Environmental Portraiture at the Race Track

Since Mary’s Birthday was yesterday, I wanted to post one of my (and I think hers) favorite pictures when she was at the race track on the last day that Second Creek Raceway was open before turning it over to earth movers to build homes.

The classic definition of environmental portraiture is making a portrait in the subject’s living, working or playing environment and that illuminates their life. By photographing a person in their natural surroundings, instead of in a studio, the theory goes, you can more effectively capture the essence of a subject’s personality, rather than a mere likeness. The upside is that it is more than likely that the subject will be relaxed in a familiar environment and more likely to be themselves, as opposed to being in a camera room, which no matter how nice it may be, which can become a rather intimidating experience for some people.

environmental portraiture

Like all rules of thumb, there is some truth to what I just said but out here in the real world truth some people are never going to be comfortable in front of a camera no matter where you photograph them. The upside is that you have a better chance of capturing as much of a subject’s true personality as they will let you see in an environmental portrait than in the studio.

The downside for the working photographer is that it is more expensive to pack your gear and head out to a location to make a portrait than to walk a few step into a camera room. More time on the job means you’ll need to charge more for this kind of portrait. Unless you don’t have a studio and shooting on location is the only way you can do it. Nevertheless, you should to be compensated for the additional time these kinds of portraits take and adjust your rate accordingly.

Here’s Mary at the track in her fire suit with her beloved Miata track day car. The helmet serves as prop and the “classic hand on hip” pose serves as a counterbalance as she more leans than sits on the car’s fender. And the whole riff on capturing a subject’s essence is especially true here. This portrait was made while she was in the middle of a six-week daily radiation therapy for breast cancer—she’s fine now and cancer free—and that smile is real not canned. Shot with a Canon EOS 1D Mark II N and EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens and shot with available light.

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For learn more about studio lighting techniques, please pick up a copy of my book, “Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as including Amazon.com.


Author: Joe Farace

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