Storytelling through Portrait Photography: Shooting Better Portraits | Brian Kelly | Skillshare

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Storytelling through Portrait Photography: Shooting Better Portraits

teacher avatar Brian Kelly, Photographer and Director

Watch this class and thousands more

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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

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Introduction: Gear


    • 4.

      In Studio: A Detroit Project


    • 5.

      In Studio: Backdrops & Wardrobe


    • 6.

      In Studio: Lights


    • 7.

      In Studio: Research & Setup


    • 8.

      In Studio: Shooting


    • 9.

      Finding Your Location


    • 10.

      On Location: Outdoor


    • 11.

      On Location: Indoor


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About This Class

Tell a story about your community by capturing a portrait of a friend or family member. Demonstrate your understanding of subject, lighting and environment by telling a narrative through your portraits.

Stage the perfect portrait photoshoot with photographer Brian Kelly's fun, 50-minute guide. The class covers everything an aspiring photographer needs to know to take their portrait game to the next level, from location scouting to equipment to lighting. Whether you're shooting on location or in studio, Brian's essential tips will help you make your camera and gear work flawlessly, allowing you to focus on the creative image. By the end of this class, you'll capture captivating photos and achieve the portrait aesthetic that tells your story best. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Brian Kelly

Photographer and Director


Brian photographs people, places and architecture for a wide variety of advertising, corporate and editorial clients across the country.

Recent clients include Subaru, Kellogg's, Amway, Haworth, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Spectrum Health.

He is fortunate to operate two fantastic studios in both Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan and frequently travel on assignment in the U.S. and abroad.

