Placing a subject in their environment can add a sense of soft naturalism to a portrait.

Important things to consider:

  • How will these images be used?
  • Where will they be published?
  • What mood best suits the client? Approachable? Trustworthy? Powerful? Dominant? Playful? Humorous?
  • What purpose is being served? Every aesthetic decision by the photographer must serve the client's needs.
  • Consider the difference between the images used to sell an author's books and the images used to recruit employees to that author's company: the former situation may call for a serious, intellectual mood, while the latter may call for a softer, more approachable mood.

If the images are intended for editorial publication, the photographer has the freedom to experiment and be creative, expressing ideas or themes that are important and interesting to them. If the images are intended as commercial marketing collateral, it's wise to err on the side of simplicity, enabling editors, publishers, advertisers, and other end-users the greatest possible flexibility.

LIGHTING: Color, Quality, Quantity

Seen above is an image we photographed for Microsoft at their campus in Washington. When the view through windows is distracting, unattractive, or otherwise unsuitable for the photo, a professional photographer must balance the brightness of the subject and the background to eliminate unwanted distraction. The color of the light from the sky is blue, so the color of the lighting must be compensated to retain a natural appearance.

The above image was photographed at a company HQ in San Francisco. The client was particularly fond of the view from the office, and wanted to incorporate it into the photos. Balancing the brightness, color, and quality of light is essential to achieving a professional result.

The office seen above had big, beautiful windows, but the view was an unattractive construction site with cranes and piles of demolition garbage. We used lighting skills, lens selection, and aperture control to balance the windows with the photo lighting and eliminate the distracting view.

Including the office environment can add a casual feel to headshots and business portraits. Balancing the color, brightness, and quality of light is absolutely essential to achieve a natural effect. To achieve this effortless, casual effect, we photographed these images using a 2400ws strobe unit and an 8 foot diffuser, color balanced to match the office lights.

The same subject in a darker, more serious setting can focus the viewer's attention on the subject's eyes, eliciting a perception of mature intellectualism.

Balancing window light with ambient office lighting and photographic strobe lighting is a technical challenge requiring highly-developed photographic skills. When executed properly, the results can retain professional polish while appearing effortless. This image was photographed with high-powered strobes, diffusers, and color balancing tools.


Here's a CEO isolated against white and also in his office courtyard. The impression on the viewer is completely different, and elicits a different emotional and intellectual response to the CEO. These were photographed using multiple strobe units, diffusers, and color balancing tools.

Isolated against a white background, the CEO comes across as powerful, intense, and dominant. While crisp and modern, this would be wholly inappropriate for a client seeking an approachable, down-to-earth, casual mood in their photos.


It's possible to use posing and production techniques to achieve a modern, crisp look, while appearing more informal and approachable. The images below were photographed in a spare conference room at a tech HQ in Palo Alto.


Clients will occassionally request a mood of humor, playfulness, and levity. Photographing these as environmental portraits would eliminate much of the feel of fun and brightness, so isolated portraits against colored backgrounds can be the best choice. These images were made for eBay at their HQ; we used custom backgrounds with eBay's corporate colors and branding to produce a distinct mood and feel. The subjects are real eBay users; creating images for marketing and PR collateral, the images had to communicate the good feeling between eBay and their users.

When approaching an environmental portrait assignment, a photographer must always seek to discover the mood the client is trying to achieve: images are always telling a story- the duty of a professional photographer is to ensure the images are telling the right story for the client's goals. All the techniques of photographic practice must be employed to deliver results beyond the client's expectations, without drawing undue attention to the photographer or the photographer's technique.

Now go make something beautiful.

- Ryan