I am a huge fan of taking dynamic environmental portraits that have an element of color that's portrayed within the frame. Here are some tips on how I do this in this great city of New York.
Find an Ideal Location
When I shoot portraits in an urban scene – or any dynamic scene – I look for the best way to showcase the subject with its surrounding. It’s not as simple as a portrait that you would shoot in a studio. A lot of things come into play.
Always consider perspectives and leading lines. Try to get the background as clean as possible, thereby reducing distracting elements like people or cars – except in cases where you feel that these elements add an intentional dynamic feel to the image. For these shots look for lighting that isolates and compliments the subject most, which can vary at different times of the day.
This photo is a great example of a model with a colorful fashion wear, playing with perspectives and leading lines in the background.
This shot is another example of a dynamic environmental portrait that gives the viewer a sense of place. Upon seeing the photo, you may immediately know it as New York City, with both One World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.
Access to Private Locations
Gaining access to private locations will help tell a story that is unique to you as a photographer, in a location that people may feel they already know well.
Having a network of connections help tremendously in gaining access as well. But you have to start somewhere! One way to initially gain access to these types of spots is to reach out directly to the manager/owner of the building. Make sure to draft a clear professional email template that defines what you want to shoot, why, and how the building would benefit having you there to capture photos. Some buildings may ask for a liability form, so I always recommend playing it safe, and having one handy and ready to sign.
The photos below are some examples of the types of unique moments you can create within private locations.
Train Your Eyes to See Color
Color is a way to lead the viewer's eyes to look at the most important part of a photo, or to express an emotion. The colors can already be there at the location, as with the yellow window frames seen below.
Thematic color can also added intentionally into a scene with pre-shoot planning, as with the model in a yellow flowery dress seen below. This shows appreciation for the architecture of the playground and the model posing with elegance that matches the scene. Preset tones I will add into a shot in the editing process act as a top layer to make everything seem even more dynamic in color, but there has to be a balance. Don't overdo saturation and make sure the colors work well together.
My unique style is having an orange and blue theme as it works well for a variety of my photography work. Feel free to experiment and choose one that works best for you! And not to mention, make sure the skin tones of the subject are correct depending on the scene you're shooting.
To shoot dynamic environmental portraits, you can possess anything from an ultra wide angle to a telephoto lens. Depending on your vision, you may want to showcase your subject with its surrounding as wide as possible like with the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.2 PRO lens. Wide angles are best suited for tight spaces with little to no mobility.
By utilizing a telephoto lens, you have the advantage of giving a sense of closeness to a scene and adding some depth of field while still capturing the surrounding environment of a portrait. The benefits of a telephoto lens can be seen in this photo, which was taken with the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO.
Go With the Flow
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken and the best option is to just "go with the flow." By that, I mean the ability to be swift and act quickly in coordination with the subject you're shooting. Time is of the essence.
For this photo, I was snapping away until I saw the light beaming through this colorful and reflective store on Fifth Avenue. I directed the model to do a dreamy look, which added a nice, shadowy contrast and touch of mystery to the shot. You never know when the elements around you will combine perfectly!
Jaime Penzellna is a front-end engineer and photographer based in NYC who loves to design, code and shoot. His photographic passions are portraits, cityscapes, and architecture. When not in front of a screen, he loves exploring the outdoors and taking photos both for fun and professionally.