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1. Trailer: So much of photography today deals with capturing portraits of people either through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, these little snippets of your life. My name is Brian Kelly. I'm an advertising, magazine, and celebrity photographer here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm probably the most reluctant portrait photographer who ever lived, and I really gravitated early in my career towards architecture and design. Line, shape, form, color, all of these things can play an important role in describing and telling a better story about your portrait subject. I'm really intrigued with this triangular shape and how we can frame that around Rick. With Detroit portraits, obviously, the city itself and the narrative I'm trying to push is some positive messages and positive people doing really amazing things in the city of Detroit. This is an owner of a fantastic bakery in Detroit called Avalon Bakery, and I just really like the composition and the color palette, a lot of browns, popped off by reds and greens and yellows, and just some human scale in the background. What this class aims to do is to elevate your portrait skills maybe above the social media realm into more of a commercial or magazine environment. You're going to be able to take some of the things that I've learned that made me more comfortable as a portrait photographer and you can start to employ these techniques into your shoots right away. 3. Introduction: My name is Brian Kelly. I'm a advertising, magazine and celebrity photographer here in Grand Rapids Michigan. I'm excited to bring to you a very specialized class that deals with storytelling through portraiture. So, the class I'm designed for you is entitled Storytelling Through Portraiture and Making Better Portraits. I have developed a lighting style that I'll be sharing with you during this course that has led to a lot of interesting projects and this lighting style has made my work in demand around Michigan and also around the country. These simple techniques and tips will help you light your portrait subjects better. We're also going to talk about how you connect to your portrait subject. How do you make them feel relaxed in front of the camera. We'll talk about what we look for when I go out and scout a location. What makes a good location to shoot a portrait. So, much of photography today deals with capturing portraits of people either through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, these little snippets of your life and what this class aims to do is to refine the portrait skills that you have to elevate your portrait skills maybe above the social media realm into more of a commercial or a magazine environment. One of the more successful shoots I ever had employing some of the techniques that I'll be teaching you in this class was a portrait I shot earlier this year with Jay Leno and I was given a hotel room suite and had had access to pre-light this hotel room and an area to pre-light Jay, he wasn't there but I had a lot of time to set up lights, two or three lights. When he arrived we put them into the lighting set up that I had spent so much time setting up and I just was not happy with the images and the progression of the images that happened and I ended up dumping all my lights except for one light that I will show you and share with you how I lit Jay Leno with just a single light in a hotel suite and created one of the images that has really helped propel my career forward this year. You will have a couple of assignments, shooting assignments, with this that you'll be able to share with me and the rest of the class that enrolls. You'll be assigned to shoot a family member or a friend in a studio environment but also to discover through a conversation with your portrait's subject a place, a location that is important and relevant to your subject no matter whether you've only used a little bit of lighting in your career as a photographer or whether you're just starting out as an amateur or you're an advanced amateur or a professional already, I think there's something in this course for everybody to pick up, just a couple of extra things that's really going to dramatically improve how you communicate a story about a person through portraiture. 6. Introduction: Gear: The main question that all photographers seem to get stuck on is, what gear do I use? What camera should I have? What lenses should I have? What lighting gear should I have? It's a constant conversation. I really feel that this is all not important. The actual brand that use is not important. The actual glass that you use is not necessarily all that important. What's important is that you have an understanding of composition, a little bit about lens lengths, and whether you should use a wide angle or a telephoto lens at times, maybe you have more of a simple point and shoot that might have a one telephoto lens that kind of zooms in and out of the camera body, and those are fine too. You can make some very nice images with those and they actually have or are packing some amazing sensors on these very, very small camera bodies these days. I want really consistent tools that I know very well that fit my hand well that eventually have a mastery of. Then, I'll use this for a very long time. I'm not always trading up to the next greatest thing. I think you'd be amazed compared to many other photographers. I really only have three or four lenses that I use on a regular basis. One is the lens on that camera that you'll see me shooting a lot in this class is the Canon L series 24 to 70 millimeter. F/2.8, it's a very fast lens. It lets a lot of light in and it's a zoom range that's very sharp at 24 millimeters, which is a wider angle, all the way into 70, which is a good medium portrait length lens to you. So, it's a real workhorse. I'm not always stopping the change out primes. I love prime lenses, but most of the time, when I'm shooting celebrities or corporate executives or advertising shoots, sometimes these shoots are so fast paced. If I were to swap out every time, I wanted a little bit of change and lens perspective, I wouldn't be able to execute as many shots. 