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How I approach an environmental portrait shoot

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Few days back I was having this conversation with my uncle wherein he enquired why I do not use a long lens to shoot portraits as it would help me in composing the shot easily. I explained that I like to shoot environmental portraits more and if at all I shoot any of them, they are usually taken with a wide angle lens or a normal kit lens focal length. We had quite an enriching discussion where he illuminated the fact that if I get too close to my subject, the subject may become aware of my presence and thus disturbing the shot I was about to make.

I agreed with him on this point but also explained how I generally approach a particular environmental shoot with my set of wide angle lenses. As an aftermath of this discussion I thought an article regarding how I shot a particular environmental portrait would be a nice addition to the blog, thus resulting in this article.

Few months back I had visited Darjeeling and on one afternoon for lunch, we had visited this restaurant called ‘Kunga Restaurant’. It was a comfortable little place which served amazing Tibetan food. The owner cum cook of the place Mr. Jamyang Bhutia was a person who immediately caught my attention and I could not help but think of photographing him with his restaurant as the backdrop.

I saw him take a break after he was done cooking for all the customers, sitting beside a window looking outside for something or someone. I was having my chicken cheese momo at that time, when I took a glance at the scene and I knew exactly what shot I would like to take.

I tried making eye contact with him, and when he did look at me, I smiled a bit and gave a gesture which indicated I wanted to have a talk with him. I stepped out and went towards him. He being the good host that he was offered me to sit and we started conversing. He asked where I was from, what I did for a living etc. We had a small conversation after which I asked him politely that would he mind if I take a photograph of him. He immediately said yes, and I extended my hand to get my camera which was lying on the other table. I took this shot and showed it to him

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I showed him the photograph I took and asked him if I could take a few more shots. He agreed and I told him that I would take the shots when I think it would be nicer and before leaving I would definitely show it to him.

I went back to my table after that, started to gobble on the rest of the momos. It was after around 5 minutes when he again started looking outside the window and that’s when I got the frame I wanted. I took a wider shot of him inside his café looking outside. IMG_7318-for-website

Immediately after taking that shot zoomed in and took a much more intimate close up shot.

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I knew I had gotten the frame I was looking for. I went up to him with my camera and showed him the photographs. He was delighted to see the photos.

While leaving I saw 2 of his friends come over to the restaurant to have their afternoon cup of tea. So that was why he was looking out of the window all this time.

So this is how I approach any environmental shoot, make the person comfortable by either exchanging a smile or having a conversation before taking out the camera. How do you go about it? I would definitely want to know techniques used by you people on shooting portraits. Shoot your ideas on the comment section below.

Till next time, take care.

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