Environment, Test shoots, Visual practice


My inspiration for taking environmental portraits have initially come from Diane Arbus, her ability to go into peoples homes and capture where and how they lived intrigued me. This was how my first idea of capturing elderly people in their homes came from so I began with taking test shots in the elderly peoples houses, the rooms, the small details i.e. hair brushes and walking aids. I wanted to find out about what my subjects had done in the war, so I could produce images not just of loneliness and fragility but a little piece of themselves and their identities.

Contact sheet test shots, preparing camera settings for lighting conditions. Different areas of the house in preparation for composite imagery and alternative angles for choices of selection.

I was able to select some images from this first shoot:

Using a frame within a frame but I could not get enough of the frame in the photograph and focus was not quite right.
I achieved better focus here on the gentlemen with a nice depth of field containing enough information for an environmental portrait but I did not feel I had captured enough for a story.
I liked this image because of the way the gentleman is holding himself up by the sink, immediately thinking of instability, it also shows some of the story of loneliness – the fact that there is only one plate, bowl and knife and fork in the rack on the sink.
An image that includes more of the gentleman’s home environment, there is a collection of spoons in the corner unit, this seems to be collections I have seen in other elderly peoples houses that are of his age. The furniture seems to mirror others too, with this floral pattern that covers it.
Shooting close with this image highlights a feeling of solitude, whereby, the gentleman looks out of the window as if it is all there is left to do each day.
I took this photograph because I have an idea of producing a composite image, with the gentleman looking in the mirror at himself as a young man, wondering as to where all the years have gone.
This is the photograph of his younger self that I would use in the above composite.
An image taken from above, there was not a lot of room near the door and I wanted to be able to include other details within the image. I am not sure if it is effective enough but chose to include the D-Day book and the image of the gentleman’s younger self so there was a better narrative.


I chose to use the Universities equipment and hired the Canon 5D, this was an experiment itself, due to the fact that I use a Nikon D7200 at home so I am more familier with the settings.

Wide angle shots were needed so that I could include more of the environment, I managed to work out where the settings were on the Canon and started with testing the lighting conditions for each room.

I wanted to cause as little disruption for the gentleman as possible as he is suffering from early signs of dementia and is 95. I did not take any extra lighting at this point, using natural ambient lighting and adjusting camera settings accordingly, I thought that extra lighting might have been too much for him and resorted to setting a high ISO in order to give me enough light in my images.

Once I had all my settings in place, the shoot took around 30 minutes and the gentleman was very helpful with his availability and helped me with what I wanted to achieve, moving from room to room and easily being directed.

Overall I was happy with the process, the gentleman was very comfortable, it was unfortunate that lighting conditions were not ideal but it is these challenges that as a photographer you have to overcome and improvise. I may not be able to get any more shots at this location which is why i took several of them at this time, the images are subject to discussions with peers and tutors, any recommendations will be taken into account, I believe I have succeeded in being able to portray the isolation and the loneliness within an elderly persons environment with this first shoot.

Our first group critique was with four of these images and I took all the comments on board, I received positive remarks about the concept, the way black and white made the image look older and nostalgic. With the juxtaposition of young and old the feedback was that it was quite surreal and that it added a narrative to it. Even the photograph that did not contain a younger version of the elderly man was still powerful. Advice from the group about what else could be done was to continue the narrative story line of old vs young.

One of the comments were that the images were too cliche, most images are cliche now as they have all been done before so how could I try to make my images unique. I did some research on environmental portraiture and the suggestions were to try to make them not look staged, try to understand a bit about the person so that it comes across in the images and get the shots as natural as possible. Instead of thinking the remark was quite negative, I decided to turn it into a positive. I believe that all of my images have developed along the way with this advice in mind and the final prints are powerful with strong narratives.


Contact sheets for another elderly lady. Testing lighting conditions upstairs and down.
Preparing the room before the addition of the elderly lady, I used a black backdrop here so the focus was on the area I wanted to highlight. Next time I would iron the back drop.
I captured the lady looking out of the window reminiscing of how fast time goes, I used natural light and I liked the orange glow from the lamp. If I was to do this again, I would re-position her hands and place an extra light behind her so that there would be a separation from her and the background.
This image did not work as well. There was too much contrasting shadow and I felt that I did not capture enough emotion.
This image feels uncomfortable as the lady is leaning. Again, another issue with posing techniques and skills I need to develop.
I took photographs of the bedroom as I liked the old decor and ripped poster on the wall.
I am not sure if this photograph of the room works as well as the last one because the outfit that I had laid out was too close to the end of the bed and conflicts with the bed post.


I had asked to photograph this lady inside her own environment. She had lost her confidence to go out after a recent fall. She was 98 years old and became very frail. I wanted to take her photograph with her sitting on the end of her bed upstairs and placed some items of hers in position to include a narrative within the image.

Unfortunately she was not well at the time but she allowed me to take images of just the environment and I think it tells enough of a story with just the inclusion of the furniture and the concept of space.