7. In Studio: A Detroit Project: Just over three years ago, I started a very important personal portrait photography project in the city of Detroit which I call Detroit portraits. Really the inspiration for the Detroit portrait project was literally my utter fatigue of seeing just the ruin porn and sort of decay narrative and abandonment narrative that comes out of Detroit all the time.The approach I take with the whole entire Detroit portraits Project and the approach to portraiture, has really been one that's developed through getting to know my subjects, finding out what their story is and then me trying to create a portrait which helps tell an authentic representative portrait of who this person is. So, with Detroit portraits obviously the city itself and the narrative I'm trying to push is some positive messages and positive people doing really amazing things in the City of Detroit. I would talk to them about a location that is meaningful to them and we would sort of arrive and I would ask them to think about a location where they might like to be photographed in the city of Detroit. And they've all found some place that's meaningful to them in some way. And you can do this as well with your portrait subject for this class is interview them, talk with them, get a little bit of information about them, do a little research and find out what you can find out and then talk to them and really see what sort of stories emerging, what parts of their lives, what places have been significant to them in the past, now or maybe in the future. This is a very wide portrait and this particular person in Detroit is an artist and she does a lot of pop of galleries around the city and I wanted to show a large building and her pop-up gallery at that point was just around the corner. So the location is meaningful, it wasn't far from her business. And so I left a lot of space around her and she had just bright dress on and you'll see that a lot of my work is informed by architecture. I'm very much looking for squares and grid patterns and things of this nature where I might be able to incorporate the person into the scene. That is a really big key to how I photograph people. I'll look for a scene that looks really interesting without a person in it and then I'll then bring the person to the location and put them into the composition and then light them within that particular scene. This is an owner of a fantastic bakery in Detroit called Avalon bakery. And so this is just an interior portrait during a busy lunch hour. They're in the midst of preparing sandwiches and sort of the rush of the day but was able to pull off a single light source interior photograph with her. And I just really like the composition, the color palette lot of brown's popped off by reds and greens and yellows and just some human scale in the background. Last one I'll go through for now is the context of an environmental portrait of an artist in a studio in Detroit. This is a graffiti artist who's world renowned, does a lot of corporate commissions with General Motors and Chevy and Fiat and he's one of the more successful graffiti artists you could ever meet and the country. He lives in Detroit and he's from Detroit. His loft studios where he lives and paints and so it's very important for him and for me to photograph him in his studio and this is similar to what we're going to do with an artist that we've done for our class project and I'll be showing and taking you on location to shoot at the artist's Rick beer horse two's in Grand Rapids here. But shades I really wanted to incorporate a canvas of his underway and progress. He loves to bike, he bikes around the city. He is to his core a Detroiter, a very proud and this is where he lives and works and again I've picked an area compositionally it's in thirds. We have bikes on the left third, in the center third is the subject himself and on the right has more information and context with art and Canvas. So, this is sort of divided up into thirds and this is a very calculated thing that I'll do in camera is where do I want to arrange objects or the person that helps tell their story in a more meaningful way through the portrait that I'm making. So, I want to introduce you the model that I'm going to be shooting both in the studio and also out on location. So, I really love this painter and he's a friend of mine. I've been fortunate to know him quite a few years. His name is Rick beer Horse. And that he's one of the most prominent painters in the Midwest. He's an amazing portrait painter. He is somebody who every time I've had the opportunity to photograph him really has a presence on camera. For the purposes of this class he's a great subject to explore because we can start to layer some studio images of him that tell begin to give us some idea of who he is and then we're going to go on location to his studio where he paints which is an old carriage house in the city of Grand Rapids. It's probably around 100 years old. It's hasn't changed much from 100 years ago but this is a place where he paints, he creates, he goes to like get away and sort of think about his work and also the place where it's come this creative hub. And so out of these portraits that will make of him not only in the studio but on-location will begin to emerge a portrait story of my friend Rick beer horse. 9. In Studio: Backdrops & Wardrobe: So, let's talk about backgrounds and backdrops in the studio and what basic options you have available to you. One of the first types of backgrounds you can get is cloth backdrops and these are available in literally tens and hundreds of thousands of colors. I mean they can be custom made just for you. There are lots of companies that will custom make canvases for you or cloth backdrops. There's also websites that obviously you just order whatever color looks great to you. The big disadvantage for this is you can see that it's wrinkly. Right? That's not usually desirable when you have the background. It can look sloppy and it can look not so nice. It can be actually detract from your subjects and so usually you have to bring a steamer or an iron on-location and this is a lot of square footage to steam or iron out. So, if you're going to travel on location as I do a lot, you have to fold these things up, throw them into the back of the truck or on an airplane or wherever you're going