography, tips