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Monthly Archives: March 2019

  • 5 Different Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers

    The post 5 Different Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nils Heininger.

    As travel photographers, documentary photographers or photojournalists, we all share the same unique challenge: Building up a relationship with our subjects from scratch. Commercial and wedding photographers also need to create closeness to their subjects, but they usually have a foundation that connects them. Models are usually paid to cooperate. Customers of wedding photographers want good images themselves. This is a foundation on which photographers can build their relationships. Our challenge is different – we enter a new environment and have nothing but our camera and ourselves.

    1 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    When we find ourselves in a special environment in a different culture and amongst strangers, we have to find strategies to approach them. A great portrait exists not only through light and composition but also the emotional connection between the photographer and photographed.

    If as a photographer you don’t feel comfortable shooting a situation, it influences the quality of your images negatively. Also considering moral aspects, it is always better to connect with people and be sure they appreciate (or at least tolerate) you taking their pictures.

    We (almost) all struggle with approaching strangers. Even Steve McCurry admitted he is often shy and feels awkward when he takes pictures. However, the good news is, there are strategies to make the best out of the situation and subsequently create more possibilities for good images. Here, I share my best strategies to get closer to people and come home with more good portraits.

    2 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    1. Ask and shoot

    The first strategy is quite simple, yet often a challenge – just go and ask. How many times did you not have the courage to approach a stranger and ask for taking an image? And how many times did you regret it? If you are like me, then far too many. The more you approach people, the more you will realize most of them are happy to have their picure taken and might even see it as a compliment.

    But, what if they say no? What does it matter if they reject you? So what? There are billions of other people out there. Fear is generally one of the biggest barriers to getting good pictures.

    You have to overcome it.

    One of the best ways to do so is to go out and practice. You will be surprised how many people pose for you if you approach them the right way.

    Stay confident, do your thing and do it well.

    3 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    The challenge with this strategy is to stay calm. When I started out, I found my images composed weakly or a little soft because I tried to get it done as quickly as possible. My hand was perhaps too shaky, and I rushed through the process without considering the right camera settings.

    Later, I realized it is not necessary to be in such a hurry. Yes, you should not take too much time from people. However, if you become too nervous and ruin the moment, all the time is spent for nothing.

    Be aware of what you do and how you do it. Stay calm and confident then you will succeed more easily. People appreciate it most if they see that you act professional and portray them in a good light.

    4 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    2. Be patient and drink tea

    As I find myself mostly in South Asia, drinking tea is an activity to socialize and get into contact with people. In other areas, you might replace it with coffee, maté or beer. Be mindful to the fact that taking pictures of people is not just hitting the shutter button. If it were that easy, we would not have all those amazing professionals who still stand out with their images of people. Each of these pictures involved much work behind or beside the camera.

    Most of the photographers who accurately capture the culture and atmosphere of a place through a local person have spent a lot of time choosing the person and building a relationship. While you can run through the streets and click away thousands of images of everyone, you may want to spend your time more efficiently. Stay calm and invest some time into building a network. Go to places where the people you want to take portraits of hang out. Socialize and take your camera out when it is time to do so.

    5 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    3. Find a fixer

    If you have found the right people and still could not get into contact, sometimes it is useful to find a fixer. Fixers are people who arrange access to a story for a photographer, videographer or journalist. Mostly, they belong to the area and act as a mediator between the professional and the people.

    Fixers can also help with translating, and they know a lot about the covered issue themselves and have an idea of what you are looking for. While fixers usually get paid in the case of professional journalism, you can also find guides, community members or other locals who can help you out. Sometimes this happens while you are drinking tea, sometimes it is enough to walk aimlessly through a street in a strange neighborhood.

    Find the people, who look like they could help you. Often, locals are happy to share their stories. Introduce yourself and show that you don’t mean any harm.

    6 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    For example, I wanted to cover the life of a fisherman in Puri, India but I did not know anyone at the place I was visiting. When I arrived, I quickly found a boy who could introduce me to the community while I was wandering around an area where you usually do not find too many tourists. The young man asked me what I was doing, and we talked. I did not even have to find someone who connected me. The person found me within a few minutes!

