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Travel Photography

Lesson 28 of 32

People: Environmental Portrait

John Greengo

Travel Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

28. People: Environmental Portrait


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:11:45
5 Travel Gear Duration:19:13
6 Health, Safety & Security Duration:11:09
7 Gear: General Advice Duration:06:20
8 Gear: Cameras Duration:15:56
9 Gear: Lenses Duration:12:48
10 Gear: Tripods Duration:15:44
11 Gear: Filters Duration:04:08
12 Gear: Camera Accessories Duration:13:33
13 Gear: Final Thoughts Duration:03:55
14 Camera Checks Duration:04:20
15 Technique: Camera Settings Duration:13:30
16 Advanced Techniques Duration:13:00
17 Workflow & Composition Ideas Duration:07:42
18 Scouting Duration:17:33
20 Locations: Opera House & Dumbo Duration:05:12
22 Details: Buildings Duration:05:15
23 Details: Pattern Duration:14:51
25 People: Street & Candid Duration:08:46
28 People: Environmental Portrait Duration:15:37
30 Wildlife Duration:08:44
31 Events Duration:08:19
32 End of the Road Duration:09:35

Lesson Info

People: Environmental Portrait

As we progress, getting closer and more involved in our people photography, the next step is what is called the environmental portrait. This is a portrait of a person that involves a little bit of their environment around them, and this is undoubtedly probably gonna require that you speak to them, to ask their permission to get photographed, and it's great if you can do it in the native language. A lot of people speak English, so it's amazing at how far English goes these days. Sometimes, it's just pointing to the camera, "Photo okay?" and people can yes or no, and there's, as I say, enough people that don't mind having their photograph taken, they're more than happy with it. At the camel auction, he wasn't totally happy with the idea of this because these weren't his camels, but he trusted me 'cause I said, "You would look much better over here "'cause your other ones are dark, dingy area "and these ones look good." He did like the photo, he did think it looked good because we had som...