and when you open them up, you need to build in time to steam out these things to get the wrinkles out so you can have more of a seamless less distracting background. The other option you have is paper seamless which is exactly what it is. This is just really thick paper and what's nice is that it comes in a couple of different sizes. Four foot width is very common and then this is a nine foot length roll, width roll. So, nine foot or four-foot, four-foot is great to travel with or maybe you're going to shoot on location somewhere but you also have to have some portraits on seamless that's a common scenario where I'm asked to take an environmental portrait and then the client will also say like a magazine, "Hey make sure you get some on seamless as well" and that'll be usually a four-foot size smaller seamless. This is great because it's somewhat disposable. When you walk on it. it picks up prints, it gets wrinkled, it'll rip and tear but you'll just kind of cut off what you've used, throw it away, roll up the rest of it and bring it with you to the next shoot until you don't have enough left on the roll and you just get a new roll. So, now that we've had a good look at what Rick wore to the studio today, we can really start to look at these backgrounds and see what kind of complimentary or a contrasting color we can come up with. So, what you see here is I have a variety of colors that I've just pulled out. This is a paper seamless, it's very inexpensive and you can get it at almost any camera store around the country. It comes in nine foot wide links and it also comes in four foot and they can run anywhere from $19 maybe up to 80 or $99, it just depends on where you get them. Not expensive at all and reusable to some degree and they're just kind of the backbone of the photo studio world is a little bit of accent color, it doesn't have to be expensive by any means. So, I have some brown, it's a rust color, a blue, a black, a darker blue, a crimson, kind of a mocha coffee colored and kind of this greenish sea foam or whatever you want to call it celery color maybe. But, looking at Rick, he's wearing dark pants and a dark sweater. We could probably really create a dramatic portrait on black. So, I've gone ahead and selected the black as I mentioned, I think it's going to be the best opportunity to really show off Rick's skin and sort of the lighting techniques that we're using in the studio today. Nine foot seamless can be a little bit of a pill to handle by yourself in the studio. It's great to have an assistant like Mark today who's helping sort of roll this out, tape it out. This sweep here really creates that seamless quality that you don't sense the floor texture and you don't really have a wall effect. It's really the seamless sort of infinity thing that can happen where the background is just doing whatever job you want it to do for the subject. Safety is definitely one of the things that you want to be concerned about. When you're putting things up high and putting things on the floor, there's possibility that people might come across it and stub a toe or trip or anything like that. With that said now that everything sort of in place and rolled out, we're going to put some sand bags and some shot bags onto these C stands so they're weighted down and no one can knock them over. 10. In Studio: Lights: The next big question that a lot of photographers have is what kind of light should I use, what kind of strobes. So these are three boxes that I use a lot and the first one is a 27-inch square box, soft box made by Alan Chrome, a good Swiss company, and there's very, very awesome heads very powerful. I also use external power packs which we'll be shooting on location and I'll be showing you those on location and that makes this whole system very portable for me and because I do so much on location and in different environments every day, I have to bring all this gear with me and I have to bring power with me, I can't be looking for plugs and outlets and all that outdoors or wherever I might be on a factory floor anywhere where I might be shooting. This is the 27-square, it has an additional sort of optional piece of equipment which is called an egg crate, it's this grid. It's really corals the light and projects it forward, it doesn't allow a lot of the light to spill out and away from the box. This is a 27 octa bank which is the same basic size and width but it shaped eight sides octa, eight sides octa bank. This particular configuration and light because of the way it's scrimmed in the covers on it, it will spread a fair amount of light out away and onto the subject. This is a lot for a top plate down over somebody's head just a little bit of a rim light or directing light just down on people a couple of feet over their head and around them. This middle soft box is what we call a strip box and it's about 14 inches wide and I've even added another application, another cover to the front that even scrims and blocks more light than just the 14 inches wide. It has basically a five-inch gap in the middle roughly that it shoots light through or six inches probably and four and four and what I like about this is this allows me to also I can shoot that vertically and fill the width of somebody just from the side, the height of somebody, I'm sorry, from the side. I can also spin the sideways shoot it horizontally on a subject and I can only have light hitting their face and there's not a lot of spill down underneath their chest or underneath their chin. The last thing I wanted to show you is this snoot, or a cone, I call it a snoot but this is another way it sits on the same head that these soft boxes are resting on and this is a very narrow beam of light and just a couple of inches wide. This is very directional and I used it in the Detroit portrait project a lot and it really works well with portraiture, with people with darker skin tones, African-Americans or people that are just, you want a little kick right in the face area, it can have a nice little bounce worth of light coming off to the side. So, there's four basic lighting modifiers that I use all the time. Again, you'll arrive at a kit that works really great for you. So once Rick's position then we can start to blend in our lights and we're going to start with the 27-square