Environmental Portraits: Carpenter

When it comes to environmental portraits, one of the key things is finding the right location. For this environmental portrait shoot, Karl took some time to look around a wood-working yard before finding the ideal spot.

Shooting in at a carpenter’s factory, Karl had to work with mixed lighting, combining natural and studio light to create an atmospheric light suited to the location. In this class you’ll be able to see as Karl carefully creates his composition, rearranging elements of the scene to incorporate key details in the shot, and precisely builds up his lighting.

Using just three lights, you’ll learn how Karl balances mixed lighting and how he uses modifiers such as grids to create carefully controlled pockets of light.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to photograph environmental portraits
  • Identifying suitable locations for environmental portraits
  • How to rearrange a scene for the best results
  • How to shoot with mixed lighting
  • Using softbox grids and honeycomb grids
  • Tips for working quickly and effectively when photographing people

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

Working with mixed lighting is a common occurrence when photographing environmental portraits. In instances such as this carpenter’s portrait, it’s important to know how to carefully control the studio light so as not to overpower the atmospheric light.

Environmental portrait lighting

A comparison between only daylight only and daylight with flash.

In this shoot, I knew daylight alone would not be sufficient lighting, but I also knew I wanted just small pockets of light to enhance the atmosphere of the room, especially as I was shooting slightly wider than some of the other environmental portraits in this series.

To create the lighting for this shot I used a combination of lights, modifying each so that I could carefully control the spread of light, and I continuously checked the result of each lighting adjustment to ensure an overall balance was maintained.

Environmental portrait lighting setup

The final setup used just a few lights with basic modifiers.

In the end, I used just three lights with basic modifiers to achieve the result I wanted. With careful planning and by testing my lighting before, I was able to minimise the time spent photographing the subject and finish the shoot in just a few hours.

Environmental portrait example

The final environmental portrait image of a carpenter.


  1. Hi Karl,
    I super enjoyed this session. But on the other hand, I keep asking myself why do you spend so much effort in correcting the lights and brightness while you shoot in RAW and can easily adjust it on LR or PhotoShop?!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it but unfortunately your comment doesn’t resonate with me. If I wasn’t explaining what I was doing for camera it would take me a quarter of the time to do it. Much less time than faffing around in post production trying to make something that wasn’t there look like it was. Additionally and the most crucial part is knowing what should be there and shouldn’t be there. Your comment would be similar to asking a chef why he makes the pasta fresh when he could buy it in a packet.

  2. Hi Karl,
    great shoot, can i just ask, you used f2.0 and i didnt see the bokeh at yours , normally when i use f2.0 i see bokeh which i dont want.
    thank you.

    1. Hi Zee, DOF effects and bokeh are highly dependent on the lens used and the distance of the subject. I’m quite far away from my subject and with a 50mm I think and also the background is not that far away behind the subject.

  3. I need to photograph a pizza baker in his restaurant/kitchen. The counters and the pizza oven are shiny material. Would you recommend using the same type as modifiers with grids you used here?. Or even a rectangular softbox to even have more control? Also for the shot where he is kneeding the dough with litlle bit of back/sidelighting to see the flour – would rectangular box be good and fill other side with reflector and light on hss?

  4. bgbphoto

    Haha, Karl. I do love how you still use your lights with a “voice-activated power adjuster” (aka Ash) where you can use the app or remote directly instead. Both are very handy, though!

    But like you said, with 3 to 4 or more lights, these environmental shots are incredibly elevated as you can focus a viewers attention by highlighting certain areas.

    Thanks for this detailed shoot!

    1. Hi, thank you. Yes I normally have an assistant there to help carry, setup and importantly ‘stand in’ as a test subject so I also use them to do the light settings ‘old school’. I do have the app to adjust them but often I have to get the assistant to move them too.

  5. Hi Karl
    Brilliant lesson, thanks. I can’t wait to get out there and have a go at this genre.
    I have only two speedlights (with soft boxes). I’m only just starting out, so don’t want to invest in anything more just yet.
    Using your idea of ‘layers’ I am guessing it would be possible to light up the small areas, such as the motor on the bench, in a separate shot, and then blend in PS later. Using a tripod of course!

    1. Hi Morse, thank you and yes absolutely regarding the layers as long as your camera is on a tripod and remains in a fixed position then this is simple enough to do.

  6. Absolutely stunning results with the available environment! I still had a little confusion when doing ambiant/flash lighting as to how to balance the both and you perfectly showed to start without any flash, build the shot as to how much ambiant you want and start adding flashed and adjusting the power. Thanks a bunch!

  7. Love these environmental portrait videos. I Would like to see more examples of this genre featuring more than one person, outside setups as well as composite scenarios and see how you would approach those situations. I Would also like to see any post work you do after the shoots.
    Thanks Karl for the very informative and detailed videos so far!

    1. Hi Headswimmer, the farrier is an outside one! Not much post work at all on these but I’ll note that for future ones as we will have more.

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