    Even though he was not a fisherman himself, he was very helpful in giving me information about the community and connecting me to others. After a while, people got used to me. Even though the boy himself could not arrange a boat ride for me, I was able to connect to others. One morning, I finally found myself out on the sea with some fishermen.

    7 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    4. Visit a festival or event

    Special events or festivals are a great opportunity to capture the culture of a place and to get to know people. Festivals offer the opportunity to take pictures of important moments. Often, you will also be asked by people if you could send the images to them. Be helpful and share what you have. My experience is that everything you share will be paid back in multiple amounts. When I photographed the wild dances of the Dervishes at a Sufi Shrine in Pakistan, one of the performers asked me to send the images to him. As I became acquainted with him, I could stand in the first row during the next week’s event. Once connected to the people, they made sure that I could capture some great images.

    Often, it might be tempting to push your limits for getting the image. Always be aware of what is allowed and appreciated during certain events. Some people might not want their images captured, or you might disturb a significant moment (DSLR users will know the curse of the loud shutter noise). I have a rule of thumb for these situations – when I have an awkward feeling in my tummy or get more attention than the actual event, I’d prefer to ask someone if I should step back.

    8 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    Imagine a photographer placing his camera right in front of your face before the kiss at your wedding. You cannot even see the bride properly. That would totally kill the moment. At unknown events and rituals, you have to be aware of what is going on around you.

    As a bad-mannered photographer, you can also ruin the name of a whole community of professionals and hobbyists. Always be kind and considerate. Others might also want to shoot wherever you have participated. If you behaved in a bad way, they may not get permission anymore. In the most extreme cases, you can even put yourself in danger if you unintendedly cross a line. Get your image but try to not focus the attention on yourself. For you, a certain event might be an opportunity for photographs. For others, it might be a very important day in their life.

    9 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    5. Make a project and be open about it

    Approach a community and openly tell them that you want to photograph their everyday life. On the first day leave your camera at home and introduce yourself to the people.

    While this may be frustrating (because you will undoubtedly see opportunities you could capture), remain patient. Drink tea, talk and explain what you want to do and why. In this way, people get to know you and your intentions. You also get a better idea of what to capture and how.

    When I took photos in a slum, people were suspicious because NGOs go in and out taking images of poverty. I explained that I want to take images of normal life and portray them as normal human beings, which I knew they were. The results were less staged images of their everyday life, which they appreciated.

    10 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    In such a project, you can even give something back to people.

    Print some images and hand them over to the community. You may be surprised at just how happy that makes people. Moreover, you may also find that people who did not want their photograph taken before will approach you to take their images too. It’s small gestures like these that keep you welcome in an area.

    Long term projects may not cover a large variety of places and people, but they can cover a deeper insight into a community and connect the audience to the subject.

    You don’t have to make your project too big. It all depends on your capabilities. There are many small ones which you can pursue within a week or even a day.

    Developing a project does not only open gates for you but also gets you out and enhances your creativity. Shooting with a concept in mind can make you feel less awkward when out on the streets. It may also help you explain to people why you would love to take their image.

    11 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger

    In a nutshell

    Invest time in your photography as it is more than just hitting the shutter button.

    Commercial and wedding photographers need to invest time to set up a team and develop ideas for clients, and landscape photographers have to hike, look for the weather and the sun. Photographing strangers also takes some preparation, even if it is just mental preparation to get over the fear of approach.

    However, be patient and wait for the right moment. Do not get frustrated if you don’t get a five-star image every time. Make connections and enjoy the experience too.

    What are your best ways to approach strangers? Do you have similar anxieties of just talking to them? How do you get over this? Sharing troubles and advice can help us support each other. Feel free to share your story in the comments.

    12 - Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers - Nils Heininger


    The post 5 Different Approaches to Taking Photos of Strangers appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Nils Heininger.

    Source: DP School

  • How to simulate large aperture depth of field outdoors in Photoshop with depth maps

    Recently we showed you a tutorial from Unmesh at PiXImperfect on using the Irix Blur tool in Photoshop to simulate a shallow depth of field in the studio. That technique can also be applied to headshots on location, too, but when you’ve got varying degrees of depth throughout your scene, with multiple planes at different levels […]

    The post How to simulate large aperture depth of field outdoors in Photoshop with depth maps appeared first on DIY Photography.

