How To/Techniques – Documentary photography no.2 – The environmental portrait

So, we’ve introduced you to the world of documentary portraits. Want to take it to the next level?


Lewis introduces us to no.2 in his trio of documentary photography techniques. It’s time to take your camera for a walk and consider the spaces and places you use to for creating portraits.

Remember, it’s great to use the same person so you can see how different situations change their photograph. You could pair up with someone else interested in photography and take turns in being the photographer or subject of the photograph. Don’t worry if you don’t have access a fancy camera- a smart phone will do the job. But, if you can, try to experiment with different types of cameras to see what is possible. Check in with your school or college- they might be able to lend you equipment.

Image: Lewis Bush. Think about how the environment adds to the narrative of the image.

Assignment #2 – The Environmental Portrait

Once you start to understand how to use natural lighting to produce simple, strong portraits, the next challenge to produce a full body portrait by using the environment to say something about your subject.

Image: Student’s work from the ‘Album’ project.
Things to think about:
  1. How will body language and pose change the mood of the final photograph? Will you direct them to stand, sit, or something else?
  2. How can you use the environment to produce an eye-catching photograph? For example, you might use strong graphic elements like diagonal lines or light and shadow to create a bold and memorable image.
  3. Where will you photograph your subject, can the location tell a viewer something about the person being photographed, for example about their profession, interests or personality?
Image: Lewis Bush

You can find more examples from the ‘Album’ project in our Gallery

Lewis Bush is a documentary photographer and writer. You can see more of his photography on his website.