A DC Tog in Dixie: The Environmental Portrait

Sometimes, a pop of color is all you need to make a great head shot. Other times, you have to show people in their element – their home, place of work, or favorite coffee shop – to capture who they are.

Enter the environmental portrait. The phrase is a holdover from my photojournalism days, but it’s one of the most popular types of head shot portraits I do right now, and there are a few elements that go into making a great one.

1.  Light: This should go without saying, since photography is, at its core, an exercise in manipulating a camera to get the best possible (and hopefully most interesting) light. But a space that is well-lit and bright can go a long way when selling a business. For Lindsey, creating a cheerful space was important in promoting her new private practice as a therapist, so I brought in two umbrella lights to help the already great natural light in her office.

2. Intention: Want to capture someone in their element? You have to find a space that leaves no question as to who they are and what they do. The team from Laura Britt Design welcomed me into their 6-room office with no shortage of options in which to shoot. But for lead designer Lauren, the back office, covered in samples of her work, was the perfect spot.

3. Lack of clutter:  Lauren’s portrait makes complete sense for her, but for Orange Theory instructors Melanie and Katie, a more Zen-like approach was crucial. Environmental doesn’t necessarily mean cluttered, and assuring that every item in the photos is intentional keeps the eye from getting distracted. For their fitness photos, a serene pool and a simple metal wall outside their gym allows the customer to focus on them, while also giving a sense of space.

Portrait of a fitness instructor in Austin, Texas
Portrait of therapist in Austin, Texas
Portrait of designer in Austin, Texas
Portrait of a fitness instructor in Austin Texas