Travel Photography: Stunning Portrait Photographs in Seven Steps

Tips for Stunning Environmental Portrait Photography

Kid in Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi

Important Environmental Portrait Photography Techniques and Tips

People will always be the best subject when you are eyeing a stunning destination photograph. In fact, the best photo collections for me are those environmental portraits taken from various tourist destinations. Environmental portraits don’t only show how people look in a certain place but it also tells a story to their viewers.

Young Ifugao in Batad
Young Ifugao in Batad

Portrait photography isn’t just about technical ability and using the right equipment. Capturing a person’s character in a photograph takes a very special approach. Massive improvements can be made to portrait photographs by making relatively simple changes.

Mangyan Woman from Mindoro
Mangyan Woman from Mindoro (photo courtesy of Journeying Pinay)

The following photography tips will give an instant lift to your photographs of people.

Kid in Mt Timbak in Kabayan Benguet
Kid in Mt Timbak in Kabayan Benguet (photo by Dongho of

1) Photograph the subject in their own environment.

Many people don’t like being in a studio and don’t appear relaxed and comfortable in this environment. Photographing people in their own environment will lead to more natural-looking pictures. You can illustrate someone’s personality with the things they keep around them. For example, photographing a musician with their instruments will create a far more effective portrait than a shot taken in a photographic studio.

Kid while playing on the sand in Moalboal
Kid while playing on the sand in Moalboal (photo courtesy of Ian de la Pena)

2) Talk to and engage with your subject.

Asking someone to smile often leads to a dull and unnatural picture. If working with adults, chat with them and get them to relax and tell you about themselves. If working with children, get them to laugh and be themselves. Photographs taken in this natural atmosphere will be far more effective as portraits.

Badjao Kid at the Barter Trade in Tawi-Tawi
Badjao Kid at the Barter Trade in Tawi-Tawi

3) Do something off the wall.

If you want to produce a truly original portrait, you need to do something unusual. Don’t force your subject to do something that may be totally out of character for them, but look for a fresh way to photograph them that’s in line with their character. If working with a martial artist, get him to show you some punches and kicks. Of working with a little ballerina, ask her to dance for you as you chat and take some pictures, Look for fresh angles for every portrait.

Coastal Life, Laiya Beach, Batangas
Coastal Life, Laiya Beach, Batangas (photo by Adaphobic)

4) Use natural light.

Portraits taken indoors are best shot near a window during the day. Window light is soft and diffused, and is perfect for natural portraits. Using studio lighting can be intimidating to some subjects, and the results often look artificial. Using a camera’s built-in flash produces harsh lighting which is often flat and lifeless.

Old Man in Baguio
Old Man in Baguio (photo by Nomadic Experiences)

5) Fill the frame for impact.

Portrait photographs can be everything from a close-up of a person’s face to a full-length body shot. For maximum impact, get close to your subject and fill the frame with their face. Ask the person to look directly into the camera for a striking effect.

portrait kids
Kids at Quiapo Mosque (photo by Christian Sangoyo)

6) Check the sharpness of the eyes.

Focussing on the eyes is critical in portrait photographs. Selective focusing works well for pictures of people, but their eyes should always be in sharp focus.



Kid in Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi
Kid in Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi
A Badjao Girl selling fish in the streets of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi
A Badjao Girl selling fish in the streets of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi

7) Use a 50mm lens.

Zoom lenses are great for shooting photographs of people and give you flexibility for framing shots in different ways. A 50mm lens is the choice of many expert portrait photographers, and if you experiment working with one you will understand why. A 50mm lens can produce stunning sharpness and using a fixed lens forces you to consider framing and composition more.

Follow these seven tips and you will be amazed at the improvements in your portrait pictures.

Written by Melo Villareal

Melo Villareal is the Online Publisher of He is an Accountant by profession who left the corporate world at the age of 23 to explore his beautiful country and the rest of the world. Today, Melo works as a part-time Social Media Manager for local and international clients. His full-time work focuses on discovering interesting culture, explore different cuisines and take memorable photos from local and international destinations he's visiting.

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