I have started this "environmental portrait project" recently. I shoot creative and interesting people I know or my friends know. I do not focus just on the face of the subject, but I like to include its environment to get a better feel and understanding about the person I am portraying. It can be a workplace, house, studio, garden, backyard or any subject's favorite location.
Last week I collaborated with my friend, art director Matt Merkel and took a portrait of his friend - music director John Herrick. We met at his house early in the morning and I realized immediately, that John was a very kind and talented guy. We scouted his house and backyard, while having a cup of coffee and a nice conversation and we decided to use his beautifully lit screened in porch. John works on his porch frequently and his sassy cat often accompanies him there, resting on a glass table. So while I was setting up my equipment, Matt added some props as musical instruments, sheet music and he moved chairs to make a better composition for the shot, as we had discussed earlier.
We started shooting with a camera on a tripod and John in different scenarios - drinking coffee, making notes, playing flute - and I observed the cat on a glass table very carefully. So when it moved close to John and "stroke a pose", I was ready to capture it. We kept shooting for a little longer and used a nice sculpture of the Buddha in the background, instead of the cat, just to have more options and variations to choose from later.
After the shoot we packed everything up and talked with John about his house as a great source of inspiration and wonderful place to work and rest. Then we said goodbye and headed back home, where I worked hard on the images, while discussing several versions with Matt online. Finally I decided the version with the cat is the strongest one and I will use it for my portrait portfolio.