I’m a huge fan of environmental portraits. You wouldn’t shoot a duck on a stool in front of a textured backdrop if you were trying to portray “duckness”… maybe if you were taking a picture for a biology textbook, but to evoke an emotional response you’d make sure the duck was in a stream or pond… maybe with some reeds or lily pads, a few trees and maybe a rock or two… all the things that tell people what that duck’s world is like.
Same goes with people. The best portraits I’ve taken are at times when the last thing I was looking for was a portrait. As soon as someone knows “now is portrait time” they clam up, paste on their plastic smile and look as little like themselves as possible. Most people at least… I’m convinced the entire basis of being “photogenic” is just the instinct to relax and be natural in front of a camera instead of going into smiling-deer-in-headlights mode.
Good portraits tell the viewer things about the subject beyond what they look like and one of the best ways to do this is to capture the subject around things that speak to their personality. Mike here on the left is fun and easy going and this portrait was taken in the crowd of an indie show at a local cafe.