Environmental vs. Studio-style portraits

Corporate portraits and business headshots

Environmental vs. Studio-style portraits – I spend a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of either option with clients.

When I first started out with corporate portrait photography I shot almost exclusively in studio-style. I would take the studio setup to the client and with the backdrop and lighting create the same corporate portrait as i would in my studio. For business headshots sessions where there were multiple portraits to be photographed, this is the ideal solution for the client.

I have always preferred environmental portraits especially if it tells the story of the person’s business or role in the business. 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

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 as i mentioned earlier, I take the studio setup to the client and with the backdrop and lighting create the same studio style corporate portrait.

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.

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.

The other benefit of an environmental portrait is the variety you can get from the session. Because you are not restricted by the lighting and the backdrop, you could have multiple poses in multiple locations within the area the environmental portrait session is being photographed. 

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.
View more environmental portrait images.

I hope that gives you a better idea of the differences Environmental vs. Studio-style portraits offer. If you have any queries, get in touch and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!


Quintin is a highly experienced Photographer and Creative Director with a 30 year history of working in the Advertising & Photography industry. With skills in Commercial PhotographyPortraits and Corporate HeadshotsInteriors and Architecture PhotographyFood and Beverage photography and Video Production, he brings a huge amount of value to your project.

With a list of Advertising Industry Awards and an even longer list of assignments in Johannesburg, across South Africa and Southern Africa, Quintin Mills has gathered valuable experience which he brings to his photographic services. When you work with Quintin you know he is going to deliver to the best of his abilities and provide top class imagery for your brand.

Quintin works as a Johannesburg Photographer and Videographer, but also works in Pretoria, Sandton as well as the rest of South Africa and Southern Africa.

You can request a Photography or Videography quote here for your next project.

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