Environmental Portraiture

I love making portraits. My goal is always to reveal the essence of my subject. Sometimes I succeed.

This week my students are making environmental portraits using hot shoe strobes. Strobe has to be a significant light source in the photo. The assignment is to photograph someone on campus who exemplifies the “new definition of an outstanding student.” Yes, your subject needs to be a student.

Your photo needs to clearly show why your subject is significant. Think about visual icons. The clothes, the setting, the props can all give us clues. If your subject is a world-champion skateboarder, your photo should clearly say “student” and “skateboarder.”

© Patrick Murphy-Racey

We see a young man working in a science lab. We infer that he’s important because he’s a science student. Off-camera strobe makes the lab look a lot more interesting than the fluorescent lights that usually flood the room. There’s nothing in the image that doesn’t help tell the story. For instance, no logos on his shirt, no cluttered background, no cans of Red Bull.   © Patrick Murphy-Racey at pmrphoto.com

Patrick Murphy-Racey is one of the best at clean, lit portraits that tell a simple story. Check out his portrait gallery.

In making portraits, it’s important to remove everything from the frame that doesn’t contribute to the subject’s story. Simplify.

In the following series, Vis Com student Elizabeth Howell photographed a weightlifter (he’s in a club sport, but not on an NCAA team.) Howell did a great job by choosing a location that says a lot about the subject and he wears a great shirt that is simple but links him to the school and his hobby. Once she has the main elements set up, she makes small changes in each photo so she has a variety to choose from. The first image is the strongest because the subject isn’t just sitting there. Compared to the other images, the background doesn’t have clutter (no water fountain) but it does have information (not just a black floor mat.) It also is the image where she ZOOMED IN the most. Notice the subject is CLOSE to the camera, and the environment is in the background.

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