Environmental Portraits

Posing singer Melissa Phillippe in front of her piano adds context and helps create a portrait that reflects her passions. Shooting form a position above the subject has a slimming effect on the face, neck and body and can be a very flattering option when photographing women. Notice how her body is angled and how the shoulder closest to the camera is lower than the back shoulder, this gives her body language a more open and friendly feeling.

Lady looking up

Environmental Portrait Final

Lady looking up - sylights

Environmental Portrait Setup

Details & Inspiration for Shot Above

Exposure: ISO 400, f/1.4, 1/800 second with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens.

Different Environmental Portraits

Next I’ll focus on two images produced with natural light. I’ve included these for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t want you to get the idea that you need all sorts of fancy, expensive gear to produce compelling portraits. Of course, good equipment is great and it sure doesn’t hurt your options but the thing that you need most is a good concept! That’s the second reason I’ve included these two concept driven images. Developing a concept helps clarify what you’re hoping to achieve. It really just involves stopping to think and asking yourself a series of questions about what it is exactly you want the image you’re creating to say about your subject.

The first image is of Adobe Senior Creative Director Russell Brown dressed as the Mad Hatter. As my time with Russell was short this portrait was all about thinking on my feet and using the available elements and time to create something special. I placed Russell between the plastic flaps of a warehouse door, and had him peek in toward the camera.

Using the sun as a backlight added a great glowing rim light around him. Both decisions were made to support and add to Russell’s already dramatic Mad Hatter persona.


Mad Hatter Final


Mad-Hatter - sylights

Mad Hatter Setup


Details & Inspiration for Shot Above

Exposure: ISO 400, f/4.0, 1/80 second with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens.

More Environmental Portraits

The below image was produced for spiritual singer Melissa Phillippe’s CD cover art. Here again the location and posing are key story telling elements. The natural golden light, awe inspiring location and pose facing the heavens makes a strong statement about Melissa. Placing the subject with the sun behind her created dramatic edge lighting and a reflector was added camera right to contribute fill light, opening up the shadows on the face and body.


Serenity Final

Serenity - sylights

Serenity Setup


Details & Inspiration for Shot Above

Exposure: ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1600 second with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens.


Use the concepts discussed above as well as from the previous series items and resources listed below as motivation and inspiration to look at your portraits in new ways, to push yourself to start experimenting with new tools and techniques, to recharge your batteries and enliven your creativity. Now go out and make some awesome portraits people!! I can’t wait to see what you do.


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