    Source: Diyphotographynet

  • MIOPS Mobile RemotePlus Review – Taking Control of Your Camera in Ways a Cable Release Never Can

    The post MIOPS Mobile RemotePlus Review – Taking Control of Your Camera in Ways a Cable Release Never Can appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Peter West Carey.

    MIOPS Mobile RemotePlus is a handy device and app to help you take control of your camera in ways a simple cable release never can. Sleek and stylish, the unit sits on your camera’s hot shoe and can provide a variety of functions through the easy to configure app for iPhones or Android phones.

    What is it?

    The MIOPS Mobile RemotePlus has three main components:

    1. The remote trigger that sits on your camera’s hot shoe
    2. A release cable specific for your camera type
    3. The MIOPS Mobile app

    The app works with the unit via Bluetooth, sending and receiving information constantly while in use. It is important to note that the unit can continue on its own, after being sent a command, if you close the app or you lose connection. So if you start a 500 image time-lapse, you can effectively let the unit continue working without babysitting it.

    The RemotePlus will set your shutter speed for the various modes explained below, but you will still be in charge of ISO, Aperture, White Balance and any other setting you choose. Some RemotePlus modes work better with Manual mode on your camera while others, such as the Long Exposure Timelapse, will need Bulb mode.

    Getting Started

    After unpacking the RemotePlus, you’ll need to connect it to your camera’s remote port. This process is different for each camera. Hook the other end of the cable into the side port on the RemotePlus, which has both a receptacle to attach to a camera hot shoe and a standard tripod threaded hole.

    The app can be downloaded from either Google Play or Apple Store.

    The app has a demonstration mode if you want to download it before you buy the unit to see how easy it is to use.

    You will need to register your device with MIOPS if you want to upgrade your firmware. After signing on, you will see a screen like this one:

    Choosing the MobileRemote and the app will scan for nearby remotes:

    Clicking on the only unit available brings up a full menu of options:

    Whoa now! There’s a lot there to parse through, so let’s take them bit by bit.

    What can it do?

    Cable Release Modes – 6 Varieties

    Let’s start with the basics.

    While connected to your camera and smartphone, the RemotePlus functions as a shutter release for your camera in six modes:

    Cable Release

    This mode is straightforward and perfect for those who don’t want to stand with their camera while taking a photo. Pressing the large button on the screen (see below) will trigger the shutter in whatever mode you have set on the camera. For instance, this mode is great for sitting at a campfire while your camera is set to take photos nearby.

    Press & Hold

    Press & Hold take things up a notch and is perfect to use when you are waiting for some action. It’s the same as pressing and holding the shutter release on your camera in Bulb mode. The longer you press, the longer the exposure.

    Results will vary with duration and here is one simple example of eight seconds on a freeway overpass.

    Press & Lock

    Don’t want to bother holding the button on your screen while waiting? Press & Lock is where it’s at. Same as above, but now you have to tap the main button on the screen a second time to stop the exposure. There is a timer shown at the bottom of the screen for your convenience.

    Timed Release

    Going one step further, if you know you want a 10-minute exposure, Timed Release is the correct mode for you. Just enter in the appropriate shutter release time on the screen, set your camera to Bulb mode while adjusting the ISO and Aperture to your liking. Once you press start, it’s all taken care of for you.

    On the display are places for hours, minutes, seconds and decimals of a second. In this example, I chose 12 seconds for another overpass shot.

    Self Timer and Timed Release & Self Timer

    The Self Timer mode is just like the self-timer on your camera, but you can set the delay, up to 99 hours in the future.

    Lastly, the Timed Release & Self Timer combines the last two sections to allow for a delay and then a long exposure.

    In each of these modes the command is sent from the app and then stored in the unit, so you don’t need to be present or within range for the unit to take action.

    Timelapse – 4 Main Varieties

    While the RemotePlus will not create the final video file for you, it will greatly simplify your ability to create fun and unique timelapses in a few different modes. More information on compiling the timelapse can be found here on DPS.

    Basic Timelapse

    The Basic Timelapse mode will take care of all your simple timelapse needs. It’s there for you to point, focus, and create with ease.