box kind of off to the side. Many times I don't really flat a portrait where you push light directly straight into the subject. For me, it doesn't quite create enough drama so I'm always setting lights off a little bit to the side to create a little bit of shadow and fall off from one side of the face to the other. So, 27 is in position and we're just going to do a single light source and we're going to take a look at what happens when we move the key light around a little bit, move it side to side and then we'll see what happens with the portrait and where we should be from there and what adjustments can we make as we're shooting. We can start to shoot some tests frames, kind of see what's our baseline here, what sort of power levels do we need. What I've done is I've sort of set a faster shutter speed and we're going to cover a little bit more about that in detail but I've selected the shutter speed of 160th of a second. It's a little bit faster shutter speed and it doesn't allow as much ambient light to seep into the photo which is an important concept for shooting with strobes and I'll be into that in a little more detail. But as you can see, I've set off the 27-strip box with the egg crate. About a fairly severe angle off to the side I'm directly in front of Rick, but creating and putting the light source off to the side will create a fall off of a highlight on one side of the face with darker shadow area off the other side. One of the key components you want to be conscious of is not having it too dramatic and too dark on one side or the other but sort of playing with distance, an angle of light to fill either one side of the face or both sides of the face. So, I'm going to go ahead and shoot some portraits here, or quick test shots and see how we're doing. 11. In Studio: Research & Setup: I've been a photographer now for over 15 years full time, and one of the best things that any photographer can do is to look for inspiration in the professional photography world by voraciously looking at photographers websites or magazines or newspapers for imagery that will inspire you. It doesn't mean necessarily that you're going to copy or duplicate or try to rip off another photographer's work. That's not the point, one photographer that I love and I've loved from probably the last 10 years and followed very closely is Dan Winters and he's one of the premier portrait photographers. So, I'll just drive through some of his work. He shoots a lot on location like I do, he also shoots a lot in the studio and I actually would love to do more work, paid work or a commission work inside the studio. But he just has a masterful touch with lighting, composition. He's always coming up with something very unique and this is Tom Hanks from a few years ago. Obama in the studio when Obama was very young, and just the way that he composes and lights people is just masterful and something that I continually learn from and inspire. So, what I'll do is I'll just screen grab some things, save them on my desktop and then eventually get them synced onto a folder on my phone or on my iPad and I'm just looking around and I'm looking at images, I'll source them for ideas. One of the first things you want to do when your portrait subject arrives at the location is to look at their wardrobe and as there any complimentary colors or any other type of cues we can take from Rick's wardrobe that might help the portrait and create contrast or create symmetry with color. So Rick just arrived, I didn't give you any instruction in terms of wardrobe. No. I just said dude show up. Yeah. We're going to make a nice portrait. So, his jacket is great. I love that he's wearing dark clothes with just some muted colors on top. There's greens, blues, little bit of brown hues in here that we can take cues from. So you're portrait subject, you'll want to really look head to toe in terms of what can I play with here in terms of color and how can I create either a contrast or symmetry with my background selection? That applies whether you're in the studio shooting or out on location. What I find that really helps loosen my subjects up is one; be prepared know who you're photographing, do a little research of them online, do a little Internet sort of back door, find their Twitter feed, see where they were yesterday, where were they this morning or a week ago? Did they go on vacation? So, when you actually have a moment to break the ice with them not with a camera in your hand, but just talking to them. How do you really show some interest in them and that you know something about them and who doesn't like to be flattered by people being interested in them and asking you questions? Another way to make your portrait subject a little more comfortable is to use humour. I tend to be a little bit self-deprecating, I might make jokes about my weight or that I don't want people to be intimidated by my looks or I might have these little lines that seem to take the pressure off the sitter, I mean them completely sarcastically, have a very dry sense of humor and I'm not afraid to just be myself around people and I think that that helps. Even though there's a lot going on in my mind about technically how I'm going to light somebody into the right location, I'm trying to project to them that hey, I've a great interest in who they are and I can't wait to take their portrait and also that I'm here also going to have fun, that this isn't going to be a pressure packed situation and that we're going to get through this together and have a really memorable portrait at the end of the day. Another trick that I use on location or in the studio is to have another person with you. Sometimes it might be a friend of the person that you're shooting, somebody that knows them pretty well, maybe you don't know the subject that well, but you can have somebody nearby that can stand off camera and you could have them, ask them to talk to them. You can create inadvertently some awkward moments that sometimes can turn into a wonderful candid laughter, and if you're anticipating those things as the photographer you can really get a nice candid moments with an authentic laugh and not just people frozen at the camera like that and you just don't want that veneer. I think a lot of a good pro portrait photographers job