e nice color and some nice silhouettes of these camels there. Talking to people, I tend not to try to overburden them with too many instructions. Just stand there naturally as you normally would. You know, don't pose for me. Don't do anything else, and in some cases, they're just naturally like that. He heard me clicking the photos, and he thought I was trying to shoot the doorway, and he's like, "I'll get out of your way." I'm like, "No, no, no, no, stay there, you look great." "Oh, okay, well, that's fine." In these cases, you don't have too much time to shoot. In most of these cases, I think you have about 10 seconds of their time before they are bored and have had it with you unless you've made some sort of agreement to photograph them for a longer period of time, so a lot of these are one, two, three quick shots, and you are done, thank you very much. If it didn't turn out right, too bad. Try somebody else, at a different point in time. He was bringing out some food for the morning market there, and it's like, "Oh, hey, could you stop there for just a moment?" Of course, he doesn't wanna wait around for somebody to take forever to take a photo, and we've all had that situation where, "Take my photo, "come on, take my photo," and you know, they're struggling to get things ready, so you've gotta be up on the game on your camera. It is ready to go, and you're not gonna waste anybody else's time because these moments come and go very quickly, where you get things lined up the way that you want them to. Okay, this is one of those creative moments. I didn't know the solution to this, but when I figured out what the solution was, it was like, that's perfect. We're in Mongolia, we're staying with a family. They wanted to photograph all the kids. The grandpa lined up all the kids in terrible lighting, had his hand holding it. It looked horrible, and I wanted to get a picture of just the kids. I thought, "Well it'd be kind of nice "to get them all walking towards the camera." Sometimes this is called the astronaut shot. There's a shot of the astronauts coming, and they're all walking, movie heroically, towards the camera like that, and I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, you got, what, two to eight-year-old kids. "They're gonna be all over the place." But I need to keep them all in a line because I have a narrow depth of field. If they hold hands, they'll have to stay in a line, so I told them to go down holding hands and come back, right towards me, and now, they're all in focus. Now, I was not able to get all of the kids looking at me or with perfect expressions, but that's kids. You know, what are you gonna do? The key here was keeping them, with their hands held, they all stayed in line, exactly with the focusing. That's what I mean by a creative solution. You know, there's not a lot of things that you can do to keep kids organized, but that did a pretty good job there. A favorite moment for me in Jordan is that we had given everybody a little bit of time to go off and shoot, and I was just walking up and down streets, trying to figure out something to shoot. I saw this one guy. He's standing in this doorway. I'm just like, "This is weird, "'cause that looks like that's his entire shop, "that hallway, that's it." Didn't open up into anything. It's just a hallway I walked up and down a couple of times, and he was a very friendly guy. He kinda saw and waved at me. I did not speak his language, and he did not speak my language, but we had a conversation. We communicated, I came in, and I was kind of fascinated 'cause all of that, look at that blue tiling there. That's a nice color. Remember, clues leading to better photographs. You know, I asked, "Can I come in?" I wanted to take a look around, and he wanted to get me a cup of coffee. That's his business, he makes coffee for people. I don't know how this came to being, but I am from Seattle, and I don't drink coffee. (audience chuckles) Other than to be polite, which I did here. So he made me some coffee, but I really just wanted to photograph him. I wanted to photograph him working in here, in this tiny little kitchen. I wanted to photograph this blue environment, and I don't drink coffee. Spending a dollar for coffee that I don't want is a waste of my money, but boy, was that the best dollar I ever spent as far as photographically because it supported the local businesspeople here, he was happy, I was happy, even though we weren't able to speak the same language, and then, I, of course, asked him to just, you know, "Stand in your shop," and he's got his hands, one on each wall, and that's as wide as his shop is. That's the type of fun interaction, if you're willing to open up and talk to people, and you don't even need to know their language to do it. It helps, it helps to learn as much as you can, but you can do it with a smile and a friendly nod. Some people are just very open to visitors. "You came all the way to my country? "You must be an interesting person." Some people have that attitude, and those are the people that you wanna find. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself. If you can learn it in the natural language, that's great, if not, "Photo okay?" Then supporting a local merchant. This is one of the greatest tips, is buying something from a local merchant, and then, in whole bartering phase, "I'll give you this, I'll give you this, "I'll give you this, I will buy it for that price "if you let me photograph you." "That doesn't cost me any extra money, okay." Then you get a souvenir, or whatever it is that you wanted to buy, and a photograph of the person who made it or sold it to you, and so you get a people photograph as well. Now, I have heard of other photographers that will go up to one merchant, and they will buy something from them, they will photograph them as part of what they were doing, they will take that product, and they will find some needy person on the street and say, "Oh, would you like this? "I'll give this to you. "Can I photograph you?" "Yes," and now they're getting double photographs off of the same purchase, they're supporting and they're helping other people all at the same time. Win, win, win. Eagle Hunter, this is in Mongolia and one of the main reasons we went to Mongolia, and we scheduled the trip, and flying out to the west coast was to photograph the eagle hunters. They do have a big eagle hunter festival, but it wasn't going on at the time that we were there, so we made arrangements with this gentleman to take his eagle and his horse up to this, eh, not quite a mountaintop, but a ridge so that we could photograph him. I am trying to squeeze as much out of this short opportunity 'cause I knew, "I don't know him that well, "but I just know tolerance levels. "We have maybe a half an hour with this person." I was working with another photographer, and we worked into a very good routine where I would photograph for about a minute or so, and then he would step in and photograph for a minute, and then we would give him a rest for a minute so that he wasn't constantly being barraged with photographs. Every time we moved from one location to the next, I would try to use that as a photographic opportunity. It may or may not work out. Finding the next place, and then he would get the eagle, and he would get it to flap its wings and so forth. One of the things I didn't even, well, I guess I kinda noticed a little bit but we had a really nice sky. The sky, with those puffy white clouds is a great, great backdrop for this. These are just some of the shots. These are pretty good shots. Kinda like them, some more than others, and I'm just playing around with different techniques given this limited environment. We got out onto this ridge, and I liked using the wide angle lens because it really expanded that big sky. This is one of the few cases where I did bring a flash with me, 'cause I knew I was gonna be shooting photos like this, and I wanted to fill in a little bit of the shadows. I didn't want too much harsh light, but I did want a little bit to fill in those shadows so that you could see that face. The (speaks in foreign language) here in the background, these tents are where they live, and I wanted to be able to show that as well. Normally, they say that you shouldn't shoot portrait shots with a wide angle lens. This is an 11-millimeter lens with a full-frame camera. This is as wide as you can get, but I kept the subject in the middle of the frame. My favorite shot is this one here. Using a bit of fill flash, still getting the exposure right on the city, little bit of wide angle, getting that mountain in the background, a few of the (speaks in foreign language) a little bit of the green in there, so it's got a lot of good elements on their own, and then added up, I think help make for a stronger photo. In this case, we needed to have a plan so that you knew what you're doing, and you're not wasting their time looking for things and trying to do things. Be as prepared as you can. When he took the eagle up, the wings started flapping all over the place, and I knew right away, when it goes up, I'm just gonna fire off the motor drive as high speed as I can do it, 10 frames a second, because you don't know where those wings are gonna end up. It was nice to be able to get rid of those seven to eight bad ones where there was just a good moment in that particular space. Recently, we were in Kenya and Tanzania, and we got chance to visit a Maassi village. They put on a dance for us. Then they split us up into different groups where we went into their homes, their mud hut covered homes. We were out in this bright, middle of the day, African sun. We walked inside, and this is how dark it felt. It was completely dark. There is this one shaft of light, about six inches around, coming in. It's just as dark as can be. My first thought is, "This is an absolute nightmare. "You will never get a good photograph out of this." I thought, "This shaft of light is really cool, "if I can just get it to work with me." I thought, "Okay, one minute. "What I need is a reflector." I was looking around the room. Can I use one of his blankets, or something to put in there to reflect this light around? I just go, "I can't find anything. "Oh, my hat." My hat, I used my hat, and this is how I positioned my hat down here. This is not the final shot, but look how much more light is kicking up on his face right now. I just cropped that out, shoot a different shot of him. Now I have some light on him using the very little bit of one shaft of light that was coming in the room. The answer was right up here all the time. (audience chuckles) At first, you can be put off by how bad things are, but just start getting creative with things. This is the shot that we used for the cover of this class, the title shot of this class, and I want to talk a little bit about what we did. One of the things we wanted to do was, we wanted to go to the Gobi Desert, and I wanted to photographs camels and their owners, so we had worked with our tour operator about arranging for some camel herders to have camels ready for us at 4:30 in the morning. Isn't that fun, to get up at 4:30 in the morning? Because we knew we wanted to be there right when we were getting this first light because the outline of a camel with that blue color is fantastic. We were playing around with different numbers of camels. This was one of my favorite shots early on. Then we had limited time, and we're trying to figure out where things are gonna work, and I'm trying to get down low enough so I don't see the horizon beyond the sand dune, so that I can just see nice, clean silhouettes. We had the husband and the wife walk back and forth a number of times, getting very good shots. I've shot camels before. I don't know that I'm an expert, but I've got a little bit of time in shooting camels. One of the things that I don't like are three-legged camels. That's where they have one leg kind of obscure behind the other leg. I like it when they have nice, clear legs. The camel does not look good here. Camel looks very good here. She does not look quite as good. One step more, I like her step and her stride there. It feels like she's making progress there. The camel still looks pretty good, so this was my favorite of those three images there, being very careful, and once again, in these situations, I knew it changes too fast for you to see, so I was shooting with the motor drive on high. When they got to that peak area, I'd shoot off 10, 15 shots real quickly, knowing that there was gonna be a moment in there that was a little bit better than everything else. When the sun got up, we moved over to another side so that we could get the sunlight coming on them, and a bit of the sand dunes in the back. I had them walk back and forth, and I really liked these shots. These are all my set up, planned shots. At the very end, we had made him walk over, and then she followed, and walked over towards him in this scenario here, and suddenly, they stood there, and I said, "Oh my gosh, this is awesome." The first shot was to just get a lot of these foreground lines, leading lines right here. Then I was in the back of the mind, knew I had this travel photography class, and I needed room for a title on the top, so I wanted to leave a lot of white space on the top of this, and I shot this. One of the interesting thoughts, and a good question to ask a photographer who has a shot that you like is, "When did you know you were gonna take that shot? "When did you see that shot, "and try to start working on it?" This shot, I did not see until about 30 seconds before they got in that position. It's something that you suddenly realize, you know you've got it, get the shot, and move on. This is in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Adjust to the changing conditions, be careful of their time, you want to be respectful of that, and when you get something good that just lands in your lap, by all means, scoop it up. When it comes to the environmental portrait, find a scene where your subject is the star. It's usually in a place that they feel comfortable. Maybe they're working there, or they live there. Be very careful about the background. It's easy to get so obsessed by your subject that you forget about those other things that end up in the shot. It's best, usually, just to let people naturally do. Especially if somebody's at work, "Just do what you do. "Just don't pay any attention to me." Let them go their own ways. Just keep your subjects as relaxed as can. Don't put too much pressure on them in any way.

