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Studio-style or environmental portrait? I spend a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of either option with clients. It’s a key part of the decision-making ahead of any session and it’s important to understand the differences.

When I first started out with corporate portrait photography I shot almost exclusively in studio-style. But as my work has expanded towards personal branding photography I have increasingly grown fond of environmental portraiture.

In fact I would say that it is currently my favourite style of portrait photography.

In this post I will break down the key differences between the two and explain which situations are best suited to either style.

Studio-style portraits

Don’t be fooled: a studio-style portrait does not have to be shot in a studio. It is a term that describes the ‘look’ of the portrait, rather than where it is taken. It is ideally created in a studio but is also achievable on location with the help of a plain wall or a portable backdrop.

The basic principle of a studio-style portrait is having a clean, non-distracting background – usually white but often grey or even black. The objective is to eliminate all distractions so that you are the only subject.

This style of portrait is a mainstay of fashion photography, in a studio with a controlled lighting setup. But it is also commonly used in corporate photography for portraits where a consistent and uniform look is required.

I often shoot studio-style for my own corporate photography, using a portable backdrop which can be set up in any space to instantly create a neutral background. Being on location means that the lighting setup might not be as sophisticated as that of an actual studio, but a couple of strobes and some reflectors can create extremely effective results.

So when should you opt for a studio-style portrait?

  • If you require multiple portraits of different people and need a consistent background.

  • If you prefer a minimalist, classic look.

  • If you have decided for a black and white portrait. This is a personal opinion but I don’t think environmental portraits are quite as effective in black and white.

Environmental portraits

Whereas studio-style portraits remove any sense of place, environmental portraits embrace it. These portraits incorporate elements of the surrounding environment in which the photograph is taken, e.g. the office, home, or outdoor space.

The objective of this type of portrait is to give some context – to reveal a little more about the subject. That is why they are so popular, and used almost exclusively, in personal branding photography. They are a very effective way of telling a story.

This is not to say that the surrounding environment, whatever it may be, is a distraction. It should fit in seamlessly and intentionally – shot in such a manner that it does not detract from you as the main subject.

One benefit of environmental portraits is that they are very versatile. Whereas a studio-style portrait is best suited for more formal headshots and portraits, environmental portraits are a bit more flexible in their application, e.g. on social media, profile pics, or for marketing materials.

So when should you choose environmental portraits?

  • For your personal branding photography or any situation when you want to reveal a little more about who you are and what you do.

  • If you want a more modern, contemporary look.

  • If you want images that have a more diverse range of uses.

I hope that gives you a better idea of the differences between studio-style and environmental portraits but if you have any queries just comment below or get in touch and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!

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