Environmental Portraits

Portraits in the studio are, for the most part, fairly easy. You have full control of everything — your backdrop, lighting, camera settings don’t vary by a large degree and the time of day really doesn’t matter — but once you get into a working job environment, all of that control goes out the window.

Portraits inside office settings are always interesting, whether for better or worse, there is always a challenge. In this session for Williams Engineering Canada (Edmonton) we were working with the company staff (as is often the case for companies like this) — so no “professional” models to work with here. The reality is that working with “real” people is that some people simply aren’t entirely comfortable being photographed. We try to avoid this issue by selecting staff members ahead of time, but even then your level of control as the photographer is limited and your models moods and attitude can greatly affect the end result of your work. Someone refuses to smile? Well, you’ve got to make it work.

Williams Engineering Edmonton Staff Meeting Portraits

Williams Engineering Edmonton Staff Meeting Portraits

Fortunately everyone involved with our shoot at Williams was great and handled it like the pros they are. In this shot above, we simply had five of their staff talking over a large blueprint of one of their projects. Photos like this are common in the business world; a group of people huddled around something, talking about absolutely anything other than what they’re actually looking at. It’s sometimes difficult to get the right shot like this wherein the models aren’t all laughing because every time you get a group of people together like this for a photograph, it always turns to jokes and laughter — which is a good thing! It relaxes people. But eventually you have to be the director of the shot and have them be serious for a few moments. That said, smiles are never a bad thing.

Williams Engineering Edmonton -- The boss telling a good joke.

Williams Engineering Edmonton — The boss telling a good joke.

Another challenge of environmental portraits is the lack of control when it comes to the space you’re shooting in. Again this shoot was in our favour because the WE space in downtown Edmonton is quite nice — full of a lot of colour and modern style. Nothing is worse than an office or working space that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 80’s. In this shot above we quite simply had everyone in the room having a conversation…and we photographed it. You could say this was done in a very journalistic style in that we just let the people be themselves and tried to remove ourselves from the setting. That said though, when you’re shooting over a persons shoulder, there are always small tweaks like having someone move their arm or leg a particular way or brushing a strand of hair over an ear. You’re letting them relax so that that feeling comes across in camera, but you also have to nitpick the details.

Williams Engineering Edmonton -- A quiet training session.

Williams Engineering Edmonton — A quiet training session.


Another example of the WE space (above) — it’s not often that you find such vibrant colour in an office carpet, not to mention this much open space and glass. It’s another example of having to pay attention to the details of the area you’re in. The models are one thing, but the chairs in the board room, to the position of the foreground chair and all of the items that were on the coffee table.

Williams Engineering Edmonton -- A relaxed chat and reflections.

Williams Engineering Edmonton — A relaxed chat and reflections.


Speaking of glass — look at all of those reflections. Do you think you could control all those individually? Not a chance. Sometimes you have to know when not to worry about a particular element knowing full well how it will look before you even touch your camera. The WE space is very open and has a lot of natural light in it — I don’t even think we used any extra lighting on this shot and others that were similar. Sometimes over thinking your lighting isn’t worth the time and making use of open areas is the way to go to make something look natural. I think these guys were talking about the most recent Oilers hockey game when we were photographing them…which may explain the lack of smiles.