Capturing The Face: The Elements of Creative Portrait Photography | David Miller | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Capturing The Face: The Elements of Creative Portrait Photography

teacher avatar David Miller, Multimedia Artist For Primordial Creative studio

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (16m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Your Subjects

    • 3. Compelling Concept

    • 4. Styling

    • 5. Formal Design Qualities

    • 6. Camera and Lens Choice

    • 7. FX

    • 8. Wrap Up + Project

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

When you have a compliant subject in a creative portrait shoot, the only limits are your imagination and budget.  In this class we focus on the concepts behind unique portrait photography by looking at the work of dozens of world class photographers past and present.  We'll cover where to find subjects, how to approach them, the pros and cons of different types of gear, and some wild approaches to post work and in camera effects that allow you to make unique imagery.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

David Miller

Multimedia Artist For Primordial Creative studio


I'm David, a multimedia artist in Phoenix, and my studio is Primordial Creative.  


I have always been interested in the visual arts from an early age- drawing, painting, and clay- but around my high school years I became interested in photography for the social aspect of involving other people, the adventure inherent in seeking out pictures, and the presentation of reality that wasn't limited by my drawing skills.


One thing in my work that has stayed consistent over the decades since then is I have an equal interest in the reality of the lens next to the fictions we can create in drawing, painting, animation, graphic design, and sound design.  As cameras have incorporated video and audio features, and as Adobe's Creative Cloud all... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Intro: Hello there. I'm David Miller on Multimedia Artist in Phoenix, Arizona, and today in class, we're going to address Creative Portrait shooting. Majority of my own work revolves around photographing people, and it's what inspired me to pick up a camera. So it's a subject near and dear to my heart. We're going to break down the topic, bites individual components or, as I like to think of it, the questions we need to answer to get good results in her portrait photography. Where we get subjects, What is our concept? What styling, lighting location consideration should be making. This is not a technical class about photography, rather conceptual one. So we'll be spending our time looking at a wide variety of portrait photographers from the past. Present exhibit True artistic craftsmanship. It's all about how we can use our cameras as expression and involving other people. Your project will be to create your own artistic portrait session and post the results on our skill share with with that, out of the way, let's get going 2. Your Subjects: So let's start with number one. Your subject, once during my brief tenure, is a high school photography teacher. I had an exceptional student who told me she wanted to focus her senior project on homeless people you're questioning. We determined that she didn't know any homeless people, didn't have time to volunteer at a shelter, make connections and probably wouldn't feel safe engaging with the population beyond the surface level. Also, we were in the suburbs, and the majority of homeless were deep in Phoenix. It was hard to do a project that you know nothing about and can access what's required for it. We usually start with our circle of friends and family and work outwards and rightly, so many artistic portrait. Your photographers made their names but working within their own tight social circle. Sally Mann and Ralph Eugene meet yard made art out of the lives of their families. Cindy Sherman and Bob Kerrey make art out of themselves. Same Kwan cheated self portrait in front of monuments. When we have total access to subjects, the when, where and do I owe you anything kind of questions are irrelevant. The next level of this social circle is people who don't people. My daughter wants to be a model. Will you take her photo? My neighbor is an autistic. According playing comedian is when I recently heard that intrigued me. These people are good for practice, but site and seen. It's hard to make art based on blind recommendations. You never know if your artistic intentions align with your subjects, and all of a sudden you mayo images or try to satisfy this stranger is if they are a customer. Other strangers have some level of talent or investment in your project or models, actors and actresses. Their interest may be in need for portfolio images. Financial compensation you offer them. Their interest may be a need for portfolio images, financial compensation you might offer them or appreciation of you as an artist and willingness to be part of your project. I've found more consistent results in my Arctic with this level of person, mainly because they're more familiar with what I do and I'm familiar with. They can bring to a shoot all in advance. The last level of finding your subjects is through random happenstance. You see someone on the street doing something interesting you photograph them right away or you ask permission in the kind ist way possible, such as what you're doing is really interesting. Mind if I take a photo? If you're nice and genuine, you don't get an affirmative answer. But unless you can prove you work for National Geographic, don't expect random people to be willing in any way to sign a model release for you in America. People in public places can be photographed to personal or editorial use unless it's work for hire or some other specific contractual obligation. The photographer is the owner of the image. However, you can't expect people in the public to know any of this or not threaten to sue you or beat you up if they think you're spying on them with your camera. Adding to this, the variety of new municipality laws regarding privacy that confused the issue and the random circumstances surround how good your results, maybe for street photography, and it's a difficult road. Aho, if your preferred method of getting subjects is randomly walking up to people