Portrait photographer Jonathan Bielaski shares his portfolio of images as well as his insights on photographing people in their environment.
Mix the light
When using external lighting, try to make it look as natural as possible. Drag your shutter to bring in some of the ambient light and match the colour temperatures. It’s fine to play with different tones of light, as in this image, with some light warmer than other parts. Just make sure that it’s intentional.
Know your subject
When you get to your location it’s great to have interviewed your subject beforehand and spent time getting to know them. This will give you insight into who they are and what they do. Utilising the props they have will add an element that can tell the visual story.
Pay attention to colours
The colours in your image – both from the wardrobe to the supporting elements – are key to making a cohesive image. With this image I wanted to make sure that the tones and richness came out in this theatre set.
With my portraits I love to crop tight into a head shot, but I also enjoy seeing the full pulled-back view. Seeing the sitter’s workspace or environment reveals so much about them, such as interesting detail like the tools of the trades. It enables us to peer into that subject’s life.
Find the right spot
The background or setting is an environmental portrait is just as important as the subject. Work as a team with your subject to find the right spot that will tell the story. This image, which was captured in Iceland, was a favourite spot for the diver.
Find the light
Working outside in a remote location can be amazing. Using the natural light and finding the puddles of reflected light to place your subject in is key. Within this image there was a truck just to the right-hand side of the subject reflecting the natural light where I needed it.
- Remote shuttle release system Using a remote shutter release system gives you the ability to connect with your subject and step out from behind the camera. It becomes a more personal shoot and you can have a conversation with your subject.
- Sturdy tripod Locking your composition and working with props to fill the frame is much easier to do on a tripod. A stable and correctly sized tripod for your camera will make composites easier, if needed, too.
- Shooting tethered (wired or not wired) is the only way for me. Being able to show my subjects the way the shot looks can break down any fears or nerves that they may have.
Bright colours and contrasts
People in general dress safe with dull and muted colours. When there is someone who’s wearing something unique and bright, this creates a photographic opportunity. Photograph them in front of the ‘dull’ people so they are sure to stand out. Try to enhance the contrast by shooting them against people standing in the shade.