Class Description

Are you going on a once in a lifetime trip and want to have photos that you can share with friends and family? Do the decisions of what to bring, where to shoot, and what to capture feel overwhelming? Travel photography can feel challenging, time consuming, and expensive. But with the right tools you can plan and prioritize to come home with images that you treasure.

Join photographer, educator and author John Greengo, who has photographed all over the world, as he guides you through all of the steps that you need to capture the photos that you want during your travels. This class will offer different plans of what to bring, and how to create a realistic agenda based on your priorities, whether it’s documenting your trip, telling a story through photographs, or simply capturing great images.

John will teach you:

  • What gear to pack based on your goals.
  • How to create a media storage plan and workflow while traveling.
  • Best practices on how to find and scout the best locations to photograph.
  • How to approach locals and build trust before taking their portraits.
  • Camera techniques and settings for different shooting scenarios.
  • Different types of travel photos, such as The Walk Away, The T-Shot, and Environmental Portrait.
  • What to do with your photos once you’ve returned home.

Don’t let the challenges of travel photography keep you from capturing images that will provide you with lifelong memories. Join John Greengo to learn the best techniques, tools, and technology to capture great photos no matter you limitations in time, money and resources.



As usual John has been an awesome instructor. He is so energetic and fun. I love taking his courses and this was no different. I absolutely loved it. I have learned so much by taking his courses. Thanks John for all you do to help us beginners out.

Melissa Maxwell

So inspiring! This class is so comprehensive and I look forward to applying all of Greengo's tips. He is a wonderful instructor and the example photos are breathtaking.

user 1399347749726793

John is fabulous ... and so inspiring! I can travel the world and live vicariously through him! I've watched John for years and always find that he teaches me something new every time! Thanks John and CreativeLive for another awesome class!