is to cut through that veneer. We want to most people in front of a camera just want to shut down or only present to you the person that they think looks best to the world. Honestly that's not in most of the time, 99 times out of the 100 is not the veneer that you want the person to have. You want to be able to punch through that wall that they might put up their best smile, that senior portrait look that they'll give you, you really want more of a candid authentic moment. A lot of what I love about this class and using environments and environmental portraits is to help take some pressure off somebody just, there's more to the story than just their face. It's the environment that you choose to put people in that can help tell a more authentic story about who this person is and what experiences they've had in their life that might be interesting. If the person you're photographing doesn't have somebody that they can bring with them to the shoot, I shoot most of the time almost all the time with a photo assistant. What I find is interesting is that they can be not only the person that can help move in sight and move gear and make adjustments during the shoot, it makes the shoot flow faster and people get less fatigue. Their portrait person isn't going, why is the shot taking so long? It keeps the shoot and the set moving quickly. But also they can become this muse and I'll often ask Mark to stand off just off camera to this side or just off camera to this side or just off, just behind over my shoulder, have the subject look at Mark or the assistant and not right at the camera. There can also be these awkward tensions that happen and I love these people feel a little bit weird looking at a stranger sometimes and then there'll be some burst of little laughter again that becomes very authentic and candid and it wasn't that you asked them to make this candid smile, it just happened naturally. 12. In Studio: Shooting: So the first thing I'd like to do is just, where do you start and at the beginning of your portrait session. One thing I can do that's really easy, just position that sitter sort of facing the light source that's off to the sign, and pretty much then just ask the subject to kind of come through a whole bunch of head movement, so we can see, how the light gradates from one side to another as he moves through the frame from left to right, just swiveling his head. So, we're going to go ahead and do that. Rick, just pick a spot just towards the bottom of the strobe box to look at. And then will just swing through every time the strobe pops, you can move a little bit, and here we go. Yeah. Great. That's good. Head a little lower, eyes lower, yeah that's good, super. So as they come through, as he turns away from the light source, obviously the side of his face that's farthest away from the light source is going to become very dark, and very black. So, somewhere in there is going to be that perfect sort of ratio between highlight and shadow. The next step after shooting a single light source is to go to two light sources. And I've moved in the strip box that we talked about earlier. And I've sort of positioned it a little bit lower, and sort of kicking light up into the subject. So the result of this, what we're hoping is a little more detail in Rick's jacket. So we'll start with Rick, just kind of straight on at me for a minute. Okay, perfect. And just hold that, let me look at the screen. So already, we're seeing a really nice fill, a lot more detail on Rick's right arm which would be the left side of the frame of the portrait. And we're getting a much better sense of the greens and hues. Most of the time, I do not like, even lighting on both side of the face, so do like some far off it shows a little more texture, and a little more character of each individual. And that ratio you can increase or decrease depending on what your personal tastes are, and how it seems to be expressing itself with a particular portrait sitter that you're working with. So, let's go ahead and power this one up another stop. So now I'm demonstrating what more equal power might look like for both these boxes. And Rick just right here at me, turn, there you go. We'll see the difference there. Is definitely filling in a lot more light on the left side of his face, and getting a nice highlight right on as actual eyeball. One thing we're going to talk about a lot in this series is catch lights in the eyes. The strobes reflect in the eyeball itself, and create life and a little bit of sparkle, I don't really love that word, but it is something that comes to mind, but you definitely want to catch lights in the eyes, so they aren't dead. And really, any viewer of any portrait painting or photograph, a photographic portrait. We're humans, and we're going to be drawn almost immediately, one of the first places you'll look in any portrait is at the eyes. So one place where we always connect as human beings, so you're going to want to make particular attention, and look and see exactly where light is falling and reflecting, in the eyeballs itself. Great, let's look over here for a little bit. Yes, great. Look up just higher, with your eyes. Yes, that's it, perfect, right there. Nice. Great. See these come up. Very nice. These are great. Now, I just want to demonstrate if I take the key light and really power that down. Let's take it down to 2.8, and we'll just see what happens, a lot, you can just sort of experiment with different ratios. Have one side up and power the other side down, you can reverse that light. The studio is really the place to experiment, and take your time, and really sort of play around with light. You're really just splashing it here and there and seeing what effects might happen. So we'll see what this does. That's great, the main key now, the light. Mark if you don't mind, lets power this up even more to, let's go up to 3.2 on that. Okay. And we'll just see. Now we're sort of reversing this ratio, using the strip boxes, almost the main key now. And you'll see that there's more of this under-light coming up under his chin. We're getting more detail on his hand, and on his jacket, and the falling away is it's getting darker more on this side. Again, this is personal taste. You might arrive at a particular recipe that really works for