    On the first screen you set the interval between photos, and on the second, you set the number of photos you want to take. It’s that easy! Press Start and away your camera goes.

    The two screenshots above show the app screen while the camera shoots. The circle around the interval counts down until the next shot, while the current frame and remaining time display on the bottom. Up top are the overall settings.

    The app has a nice feature to help reduce accidental stops; you have to press the lock button before you can click on STOP. It’s possible to still stop the app on accident, but the extra step helps.

    It’s up to you to set your camera on your preferred mode. Manual Mode with the White Balance set often gives the best results for consistent image quality.

    Long Exposure Timelapse

    Long Exposure Timelapse is where things become more complex but also more exciting as far as the results. Here you will again set the interval between shots and the number of shots, but you will also set your camera to Bulb mode and set the shutter speed in the app.

    After pressing Start the screen will change, as with the Basic Timelapse, but now two countdown circles will appear.

    These circles will show you the amount of time left in each interval and exposure.

    You can use the Long Exposure Timelapse for a variety of subjects. Below are two examples I shot of the same subject, but with slightly different settings for varied effects.

    The first had settings of ISO 100, f/7.1 and 1/100th (Standard Timelapse Mode) while the second had settings of ISO 100, f/22 and 1/5th (Long Exposure Timelapse Mode). The difference is apparent in how blurred motion from the cars can impart more motion.

    Here are three more tests at 1/10th second shutter speed, .6 seconds and 1.2 seconds. All timing set from the app in Bulb Mode.

    Bulb Ramping Timelapse

    Bulb ramping is a manner of shooting while the lighting changes. This is most often performed at sunrise or sunset and can cover an extended period, such as an hour. While the camera is in Bulb Mode, the shutter speed is gradually adjusted to keep the overall exposure consistent, so the timelapse does not change from very dark to very bright.

    It’s important here to understand some limits and to plan for them with this mode.

    Most cameras are limited to 1/30th of a second in Bulb mode with a cable release. Check with your owner’s manual to see what limits Bulb Mode and using a cable release may put on your photography.

    This mode also requires planning ahead to know – or at least make a good guess – which exposure settings to use at the start and end of the ramp. The ramp is linear in its progression, so you will need to choose a time of gradually increasing or decreasing light. If the sun suddenly shines brightly on your scene once above the horizon, but then ducks behind some clouds, the effect might be rather jolting.

    To use this mode:

    The Bulb Ramping mode has four settings.

    The first is the interval between shots. The example below shows 30 seconds.

    The second screen sets the shutter speed of the first image. Because I am using a Canon, I set it to 1/30th of a second above (the fastest Bulb will handle, even though the screen shows a decimal of .01, or 1/100th of a second).

    The next screen is the final shutter speed. This is where math, planning and scouting help. You will need to calculate how long you want your bulb ramp to run, from start to finish, and know what the lighting will be at the start and finish. In this case, I picked 20 seconds for an end shutter speed (left, below).

    The last screen asks for the number of frames to shoot. Here, it will shoot 60 frames, one every 30 seconds.

    That will make for a total time of 30 minutes from start to finish. It’s important to plan ahead to make sure these shutter speeds will work for the given lighting. While you can adjust aperture and ISO to help compensate, if the end time of your timelapse is too long, your images will become blown out. Too short and you’ll be left in the dark.

    Planning is crucial to this mode.

    HDR Timelapse

    An HDR Timelapse is the same as a normal timelapse, but the mode does all the shooting for you if your camera doesn’t have this ability built in. It can shoot a sequence of 3, 5 or 7 shots, for each step of the timelapse, but it does have the limitation mentioned in Bulb Ramping above; that you can not shoot faster than 1/30th of a second on most cameras. This does limit its abilities.

    The brackets are set around a central time setting, such as one second (in the example below). Below that the exposure shift, in terms of EVs, is set, followed by the number of frames. The unit will keep you in check if you pick settings that won’t work with Bulb mode, such as choosing 1/15th of a second, seven frames and 2-stops of EV shift in each image.

    Lastly, set the Interval between shots and the number of frames. If you don’t know the number of frames you want to shoot, simply pick the infinity setting and stop the sequence when you have enough.

