Light is Everything!

Posts tagged “Environmental Portraiture

The Horse and His Boy

We were able to sneak a photo shoot in the other day betwixt bad weather and hectic schedules. Our nice warm fall climate has suddenly turned nasty making it a wee bit trickier for outside photos. However, we prevailed and were able to make it come together for the Perrot clan. Not only were we able to get family photos, we also got some shots of Rocco and his horse. The light was fading fast on an already overcast day. I decided that warm light was the ticket and proceeded to back light the horse and also splash some nice light on Rocco too. I really liked how the final image came together! 😎


Bokehlicious! It’s a term blatantly stolen from DigitalRev TV presenter Kai. Bokeh, that lovely Japanese word for “the stuff not in focus in the image” is awesome. Normally we think of big apertures like f/1.4 or f/2 to get amazing bokeh in an image, but you can squish a background with a long telephoto lens and get a similar result. I shot this self portrait (mainly because it’s infested with wood ticks back there and nobody else would go as my subject) πŸ˜‰ tonight as the sun was beginning to get low and directional. It was super cloudy so it was diffused nicely. I put a speed light on a stand camera left and shot it through a Lumiquest Softbox III light mod. It’s a sweet little modifier. I mainly wanted that new growth poplar behind me to go into bokehlicious heaven. And I think it did nicely for being shot at f/5.6 @ 270mm (which on my DX Nikon actually is like 405mm)! 😎 All you get is a background that goes smooshy and gooshy, like a painter’s canvas. Certainly, this would have been even more pleasing had I shot the photo at f/2.8 or f/4. But even at 5.6 I like it! I just love that green bokehlicious background!



The Environment

ISO 320 f/4 1/50 24mm

Besides landscapes, the 16-35mm f/4 lens is a gem of an environmental portrait lens, giving loads of options for including the subject’s setting in the photo. Love this lens!!! 😎

Watch this 1981 video of the inventor of the environmental portrait Arnold Newman. He’s an inspiration and a photo genius!


James Brown: Godfather of Soul. Michael Jackson: King of Pop. Arnold Newman: Master of Environmental Portraiture. Really, he was a pioneer in creating images of people that expressed context. By context, I mean something about the place of the person that adds to or reveals something about the person being photographed. Before Newman, portraiture was people standing in front of a camera, getting their image taken for the soul purpose of the photographer recording their likeness and selling the client an image. “Portraiture” was boring, stringent and contextually void. It may have been tack sharp, it might have been well lit, but it lacked environment. Thus, Arnold Newman creates a whole new genre and approach to portraits. To quote David Hobby, “If you make environmental portraits, you can trace your photographic lineage to this man.”

There’s a great video on YouTube that is worth a watch. It gives more insight into Newman himself as well as his amazing craft that has influenced just about every current day photographer who employs that trendy photojournalism/environmental portraiture.


I was going through my own photo libraries, trying to see if I had any examples of truly environmental portraiture. And to be honest, I don’t have many good examples of it. And by modifying the comment with “good” I mean environments that actually support/reveal the person being photographed. A lot of what passes these days for environmental stuff isn’t really “Newmanian” environmental stuff. Take the famous example of Krupp. He looks reptilian, satanic even with the lighting, colour, mood and environment of his Nazi slave labour factory.

Every element of the photograph supports the core of who Krupp was. Its a far cry from chucking people into some random setting, just to have cool surroundings. The current trend of urban grunge photography when it comes to brides resonates with me this way. Sure, its a juxtaposed environment/subject mix. But it doesn’t necessarily get at who the subject is – unless your bride is actually a homeless person who naturally lives in alleyways.

My point is, let us learn from Arnold Newman, a truly amazing gift to photography. Think about the subject. Get to know the subject. Then make the photograph in a holistic, all encompassing way that weaves together lighting, colour, gesture, mood, and an environmental setting that reveals the true essence of the subject.

Not an Environmental Portrait

Environmental Portrait????