When I arrived at the Manchester History Center to photograph Mary Dunne, President of the Manchester Historical Society, she gave me a tour of the historic mill that the society purchased in 1999. We strolled through the main level looking for a backdrop that best described the atmosphere of the building and the work that has been done to it. Dunne took me to the first floor which still has a few original weaving looms along with other historical pieces. I love old factory buildings for all their large windows, wood floors and high ceilings that offer wonderful natural light for an environmental portrait.
We decided on a main meeting room that is used for events and lectures because of the natural light and simple decorations for an upcoming Holiday event. It helped that the sun was obscured by clouds and a light snow was falling outside to diffuse the sun. Dunne was a little apprehensive at first, like many subjects that don’t necessarily feel comfortable in front of the camera, but after a few shots to check the lighting she began to get feel comfortable. I checked the photos and decided the first pose and placement of her in the scene wasn’t quite right so we tried a different angle.
The resulting photograph produced the look I was trying for. The large windows behind her provided a nice framework and allowed the mill building across the street to be seen and by now Dunne was beginning to let her personality show. I really like the joy she displays while sitting in a place she has a passion about and making the center a legitimate museum for the city of Manchester.
Pro Tip: Environmental portraits can be tricky at times but with a little creativity and a great subject things will fall into place once you get rolling. Search the facility for a place that will not only show the features of the place but allow the subject to feel comfortable. Try a variety of lighting and choose what works best, sometimes your first choice is not always the best so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one vision. Use a shutter speed that will allow the natural light to fill to your desired level, a slower shutter will give more fill, too much will blow out the background. Make sure your main light source is in a softbox or an umbrella to soften the flash and set the flash to a little stronger setting than the background light to make your subject stand out from the background. I normally like to hoot as wide open as the lens will allow but this time I went somewhere in the middle to give greater detail to the buildings features as well as the subject.
Camera: Nikon D300s, lens – 17-55mm set at 17mm, aperture f/5, ISO 800, shutter 1/125, color balance cloudy setting to give a slightly warmer feel to the photo.