on the street 3. Compelling Concept: So we're going to talk about the compelling concept, and I feel like this is a new area that is a struggle for a lot of people. But I'm going to try and break it down in a way that's that's very simple, as our photographers we have an obligation to think about her are and not just assume, our daily lives are the perfect creative fodder. If it were that way, we'd have more songs about folding laundry people going to the bathroom all the time and movies more TV shows about pumping gas and answering emails. The bitter truth is, the daily lives of most people are not that interesting. It's when we have an opinion or an exploratory curiosity that we, the artists, have a point of view. And that point of view is what generates content and leads to the proper format for that content. What do you have a point of view about? This is what you should be making your art about. Is it something a social, personal or political? What makes you excited in either a positive or negative way about a particular subject? That's what you should be shooting and presenting to the public. Ansel Adams was passionate about natural landscapes and their preservation, so he delved deep and worked thankless years to create what is widely considered iconic imagery. Ralphie Jean meet Yard again. One of my favorite guys had an interest in Zen philosophy and a working knowledge of optical illusions, thanks to his employment as an optician, both of which were expressed in his photography. Often it's not easy for us to understand. We have point of view of in our normal lives, much less artistic lives. Most people have a few political opinions, not necessarily good subject matter for photography, which is a visual medium. They also have hobbies. We have jobs that may lend themselves to photography. When I took up art photography in 1997 I was working in group homes and did portrait of the developmentally disabled clients with their guardian's consent. These were people I liked, and they liked me, and we knew each other personally. They were part of a subculture and experienced, not typically seen by the average American. I had unique access and a point of view. And don't my shooting skills weren't that great. I could still look that work and feel connected to it and feel like it has a reason for being fast forward to. My earlier is in Arizona, where I made a bunch of trips to national parks and shot scenery. Although those experiences were great, I had no point of view, no insider access to a subject that millions of people experienced each year. I will never forget the time I was challenged about the shallowness of my work. 4. Styling: Now we're gonna talk out styling. This is a cash all term for hair makeup, wardrobe or lack thereof and props for a shoot. The street photographer doesn't need to think about styling because they're working with what naturally appears in front of them. A subject matter, a commercial photographer, styles from top to bottom because everything the chute has to be 100% intentional dialing was one of the most difficult things for me to get down in my own portrait photography. I'll work with stylists and send them inspirational imagery or mood boards. But there's no guarantee that they know how to achieve that particular look, or if the model we're using has the right hairs, eyes for whatever is available. The styling crew are the people who get the least out of any photos you take. So this is likely where some money is going to be spent. Because I like a particular amount of production of my images, Hair stylist is a top priority for a shoot. People generally cannot do their own hair as well as an actual stylist can, who has 360 degree access to the subject's head. Makeup is something For most men, makeup is something most men do not need for their creative portraiture. And the majority of women I've worked with can do what I refer to as going out on a date makeup stuff that looks great in real life but doesn't communicate well in a photo. An actual makeup artist can do on camera makeup with astronomically expensive supplies, and it will actually show up in the images. Makeup artists are generally more costly than hairstylists, and if you have both hair makeup on set your easily adding an extra hour or two or three to the shoot time. It's a frustrating scenario to have a studio and models book for four hours, and hair and makeup eats up the majority of that time while the photographer just stands around. Beyond makeup is effects body paint, gore, fake scars, adding jewelry, making people look frozen or cartoony. The more specific the look, the more it covers and the longer it takes to do. The body paint shoots I've worked with range from one hour the chaotic mess, which still a cool to six hours elaborate designs involving words. Each time I worked with an FX artist, I leave thinking it was worth it. But the process of getting and done is quite tiresome for all involved. Too many words for wardrobe and prop styling, but one can see how budgets could spiral based on the styling alone. It said that setting a movie as a period piece makes the costs skyrocket in such a way that Hollywood does its best to avoid them. If you do choose to create something in a period specific and require styling, and there should be a lot of extra research to make sure everything fits the way it's supposed to. A few years ago, I came across a fashion shoot on the Internet. It was supposed to be based on D Day, and they had a bikini model among a platoon of soldiers who are all holding modern weapons but dressed in the 19 forties G I outfits. Needless to say, that shoot did not work. The final word about styling. There are a lot of people who go for a very minimalist style of photography and don't have overly complicated concepts, overly complicated hair and makeup and wardrobe. And typically the more generic you shoot, the more likely you can utilize those photos in a variety of applications. I adore the people I work with who can do their own styling because it saves so much time and money. I also adore my stylist so I could communicate well with or should I say, understand my feeble attempts to describe styling. Those people are the ones I use over and over and over again. If you ignore styling completely, then it's hard to have a strong concept in our art. If we were painters, we could send signals from our imagination to our hands and put exactly what we intended together in a way that satisfies the concept. In the real world, concepts need to be physically built by talented hands. 