you, that you'd like to go to all the time in the studio or on location. But I like to approach everything kind of new and different, and maybe arrive at something I hadn't shot before. And let's go ahead and back this down even more, and let's turn this down, bring it down to 2. There we go. See what's happening here, it's even more dramatic, I've left that power level the same, and then decreasing power on the main key light, and we're getting the sort of opposite effect. Let's go ahead and turn it all the way down to 1.5. And then what we're seeing is, the last thing and then the last thing I'd like to see Mark is let's just kill this pack entirely, and we'll see what happens when we only light with the strip box on one side. So we're back to a single light source, we've just flip flopped it the sign, and also the light coming out of that box is shaped a lot differently than it is with the egg crate. See what effect that has. And you can see that we've lost all, the light off the right side of his face, it's gone very dark. And this would be a place where I would say, I don't really like what's happening here. It's you've highlight on one side, and the other side is completely dark. And, although it's moody, it isn't really describing much about my person, it seems more of a lighting gimmick. It seems overly dramatic, as opposed to really informing me something about, the portrait or the person in the portrait themselves. So, I'm looking forward to getting with Rick. We're going to go actually to his studio. And shoot an environmental portrait. So there's two portraits, one is kind of in the studio, or in a more of an interior environment that seems, not so descriptive of who they are and what they do. And then we can also pick a second portrait that you'll execute, on location. That is does have meaning to this particular sitter, this person, that you're describing through your portraiture. 13. Finding Your Location: So many times a magazine or one of my clients will assign me a person to take a portrait of and that's great because then I know who I'm photographing, I have some idea of where they live or where they work or what they do or what makes them tick, after I do a little bit of research. But if I also do a lot of photography if I'm not busy shooting, I create my own assignments which every one of you should be doing too is you all have time to create your own assignment pretend that you got a call from a magazine and you're asked to take a portrait of somebody and that somebody could just be your best friend, it could be a friend of a friend, it might be a girl you wanted to meet, it could be a boy you wanted to meet, it could be anybody that you might have license if you ask them to take their picture to make an interesting portrait. So, what I look for in a potential portrait subject is I want to know a little bit about them and what they do and a good example is what I've done in Detroit over the last few years, is I might encounter somebody or be introduced to somebody and just be a conversation with them, I find out that they might be an entrepreneur, they started a barber shop or you find out that there are professional graffiti artists and or they might be a singer or they might sing in a band so that starts to once I start this conversation I'm starting to see images and places and contexts where these people might be photographed to tell a better story. So, I'm really interested in conversations with people, there's no way that you can get around not engaging people as a photographer and having to talk to them, it's very hard to be a wallflower and aside from just seeing somebody physically that might be interesting. I really often don't care about standards of attractiveness, beauty. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in real people, doing real things with real outcomes real big passion in what they're doing. I love to photograph people who have made their world, their passions in life have become central to their world. So, whether that's a restaurant tour, like I mentioned an artist it could've been- in Detroit I've photographed and been fortunate to photograph people who have emerged out of addiction and homelessness and they've transformed their life in some way. So, some people have very dramatic, amazing stories that you can help and become interested in portraying those people in a way that photographically also is very interesting. Location scouting is very important to a photographer especially when you're asked to blend something relevant to your portrait subject. As I did early in my career I start almost every portrait that I do on-location. I started thinking about the background first. This is a big secret of mine. I don't know if it's a secret but it's just a way I get more comfortable around at creating portraits because I'm still a little bit always nervous about taking portraits. I do this full time for a living and I shoot pressure pack situation with celebrities and politicians and business executives but one way that I always take more pressure off myself is finding an interesting background or location to photograph somebody. This I almost start with my first mindset is, if I take a photo with no person in it, is it an interesting photo, does it describe something interesting? Are there interesting shapes, colors or forms in the background or do I just want a very plain palette behind the person? But sort of my one trick that I use often almost on every shoot is find a very interesting space visually interesting space to me and if I like the background then I'll start worrying about where I position somebody on location. So, I started by looking at textures, very wide spaces could be a huge brick wall, could be expansive parking lot, could be a very gritty urban texture, it could be a long cornfield or apple orchard or could be out in the country it doesn't matter but the texture and space around them is somehow interesting to me before I even put a person inside the frame of the camera. So, once I've established that this space is interesting, then I put in the person and then I'll begin to think about lighting that person within that context either via my strobe lighting or analyzing what direction the sun is coming from, is it overhead? Is it like sunset time coming