    More information on using bracketing can be found in this DPS article.

    Road Lapse, A Special Kind Of Timelapse

    Road Lapse is a fun tool to use, not only while driving but also on a train, boat, hot air balloon or anywhere else you have a GPS signal. The app uses that signal then asks you how often you want to take a photo, be it in feet or meters. You also set the number of photos or just set it to infinity which allows you to stop the Road Lapse when you are finished.

    What’s different about this mode as compared to a standard timelapse is there is no perceived slowing and speeding, such as when a car comes to a stop sign. Because the mode is distance-based, a rough calculation can be made with regard to timelapse length when the driving distance is known.

    For instance, one mile is 5280ft. If you set the device to shoot every 40ft, that will net you 132 images. At 30 frames-per-second, the timelapse would turn out to be 4.4 seconds long. It won’t matter if it takes you 60 seconds or 15 minutes to travel that distance, the video will be the same length.

    It does make things appear sped up. In the examples below, the first shows a regular timelapse in a car at night. The second video shows the Road Lapse. In the second video I stopped at four different stoplights, but you don’t even notice them. I think each mode has its strengths and weaknesses and it matters what you want to create.

    For a unique test, I set my camera up on a Washington State Ferry, shooting off the back with the distance set to 40ft.

    HDR Bracketing

    HDR shooting uses the same functionality as mentioned above with HDR Timelapse. You can take a series of shots, offset by specific stops and then combine them in the computer later for an image with more dynamic range than a single image.

    It has the same limitations mentioned above.


    The Sound Mode is triggered by sound and you can choose the threshold via the app.

    You will set your camera’s exposure either on Manual or another mode of your choice and leave shutter release up to the MIOPS trigger. I made some attempts at dropping (fake) ice into a glass to catch the splash. You can stop any action that makes a loud enough noise in motion with this mode.

    The mode can be set to take just one photo or continuous photos until the sound drops below the threshold. You can also input a delay. Activation of the shutter will happen from 10 milliseconds to 99 hours.

    A better example can be seen in Erik Lindegren’s photo, highlighted on Miops’ Instagram feed.


    Like Sound, Vibration relies on your phone to trigger the unit. And like Sound, you can set the sensitivity so small bumps won’t set off the unit, but large ones will.

    Again, a delay can be set and continuous shooting can also be chosen.


    Most lightning photos in the past were taken by leaving the shutter open for a length of time, maybe 30 seconds. The overall exposure was balanced for this and fingers were crossed, hoping for great bolts.

    The problem with this method is shots during the day were difficult with long exposures without the use of a neutral density filter. Even then, a vast multitude of images had to be taken, and the frame had to be clear of other moving objects (trees, for instance) or they could blur.

    The Lightning trigger simplifies capturing images and can offer better exposures of daylight and dusk images. Your camera will need to be in Manual Mode where you can set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to your liking. Compose the shot with anticipation of where the lightning will strike.

    You will set the sensitivity, and that’s it. A higher sensitivity number means any small flash will trigger the unit, while a lower number means much more light (larger bolts) is needed.

    Then press the “Go” button and sit back to enjoy the show while your camera does all the work.

    As luck would have it, a thunderstorm rolled by in the distance while I had the unit for testing. The lightning was about 10-12 miles away, and I ended up using a 10-22mm lens, with some cropping for the final images. All images shot at ISO 800, f/5, 1.3 second and 22mm.

    TIP: If you are curious about where the lightning is striking and which way a storm is moving, check out for real-time updates. While watching this storm, I found the delay from the time of strike to it showing up on the map was about 5 seconds. Often the map would update before the thunder made it to me.


    Switching to Motion requires the use of your phone as the ultimate trigger. You can make the settings for your camera manually, or in any mode you desire, while the shutter will trigger when the view from your phone’s camera notices motion.

    The advantage here is that the phone can be set up remotely from the camera (within Bluetooth range, however) and made to cover a specific area.

    In this example, I set my camera on a tripod with a long lens to capture birds coming to my bird feeder. I prefocused on the feeder and then moved the field of view just off to the side. I then switched to manual focus to lock focus.

