2. Depict the Surroundings
Environmental portraits, in which the nature of the background is almost as important as your human subject, can make a portraitist’s life easier.
Christopher Dibble, a Los Angeles-based photographer who made the male portrait shown here as part of a fashion spread (christopherdibble.com), specializes in finding simple yet evocative backgrounds for his pictures of actors and models.
“My eyes are constantly looking at locations and evaluating their potential as portrait backdrops,” he says. “Whenever I see a background with possibility, I take a photo with my cellphone and e-mail it to myself with the location and time of day. I’m looking for interesting light and the ability to control any clutter or distractions. There must obviously be room to shoot someone in the space, and the scale and proportions of the human body have to make sense within the larger scene.”
Once he finds a great background, Dibble uses his own lighting to bring out its character.
3. Light Your Way
Whether it’s a set up you create or the ambient one you’ve found, lighting—and shadows—can lend mood and presence to your subject, while drawing attention to (or deflecting it from) specific physical traits. The right light can make heavy people appear thinner, and carefully placed shadows can help conceal any number of perceived flaws that your subject may feel uncomfortable about.
“Don’t be afraid of shadows,” Dibble says. “I wanted to create some tension with the lighting in this cabin portrait, so I put an orange gel over the main light to create a warm glow, but I also made no attempt to fill in the shadows.” Almost completely black, they impart a mysterious, almost uncomfortable or threatening feel to the portrait, giving it the compelling, edgy quality that Dibble likes.