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Simple Tips to Improve Your Environmental Portraits


Photographing people in their natural environment can produce amazing photos, and tell a story. But it can also be incredibly challenging, as you will have to work fast and adapt to the location. Follow these simple steps and you should capture some great environmental portrait photos:

Use a wide-angle lens

The nature of this type of photography is that you need to capture the person’s surroundings, and to do that you will need a wide-angle lens such as 24mm, 28mm or 35mm lens. This will allow you to get close enough to avoid things coming between you and your subject, but at the same time have slower shutter speeds to allow you a bigger depth of field (essential for capturing the surroundings). But be careful that your shutter speed isn’t too slow otherwise your images will be blurred from the camera shaking.


In tight areas use a wide angle lens to ensure you can capture more of the surroundings.

Raise your ISO

As a rule you should aim to keep your ISO as low as possible whenever you are photographing. However, in low light conditions such as markets, and inside buildings, you might have to raise it to guarantee you can capture your photo at a fast enough shutter speed, at the aperture (depth of field) you require. You should test your camera at different ISO settings to get an idea of the acceptable noise it will produce so that when you are on location you don’t go above that.


Markets that are covered will usually mean that you have to raise your ISO to be able to have a fast enough shutter speed.

Think about the surroundings

Are you in a busy market, or a quiet street? The location of the person can make a big difference to the photo. You may want include some of the groceries on sale in front of them, or you might want to crop out everything, so you just focus on an action they are performing. The key is to think about what you are trying to show the viewer with the photo, before taking your shots.


This farmer’s surroundings was an important part of the photo for me to give the image context.

Choose your moment

For me this is one of the most powerful elements of photography. It is something that you can capture that most people would miss with a naked eye. The moment of interaction between market vendor and customer, the second that workman has a drink, or even a moment of serenity someone is enjoying. Take your time (but keep your eyes open, as sometimes you’ll have to work fast) and assess the situation. Think about what is happening, and wait for that perfect moment.


Wait for the right moment to capture the photo that you want.

Be understanding and friendly

As always, remember that the person you are photographing is giving up their time, however short, just for you. If they are working, then every second they are wasting is potentially a customer they are missing out on. Be understanding when they are busy, if you haven’t been able to get the perfect shot, simply come back when they are less busy or wait until they have more time.

Environmental portraits are a great way of diversifying your portfolio by giving your images a story. These types of images can work wonderfully in bringing people to life, and showcasing their daily life – but they can be challenging to capture. So head out to your local farm, market, or park and try to practice – you’ll be sure to capture some great images.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts and tips below.

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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