I love making environmental portraits and have acquired photo equipment with that specific purpose in mind. What does that mean?
An "environmental portrait" is more than just a picture taken outdoors. First and foremost, it's a PORTRAIT. That is, it's an image of a person, persons or (as I am known to include) an animal that places the photographic emphasis on the subject. That emphasis can be created in different ways, but my preferred style is by the use of lighting (more on that later). The surrounding environment in the image is there to add context; it plays a secondary, but important, role in the portrait image. The context it provides should be a reflection of the heart and sole of the subject, whether directly (think: actor photographed in a theater) or through just the mood which the environment creates. No matter the subject and the environment, when I'm making these images I'm envisioning them as wall art. That is, I am striving to create an image that will be produced in large format and hung proudly in the subject's home, as any good portrait should be.
My photo gear has been selected almost entirely with this type of image in mind. Most important, is my ability to take studio "portrait" lighting anywhere. That means using studio strobes that are battery operated. Recognize that in order for the photographer to truly control the light outside, we need strobe lights that create a light that is brighter than the natural sunlight. Fortunately, today's technology allows manufacturers to make battery operated strobe lights that have sufficient power to do exactly that. But that's not all. I need to control and shape the light. So when I arrive on location for a shoot you'll see me pulling all sorts of things out of the trunk of my car -- soft boxes, beauty dishes, umbrellas, snoots, grids, reflectors, and more. Different images require different modification of the light and there is a tool for every job.
Secondly, I've selected lenses that are known to be flattering to humans and also create beautiful, blurred backgrounds (referred to as "bokeh" by photographers). Longer focal lengths generally make individuals appear slimmer. For dogs, I often go in the opposite direction -- short focal lengths that allow me to work close to the dog (for control) while still capturing lots of the surrounding environment. These short focal lengths also add an essence of caricature to these images, which we generally like when photographing our goofy, furry friends. Besides, dogs never complain that their nose looks too big!
Notice I haven't yet mentioned my actual camera. Proper lighting equipment and lenses are far more important. Frankly, any decent DSLR camera body can capture the information coming in through the lens. But like everything, it's "garbage in/garbage out." If the lighting isn't right, or the lens isn't doing a good job of transferring what it sees to the camera's sensor....well, game over. That said, I use pretty darn good Nikon camera bodies to compliment all the Nikon "glass" in which I've invested.
All in all, I estimate that I carry about $20,000 worth of gear to a shoot -- all so that I can capture a uniquely stunning portrait that my clients will cherish forever. To me, it's worth every penny to see the reaction clients have to their images.
Have a child, dog, or other family member that you'd like to capture in a very special environmental portrait? Please call me at 443-326-2050. Mention this blog post and I'll offer a special discount for any portrait session booked in August. Additionally, please know that I offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you're not happy with the images, there is no charge.