When photographing the elderly, you have to be prepared of situations that may cause the shoot to be abandoned, this means taking their welfare into account and respecting them with important and valuable considerations.


Contact sheet test shots in this series: I have highlighted ways that help the elderly remain in their own homes. This particular lady is 95 and confined to her home environment, she needs more walking aids and cannot get up the stairs without the stair lift.
In this image I wanted to pay attention to the little details, the way the hairbrush, mirror and clothes brush are all laid out in a neat line and seems to be this old style of brushes that are evident in one of my other environments.
The bedroom with minimal furniture, without the inclusion of a person it feels very empty and evokes quite a poignant message of loneliness.
The shot of the stair lift is taken from an aerial perspective, an unusual point of view, it creates a feeling of discomfort and a likelihood of falling from the top.
I have used a narrow depth of field in this shot, a back view of the lady alone in the living room, I would need to edit out the lamp if I was to use this photograph as it looks like it is growing out of her head. Careful consideration of moving a little to one side would have been advantageous.


I began with this test shoot by choosing to highlight the finer details, including the visual aids that this lady needs. I tried variations in depth of field and different points of view. I have organised to re- shoot in this location as the photograph was from the back of the lady and she was unaware that I was taking any photographs on this day. I liked the composition where the lady is looking out of the window. There wasn’t much space to get this shot as there was an inside door on the left, there was a narrow field of view for me and because of this challenging position, it meant that the lamp looks like it is in a very unusual place.

The lighting in the home meant I needed a higher ISO to get the correct exposure but it was still a bit dark, I will possibly use on camera flash next time I photograph this lady and bounce the flash onto the subject. I would have preferred to use natural lighting but the lady has difficulty standing so I will have to overcome this problem and speed of taking my images. If I test the lighting before this lady is in position, I can use flash to add more light and complete the shoot quickly.

I thought about taking a speed-light and umbrella but this may be too intimidating for the subject and I am having to be very mindful of how easy she gets tired, the simplest of things that the average person takes for granted, ultimately wears her out.



Each test shot has been challenging, there were restrictions in getting certain angles and lighting conditions vary from room to room in this house. Having a knowledge concerning this lady has certainly helped with my narrative, I know more about her background than the average person which I believe is important in environmental portraiture. Photographing the person in their home was still a subject that proved difficult to bring up with each person, I thought that they would instantly say no and I would have to choose a different subject matter. They were all so helpful to me for this project.

I took these test shots when I visited in order to give me ideas as to what to include within my actual shoot. I couldn’t expect this lady to sit around four hours, she is 97, the objective being, consideration when planning, timing and keeping my subject relaxed while I achieved my set of images.

Organising the shoots have taken weeks out of the project, firstly because of gaining permission, then the test shoots, finally the actual shoots. I have managed one shoot for these home environments so far with two more to go within the next week. Each photo shoot, I will be aiming to collect four images from them so I will be able to give myself more choices with my selection of final prints.


With the first environment photo shoot completed, I was able to use some of the images taken, as they were quite strong. Changing them to black and white gave them the era of the 40’s I was looking for.

I was able to edit using Photoshop Elements and place the young man in the mirror image, therefore, telling a story of the old gentleman looking back in time and wondering where all the years have gone. Inspired by an image by Tom Hussey (see below) I placed the elderly man with his younger self in the mirror photograph. I wanted reality to it and not staged models so because of the fact that I knew some elderly people, I was able to ask them if I could photograph them and complete my project and vision of ideas.

The final four images from this environmental portrait selection are below:


After the fourth set of test shots, I revisited this ladies home environment and I was able to photograph her. I didn’t want to take too long and put pressure on the lady as she is 97, she was very helpful during the whole process so I just let her know when I was ready and I had got my settings right in camera according to the light conditions. This lady is surprisingly young for her age and is still able to get to the shops on her own, she is very remarkable. During the war she was part of the land Army and my final images for selection are below, showing adjustments along the way in Photoshop:

The next set of images include photographs of the Land Army and the results will be evaluated as to which ones will be the most effective.

Using layer masks I was able to take the part of the image that I wanted to use and place it over the three different Land Army images. The results were below and I will get some advice from my peers as to which is the best one.

I asked for advice as to which one was the best composite and the photograph with the girls with the hay was favoured. The light on the outside image was complimentary to the inside lighting. The composition worked better due to the diagonal line and eye contact from the girls to the subject. I had to make sure that the ladies were all positioned according to the windows otherwise too many of them were blocked from view. This process was quite challenging but it was a way that I could use the inspiration from Tom Hussey and his ‘Reflections’ series and produce a set of images that were my own.

Final images for selection are below:


After taking the third test shoot, I organised my environmental portrait with this elderly lady who was 95. She is housebound now and has to use walking aids and a stair lift to be able to get around her house. She struggles with her breathing and is easily worn out so I knew that I would need to get my camera settings right for the light in each room.