    I set the camera with a fast shutter speed and the ISO with a shallow aperture so I could capture the fast movement of the birds (ISO 1250, f/7.1, 1/1250th). I then set up my phone with an adjustable, gripping tripod, on top of the feeder, looking down. The field of view of the phone would cover the side of the feeder, where my camera was focused.

    That’s the view on the phone screen while setting up the shot. As you can see, much like other modes, you can set a delay after the app notices movement (handy if you put the phone somewhere on the approach to your camera) and the number of frames the camera will snap each time.

    Below the screen is the Accuracy Rating. Moving it left means any little movement will set off the unit while moving it right requires a lot of movement before triggering.

    The results, as you can see, were easy to capture while I sat inside enjoying the action.

    If the rains hadn’t started, I would have captured more. While I could have taken the shots above manually, more birds showed up when I went inside and let the camera do its thing. For skittish subjects, the RemotePlus is a definite benefit.

    You can use Motion in this manner for any number of moving subjects where their path is predictable. It will be a drain on your phone’s battery, though, as the camera and screen are on the whole time.


    The Laser trigger mode is handy if you have a laser and expect the beam to be broken at a precise location. You will need a laser source, but just about any constant-on laser can be used, such as a presentation pointer or even a laser level.

    Point the laser at the sensor on the front of the RemotePlus, and set your camera’s focus and mode accordingly. It’s similar to the motion feature above, but a bit more specialized for more precision.


    This review was harder than I believed it would be because of the number of features packed into the small unit. Also, during the review, I had access to MIOPS staff for questions and found them not only responsive to feedback but updating the app as I wrote. In a company and product, I like to see that nimbleness and desire to improve.

    After the testing I put the Miops Mobile RemotePlus through, I would purchase one for my own photography. While it had some room for improvement (the manual sometimes lags behind the quick pace of upgrades, and the Motion feature does have a limit when it comes to Bluetooth connectivity, but that is inherent in the protocol.), I do enjoy updates of the unit, both software and firmware, regularly.

    The two big plusses for me are the timelapse features (including the HDR one in specific cases) which add timing capabilities that my current Canon intervalometer lacks, and the lightning shooting, especially for daytime shots.


    Disclaimer: MIOPS is a paid partner of dPS

    The post MIOPS Mobile RemotePlus Review – Taking Control of Your Camera in Ways a Cable Release Never Can appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Peter West Carey.

    Source: DP School

  • Tourist falls 1,000 feet to his death while taking photos at Grand Canyon

    On Thursday morning, a tourist plunged to his death in Grand Canyon while taking photos. The accident happened at Eagle Point near Skywalk, and a helicopter retrieved the man’s body 1,000ft below the rim. According to BBC, the victim was from Hong Kong and he was a part of a tour group visiting Grand Canyon. […]

    The post Tourist falls 1,000 feet to his death while taking photos at Grand Canyon appeared first on DIY Photography.

    Source: Diyphotographynet

  • 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

    The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

    Good environmental portraits tell a story. At a glance you will know something about the person in the picture. The best environmental portraits will provide a lot of visual information.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Kebab Chef in Istanbul

    Kebab chef entertaining passers-by with his constant banter. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Here are 9 tips to help you create more illustrative pictures of people in their surroundings.

    1. Do your research

    Know your subject well. Not just who they are, but what they do. If you know who you’re going to be photographing, do some research and become informed about what they do.

    At least have a conversation and show interest in them by asking questions. This will not only gain you insight, but your subject will appreciate you are showing interest in who they are.

    Where they are located is important too. Know about the surroundings. If you’re not sure, ask questions. Hearing the answers, you may be surprised and learn things you didn’t know. Even if you are familiar with the area.

    Copper Craftsman 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

    Copper Craftsman finishes a new piece as his father proudly looks on. Istanbul, Turkey. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    2. Be aware of the environment

    Have all your senses working. Listen and watch what’s happening around. You may see things you want to include or that you don’t want in your pictures.

    Move around and take photos from different places so you get alternative backgrounds.

    Try to avoid any bright lights or other distractions within your composition. It’s important to fill the frame only with what is relevant to the story you are telling.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Mandalay Market Vendor

    A vendor at Mandalay’s Ghost Train Market, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    3. Tell their story

    Once you’ve chatted for a while, or at least observed keenly, tell their story.

