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Environmental Portraiture - The Three Steps to Improve Your Images OUT OF SIGHT!

Julie P Watson

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Step One:

Location, location, location. I know, I know. . . that's three steps already. But believe me when I say that this is the first and most important step to getting the best results out of your photographic shoot. If you want to impress, you need to put in some time and effort. Think very carefully with the location when you go out, and do a little pre-planning. Research your subject, ask them questions, and look on the internet at their business, hobby or social interests to find what might be the most appropriate location. Just because this person lives near the beach, may not be enough reason to choose the beach as the location. They may be very much into wine tasting, and by asking and finding this out, they may just be over the moon if you offer to do the shoot either at a vineyard or in a winery. Study to find the best location and your job is made that much easier and your result will be stunning professional images.

This shows respect to your client and they will often refer prospective customers to you due to your diligence. Remember to charge accordingly with regard to how much time you put into each shoot. An executive wanting a shoot on site at a mine would need to be charged more than a neighbour wanting shots of his grandkids in the backyard, however; he is also going to need much more time spent before, during and after the shoot.

Step Two:

The lighting and artistic elements. I know, I'm cheating again. This is two things. But really, these two things work together in the location you choose. You see, photography is all about light and colour and tonality and you need to get to know the colour of the light, the quality of the light and the angle of the light. Are there any blotchy shadows? Is the light falling at the right time of day and at the right angles? So those are the artistic elements. They actually involve the light. That's the second step, checking for all those. Making sure that the subject is going to be complimented by all those elements.

You will often have many choices within an environment which allows you to move around a little to find the best lighting and artistic elements. Remember to always look around, including up, down, and behind you. It's not always the most obvious ‘first’ impression that will make the best shot. What is the light like around the corner or on the other side of a building/car/tree? What about a higher vantage point? Stay imaginative and don't rush. If you have put time into step one, you will be able to allow more time on site for this important step!

Step Three:

Positioning the person within the location. I bring my subject into the environment. So what I'm saying is that, in the old fashioned studio you would have a studio set up and you brought your subject into the studio. Well, it's kind of like that. I make the environment my studio and then the third step is where I bring my subject into it. And then position him and pose him. Make the body the right shape, the angle, the clothes, the props. Of course, you will have asked questions and researched in step one, so you know just what props the subject should bring! An important consideration here is to stick to one message. One clear and concise message.

Pre-visualise how you want some of the shot's to look before you get there and then see how they fit with the scene. If you have already imagined some of the shots, even sketched them, you will be way ahead of yourself when you get on site. Taking some sample shots with you is a great idea. Just have them there in case you need them. These can be either your own work from previous jobs or from magazines or templates. Some people need more instruction than others, and unless you know your subject really well, it is a good idea to have samples so you can actually show them how you want them to pose.

Don't be afraid to be a little assertive. Most people are expecting you to ‘direct’ the scene like a movie director. They need to be told what to do and if you are wishy-washy with your instructions they will see this as a lack of confidence. Time may also be a factor. If people have other commitments then you need to make sure you get the shots you need, as you need them and not by being rushed at the last minute. Discuss the time frame prior to the shoot (with the person paying) and then YOU control the entire photo shoot!

Want to know more? Join in one of our FREE live webcast/teleconference simulcasts, ‘Ezi Pix Conversations with Photographers Program’ at or comment on this article on our blog at Alternatively, if you're a Gold Member of Ezi Pix, check out the full conversation with Esther Beaton in the ‘Portraits’ section in the Gold Members Area as well as all the other conversations from the entire program to date.


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