I asked the subject to pretend I was invisible so that I could get realism in my images, she asked me to take some photographs of her at the end of the shoot so she would be able to give them to her family and it was during this time that I captured a photograph of her smiling at the camera, to me it visually shows a sadness behind the smile, one of hidden loneliness, something that we all do at times and hide what we might be going through in front of other people, putting on a facade.

This particular lady was in the WVS (Womens Voluntary Service) and helped with the ARP (Air Raid Precautions).

I have included the selected images from the shoot followed by the adjustments:

Once I had done the initial edits in Photoshop Elements, I changed them to black and white using Silver Effex Pro:

Final images for selection with some inspiration from Tom Hussey:

I have decided to include a pregnancy photo shoot for another of my environmental portraits that I had had the privilege to shoot. There is such strength in these images, they display emotion, concern, pain and the narrative of childbirth with a happy ending.

The final images of them I displayed in black and white as the backgrounds were distracting and eliminating colour from them made the images much more powerful.


Contact sheets for childbirth: I had the opportunity to document the birth of a baby, consideration had to be taken for the parents and safety of the baby, permission had to be obtained by the midwives too.
Permission from the mother as to taking photographs of painful moments for her records of everything involved with the birth of her first baby.
Machinery which shows the heartbeats of both mother and child keeping a check that the baby will arrive safely.
Another moment of pain and support from the husband, a very moving image that is visually compelling.
The concern on the husbands face is evident here, the feeling of helplessness for him.
A happy event to seal the end of the labor, I had managed to get enough photographs to create a series of images for the new parents.



I had been given a great opportunity to photograph the birth of a couples first child. The lighting in the hospital environment was very good, so the ISO only needed to be around 160. I had asked permission from the midwives who were not keen on me taking photographs of the machinery, I took some when they were out of the room for the mothers benefit. The midwives had advised me that as long as the mother and baby were alright, then I could take photographs.

During the labor the heart monitor highlighted mother and babies heartbeat, the baby became distressed so I could not take photographs at the pivotal moment but the safety of mother and child had to come first and that was more important. The efficiency of the midwives was excellent, they all came rushing in and delivered the baby safely via a suction pad. Photography shoots don’t always going according to plan and you have to make the subjects and yourself aware of what could happen before the day of the shoot.

From the time the couple came in to the hospital, I only had 1 hour, labor had actually started on the Sunday before but the mother was sent home, a day of pain meant she was back in again on Tuesday and this time, labor was very intense. It is visually evident in these images and with only one hour there was a small window of opportunity to get some photographs. Because of the difficulties that arose, I think I achieved a successful photo shoot. The priority has to be the subjects you are photographing and safety is paramount.

I am hoping to photograph the couple when they have a second child, the intention will be to get that euphoric moment when the baby has been delivered and handed to the mother for the first time. I managed to get photographs of the babies first latching on moment with breastfeeding on this occasion and took some images as close to the actual birth as possible, safety was more important than documentation in this instance.

I have been able to complete a series of images for this hospital environment that I believe are strong and provide diversity in environmental subject matter.



As you can see I had completed three sets of environmental portraiture with the elderly and one with a hospital environment. If I had selected a final set of four prints for the project, it would probably have been the images inspired by Tom Hussey. They portrayed images of young and old and an insight into what each of my subjects did when the country was at war. I produced strong messages with all of my images and gave myself definitive choices with each shoot.

After discussions regarding this body of work, I have chosen four other images in my environmental portraiture series. The title of this series is also called ‘Fragile’ in a completely different context to the elderly photographs. The images will be printed but not available on here, they are visual displays of just how fragile we, as humans are, they could be classed as controversial or unethical but I believe they provide strong representations of reality and compassion.


I wanted to include some other environmental portraiture and technical practices just to show that there are so many ways to manipulate environments and make some realities surreal. I have included these below:

Long Exposure techniques with Neutral density filters

The above techniques were some other environmental projects that I could have considered, they proved very interesting with the different effects that you can get in camera. The way you can camouflage another person within the environment, it was an exciting technique for Hajo Rose from the Bauhaus School when he discovered the school of glass and one effect that Lucia Moholy Nagy put to good use with the young girl Ottie Berger. See these images below:


Evening Standard. (2019). Women volunteers of WW2 celebrated in new photography exhibition. [online] Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/arts/women-volunteers-ww2-photography-exhibition-a3974256.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

Pinterest. (2019). Land Girls | Historical photos | Women’s land army, Land girls, Army training. [online] Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/441071357250835171/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

Pinterest. (2019). Land girls | Mom was a Land Girl (WLA) | Women’s land army, Land girls, World war ii. [online] Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/345299496403260285/?lp=true [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

Time. (2019). https://time.com. [online] Available at: https://time.com/5600203/d-day-movies/ [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

World-at-war.co.uk. (2019). Britain’s Front Line Women in WW2. [online] Available at: https://www.world-at-war.co.uk/?p=358 [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].

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