How to Photograph Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits are a genre of portraiture that are often in high demand. Used in anything from annual reports to websites, they can be a great way to make money and test your skills.

When it comes to photographing environmental portraits, as the photographer you often have to deal with a lot of unknowns, but it’s your job to apply your knowledge and skills to produce results that your client will be happy with.

Through a series of tutorials Karl shows you a number of scenarios where he has to overcome a variety of different challenges, including decluttering the scene or background, controlling mixed and studio light and making sure the subject feels comfortable.

This introduction also provides an overview of the key considerations to keep in mind when working on location and photographing people and Karl shares his top 10 tips for photographing environmental portraits.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to photograph environmental portraits
  • How to declutter your scene to get the best background
  • Techniques for controlling studio light
  • How to balance mixed lighting
  • Use affordable equipment suitable for shooting on location
  • How to make your subject feel comfortable
  • Communicating with and posing your subject

If you have any questions about this class, please post in the comment section below.


  1. Kirk

    Great stuff. The most enjoyable part of environmental portraits for me is transforming the environment and you provided great examples of that.

  2. I am a little trouble in understanding how do I use strobes / speedlight without sacrificing the ambient light? In my studio, if I use strobes, the ambient light is gone. I dont know how to balance?

  3. Hi Karl, this is a very interesting section of your education platform, cuz it crosses a lot of photography genres. Very useful… this is the best place to learn Photography… with the capital P. Thanks.

  4. Fantastic new set of tutorials, only just found the time to binge watch them now. All my portrait shoots are environmental portraits, so it is great to see I have applied the same principles as what you have outlined, and useful tips on the lighting set ups that I hadn’t considered before.
    Thank you so much for providing these invaluable videos, its next best thing to being on the actual shoot.

    1. Thanks Helen, glad they are useful to you. This series has been popular so we’ll be making more of these!

  5. Hi Karl, i just finished the environmental portraits videos. first: great. taught me a lot.
    my question is about the used modifiers. As i love the paras and the quality of light these produce, I wonder, why you always used the octas here? Was that because of practical reasons, like be more mobile, or these were the ones you’ve got? Would the paras not work well in these environments? What would be the advantage or disadvantage of using the paras in such environments? thx. for help

    1. Hi, Sevensix. The Paras would have been better, they are more versatile, more sculpting, more portable (they fold up in a nice case) and you can turn them into a softbox if necessary with the front diffuser. The reason we didn’t use them for these was we know most people won’t have them and we get asked a lot to show what can be done with more economical modifiers. However keep in mind that large softboxes such as the Octa150 can be more flattering on older people than an Para as they are a larger/softer light source if used correctly.

  6. I’ve started doing these sorts of things for businesses – and it’s great fun. But I wonder about cost.

    I don’t want to disclose prices here, but I’m just worried that I don’t charge enough for me to make this my main income.

    Most places just say that they have a “friend with a camera” photographer who can do it cheap. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Hi Gregg, any photographer offering his services professionally should not be afraid of charging the going rate if he is providing a high quality service. ‘The friend with a camera’ is not going to deliver these sort of results. See our business course for suggested rates and pricing.

  7. Karl,

    Thank you so much, I am so excited for this series of videos! My main genre is food photography, but, I’ve done a bunch of chef portraits and a few others for other professionals, and I absolutely love taking them. I really want to branch out and do more.

    I’ll look forward to your words of wisdom on the subject.


  8. Hello Karl,

    I see you use a Broncolor Siros-L monolight for some or all of these shoots. I have a couple of these myself, and in the last year, the glass housing around the flash tube has shattered on both of them. I didn’t see it happen in either case, but according to the two assistants who were there, the glass shattered as they were taking them out of a light modifier in the first case, and in the other, removing the protective cover to get it set up for shooting.

    When I replaced the glass for the first one, I was impressed by how sturdy the replacement glass was. That made me all the more surprised when the second one broke. My question to you is, have you ever had this happen?

    When it happened yesterday at a shoot, I lost almost an hour of shooting time to get another light into the studio and it cost as much to rent the light I brought in as it will cost to replace the glass, or about $300 total. I’m seriously thinking of switching back to ProFoto lights because of this, though I think that the light quality is better with Broncolor.

    1. Hi, I haven’t experienced that but I have experienced my assistants breaking them by not taking softboxes off carefully enough! 🙂

    1. Hi Uwe, you can of course but for me I find these type of shoots too unpredictable in that I move around alot and I don’t want to be going back to the computer to check or have my cable getting snagged etc. As you know i’m tethered all the time in my studio but on location most of the time I’m not.

      1. I hear a squeak in the background as if someone is working with metal or is opening a rusty door again and again.

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