    Concentrate on what will communicate most visually about the person, where they are and what they are doing. This is the whole nature of environmental portraits.

    Are they a quiet and reserved kind of person? Or are they a loud and boisterous character? Some people change when they get in front of a camera.

    If they’ve been chatting away in an animated manner and freeze when you point your camera at them, it’s your job to help them relax. Frozen is not who they naturally are.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Tricycle Taxi Rider

    Tricycle taxis in Thailand are called Samlor, which translates as ‘three wheels. The riders enjoy the camaraderie the job brings. ©Kevin Landwer-Johan

    4. Connect with your subject

    I know this is difficult for many people. The more you can connect with your subject, the better photos you will get.

    Pleasant conversation builds confidence in people you want to photograph. They will be more interested in what you are doing and compliant if you show interest in them.

    Sometimes you’ll want to give your subject some instructions to help the composition. If you’ve already connected with them they will be more receptive to your ideas.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Moken Sea Gypsie

    This Moken sea gypsy was telling us stories of how he lost part of his arm in a fishing accident in the south of Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    5. Know your camera

    Your subject is likely to lose interest in what’s happening if all they see is the top of your head as you peer down at your camera.

    Preset your camera so you know the settings will be right. Do this as soon as possible so you will have time to concentrate on communicating with your subject and other important things.

    Check that you have the best lens for the job on your camera ready to go.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Hmong Amputee

    Hmong hill tribe man who is an amputee after having his leg blown off by a land mine on the Laos/Thailand border © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    6. Make a deliberate choice of lens

    Showing the surroundings is important. So is communicating with your subject while you are working.

    If you have a telephoto lens on your camera, you’ll have to position yourself a long way from your subject to include enough of their environment.

    With a medium to wide lens on you can be close enough and also include more of the setting. I love using my 35 mm f/1.4 lens on a full-frame body for environmental portraits. It allows me to be close enough to converse comfortably and still show a decent amount of background.

    Be careful if you are using a lens much wider than 35mm as you will be at risk of distorting your subject.

    Shan Waitress 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits

    Shan waitress poses for a portrait at the entrance to the small roadside restaurant she works in near Mandalay, Myanmar. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    7. Control your depth of field

    Making sure there’s sufficient detail visible in the composition is important.

    If you’re a fan of taking photos with your aperture wide open, you may not make the best environmental portraits. Blurring out the background too much will not help you convey information.

    Choose an aperture which provides a balance between too blurred and too sharp and distracting. Avoid extremes. This will help keep the main focus on your subject and enhance the story with what else is around them.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Akha Coffee Harvest

    Akha woman harvesting coffee in north Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    8. Make good use of props

    There’s not always an opportunity to make use of props, but if you can they can make a big impact.

    Having your subject hold something significant can add to the story.

    This Lahu man is a fabulous subject on his own and I have photographed him many times during our workshops. He likes to smoke tobacco in his bong, which adds even more visual interest and tells us more about him.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Lahu Smoker

    Lahu Ethnic Minority man enjoys smoking tobacco in his bamboo bong near Chiang Mai, Thailand. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    9. Write good captions

    A good caption will provide added detail that you may not be able to clearly convey in your photo. Informative captions help hold people’s interest by further stimulating their imaginations.

    Offer a little more information about the person. This is another good reason to engage with them while you’re photographing them.

    If you’re not clear on what to write, search the internet.

    Recently I watched this documentary about the photographer Dorothea Lange. She is most well known for her work in the midwest USA during the Great Depression. The documentary emphasizes the need for the well-written captions she provided with her photographs.

    9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits Sea Gypsy

    Moken sea gypsy fisherman biding his time on the bow of his boat waiting for a catch. © Kevin Landwer-Johan


    Not all of these tips may be relevant each time you make environmental portraits. Make use of as many of them as you can to enhance your photography experience.

    Make yourself a checklist with these tips and any others you can think of. Consult your list as you prepare to make your next series of portraits. This will help you grow as a photographer.

    If you have any other helpful tips to offer about taking great environmental portraits, please include them in the comments below.

    The post 9 Tips for Better Environmental Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

    Source: DP School

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