5. Formal Design Qualities: Now we have to talk about formal design considerations. All our education usually starts with exploring the elements of art, texture, form, space, shape, color, value and line. And then you also learn the principles of design, unity, scale, pattern or rhythm balance, hierarchy or dominance and perspective. An artist. Our designer draws from these ideas in any visual composition, so photography naturally makes good use of this. I don't necessarily think about these tools night and day, and design shoots around them. But I'm experienced enough that I use them all the time. For instance, telling a family to keep colors to basic cool, warmer earth tones. We're shooting a shiny motorcycle amongst contrasting textures. My experience has been the average person will gauge a photo based on color over all the other elements. They may be drawn to colors that pop or colors that register emotion. People that love black and white images, air heavily focused on having all the values represented. Appreciate er's of traditional fine art. Nudes are highly invested in shape and form. These are all important and can be seeds of good ideas. But the work really improves When the creator plays with all the tools. Cool shapes, proper use of positive and negative space with an engaging rhythm, great value or color, believable textures all in one image. 6. Camera and Lens Choice: along with formal considerations are our technical considerations. This is your camera and lens set up and extends to any printing methodology tied into the capture. It may be your phone. It could be analog film Bellomo Lo Fi Plastic Thingy, a modern DSLR mirror list digital camera. It could be something that isn't actually a camera. Like an alternative print process or a plain old scanner. It could utilize instant film or disposable cameras or antique methods like Digg era types . Each method of capture brings with it its expectations and handicaps the particular vibe that affects the entire image. For example, old timey portrait methods used today require subjects to stay still because they have slow shutter speeds and slow exposure methods. Since I like Surrealism in my imagery, using less traditional means of image capture at Surrealism without me having to introduce it in post, we have Photoshopped Lens Choice has a profound effect on how a subject is presented in an image. Wide angle lenses when shot close to a subject vote cartoonish energy and distortion. If the goal is a beauty shot, the close and wide look isn't very ideal. White angle pulled back won't distort the subject, but it firmly plans them in the environment, creating the cinematic look that movies do for establishing shots. Though they wide angle lens creates unflattering looks, some of those could be ironed out using adobe light rooms transformed Function. The kind of lens is most commonly associated with portrait photography on SL Ours and DSLR Czar. The 50 Millimeter and the 85 millimeter lenses with large apertures that allow for a blurred background, reducing everything beyond, are subject to graphic shapes. The focal lengths also forced the photographers to position themselves and the idea length of space from a subject not too far away and not too close. 7. FX: the last point to cover in our formal on technical talk is postproduction in in camera effects. There are times when I love the computer and and all the things it does to aid me creatively. And there are periods when I've spent so much time staring at the screen. I want to scream. There are times when I want to make tactile art, get wet hands, use painting, drawing, burn, freeze and otherwise engaged in physical process while working on photos. Mixed media has been a part of the photographic art since the first false color was painted on a black and white print. And it's everywhere today, from scrapbooking to the highest level of graphic design in fashion shooting. Bringing other media can take otherwise ordinary shape and give it a layer of meta context , something really beyond reality. This involves altering a print, physically adding collage or drawing embroidery or allowing the forces of nature to take hold by freezing, burning and otherwise grudging up the physical print. Some of the in camera effects you can use to get a creative portrait effect is controlling time, so slow shutter speeds to get blurs or multiple flashes during a slow shutter to get dragging the shutter effects. Dragging the shutter involves something around 1/15 of a second shutter speed while you papa Flash and there are ambient lights around. If you zoom your lens or move your camera around at the same time, you will get wild energy, which sometimes looks great and sometimes doesn't look so hot. But that is one method for getting a creative portrait shoot. You can change the light that comes through your lens, so filters are the most common way of changing that light or holding it up a notch object that distorts light, such as a glass in front of your lens. You can also bend the lens and the way that you bend the lenses either free lensing, meaning the lens is not attached to your camera at the time you are moving it around or to use something unique, such as a lens baby, which has a tilt shift effect built into its A lot of the lens babies that I'm aware of have a plastic lens attached to a rubberized ho's body, and you manipulate the surround to have one sweet spot of your lens in focus and the rest of it goes very soft and zoo me 8. Wrap Up + Project: So that's it for class. I hope you enjoyed looking at the amazing work of so many photographers. Past and present. Came away with some ideas and how you can approach your own creative portrait. Shoot. I truly believe that conceptual part of a shoot is what separates the great work from the merely technically proficient. When you start working with compliant subjects and can answer that. Who, where, how and why of a portrait shoot, you'll find the only limits of what you can create are your imagination in your budget. With that said, I love to see the creative porter working. Come up with details of your shoe. Thanks for watching.