The environmental portrait is an important type of photography for people. This is a portrait that also shows the environment where the subject works or plays or otherwise lives. You see it in photojournalism, where it is common in sports and business magazines. You see it a lot with portraiture studios, where it is a staple.
You don’t see it as much in close-up nature photography. I am not sure why. It might be because photographers are excited about getting close and want to see the subject full on in their viewfinder. Those photos can be great fun and dramatic, but I also like close-ups that show off a bit of the setting and environment around the subject. These are, in a sense, ecological photos because they show connection of the subject to the real world.
This isn’t simply about backing up. Too much “environment” and the subject will be hard to see and discover in the photograph. The subject still has to be clearly seen. With light, color and composition, you can make even a small subject stand out in the scene if you look for this.
I love to use wide-angle lenses up close for this purpose. Some wide-angles focus within inches without any other accessories. For others, you might need an achromatic close-up lens such as the Canon 500D (which I use on my Olympus gear, too — it works on any lens with the right filter size or adapter ring), which works quite well with close-ups.
It also helps to get down low and be at the subject’s level. This means dirty knees, and for me, a tilting or swivel Live View LCD really helps a lot.
Editor's Note: Outdoor Photographer editor at large Rob Sheppard teaches many online photography workshops at the BetterPhoto digital photography school, including Creating Storytelling Photos, Impact in Your Photographs: The Wow Factor and The Magic of F-stops: Choosing the Right Aperture