Read the Room

Hélène Wickett, Menlo Park, CA

In a recent article in PDN, Eric Ogden said that placing a subject in an environment draws them out. I think this is definitely true. Especially if they are in their own home or another familiar place where they can feel comfortable. I also, think that a good environmental portrait incorporates the space it the photo. To read the room is to create a holistic image that blends seamlessly with the subject.

In the photo of the pianist Hélène Wickett (above), I was hoping to use the natural light from the windows behind her to make a warm natural looking image. But the composition of the shot with the piano keys behind her worked really well. There was a door just to her right. I placed a strobe with soft box in there, to add light on the right side of her face (camera left). This also threw some light on her hand and the viola, as well as the piano keys. I like how natural this looks. By using the existing doorway and only augmenting the light coming from there, the photo still looks very natural.

PoshMark team at their headquarters in Menlo Park, CA


I used a similar approach in the photo of the team from Poshmark. I had seen the arch behind them when I scouted their facility and wanted to incorporate it into the shot. The alternating red and white walls also added some interest. I pose them near the doorway; camera left where light was already coming in. I augmented this light with a speedlight and soft box. I also used a handheld speedlight to fill in the shadows a little. I like how the white wall on the camera right reflected back on the two people on the right to vary the lighting on the four subjects.

In the portrait of Emily Jean, I had a big window late in the day. The light was very soft and faint. I love how the light gently illuminates the curve of her back and face. I added a reflector on the left to fill in the shadows and give her hair extra highlights. This simple approach always seems to yield a very gentle and arm portrait. Throw in that gorgeous smile and you can’t help but be happy looking at this photo.

Emily Jean, Menlo Park, CA


Finally, in creating the portrait of potter Joy Imai, I found a marvelously cluttered but orderly workshop in back of her store.

There were windows on both sides and a door behind me and slightly to the left. The room was very dark so I used a high ISO and slow shutter speed and set the camera on a tripod. The long exposure had the added benefit of blurring her hands as she made a bamboo holder for her pots. No extra lights were needed here. I am always amazed at the warmth of the light in a photo like this. Everything looked so dark before I took the photo. But the room was so beautifully unkempt; I wanted it to be preserved for the photo in its natural state.

Joy Imai at her Allied Arts shop in Menlo Park, CA

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