here? How am I going to again allow light to fall on the subject either more light more intense light on one side of the face or less on the other playing with light and shade and darkness all within the space. I tend to shoot a little bit wider. I enjoy context in photographs. So, I don't shoot a ton of really super tight portraits all the time, I'm usually allowing space around the subject to kind of let the subject breathe. Again most people that I photograph are not professional models, per say they aren't super comfortable all the time in front of the camera and not every move that they make is amazing you know we're not all shooting Kate Moss everyday, I would like to but that's just not the scope of my work. I'm usually shooting a baker. Somebody who's very normal people that aren't accustomed to being in front of the camera. So, what I try to do is find the context if this is your friend or your family member maybe it could be their kitchen, their garage. They love shooting, working on cars and they like building things and in that case those are cues that you want to listen to and start to inject those people into an environment that helps describe who they are. This is a big part of successful environmental photography is an portrait photography in particular is finding that one location that really makes a person tick. What's their happy spot? What's their happy place? Is it a place that they just go to chill out? Is it a place that maybe something dramatic happened in their life that helped set them on a certain course? We all have those places that in our lives, in our memories that may be the place that could be a great place to take a portrait. 14. On Location: Outdoor: Technically, what I've arrived at here is that I want to use my 24-70 zoom lens. It's just a great versatile lens, 24 is wide enough to get a lot of Rick in the foreground but also show the entire carriage house. This is really the crux of this environmental portrait is we want to show a painter who works from his home, who has a studio that he paints in and has really created amazing, prolific work out of this studio. So, I am going to pull Rick forward here a little bit. We're just going to shoot with natural light. It's a fairly overcast day in Michigan, as it is many times and it's an even flat light. So, we're going to compare, first, we're going to shoot a natural light portrait and then we're going to shoot a portrait with a strobe and add that, and then we'll compare the differences. But we're just going to shoot away here and see what happens. It's awesome. All right. Great. So, my main focus right now is to try to keep as much of the carriage house into the frame and offset Rick a little bit so he's not part of all these textures and patterns behind. I'm putting him off to the side a bit. The main thing with composition here is don't be afraid to move your subject around the frame everywhere. Put Rick here, put him here, put him over all the way around. Once your subject is standing in the frame, you can move and recompose all the time. That's a great way to get variety and also, in your edit later, determine which image really worked the best. So, this is my assistant, Mark. Today, he works with me a lot, an awful lot. He's very mobile with this lighting rig that we have right now. This is a system that we use a lot. It's a very simple single light source, single strobe. I'm not trying to get too complicated but again, this is where that power pack head combination is so mobile and great that we described in the studio. What's really nice about this is I'm not looking for power outlets and plugs. All our power is condensed into the battery pack. I've selected for this portrait of Rick to compare to the naturally lit portrait the 27-inch square soft box with the egg crate modifier that really is going to direct light pretty much just from the chest to his head area. It's going to get a nice illumination on his upper body. I'm not really worried about lighting his legs and feet in the ground so much. But what I've done is Rick will be standing here, approximately where he was for the naturally lit portrait. For now, I'm going to have Mark, just ask you to stand next to the rabbit cage. I mean, you say that every day, right? Stand next to the rabbit cage. He's going to produce some light on to Rick from here. We'll do a of couple test shots, see where the light's falling on the subject and then we'll make some adjustments. It's all done on the fly and just very experimental, and this is how a lot of my work is shot. Another important aspect of shooting with strobe is how do you sync your camera and trigger the strobe itself. I use PocketWizard's. It's a very prolific brand, and they're very reliable, very small. But basically this, I'm not using on camera flash, I'm using off camera which is what the strobe that Mark is holding. This trigger will remotely fire the strobe and it has a very good range. You can even rig them up all over a house or wherever you need to go in terms of I could put lights quite a distance away and this transceiver will fire those strobes from quite a distance away. So, it seems that we are good to go. Testing. So, I'll get back in position. Mark is going to really have a harsh sidelight here. It could approximate sunlight. The nice thing about an overcast day is there isn't a sense of where the sun is coming and falling on the subject. We can create that feeling of a directional light onto our subjects any direction we want because there isn't a predominant direction happening naturally today with the weather. So, let's just see how it goes. I'm going to work with basically the same compositions, and we'll just start to blend in the strobe here and see what happens. Just see. So, let's power that up all the way to let's go to six, six and a half, six maybe. So, I've upped the power quite a bit. It is quite bright. It is overcast, but it's quite bright and I really want to force light down onto the subject as much as I can. That's definitely more what I was looking for. Could you lower it down just a little bit closer? Yeah, there we go. Right there is good, Mark. Perfect. Now, I'm starting to see the effect of the light hitting just mostly the left side of the frame and the right side of Rick's face. Very nice. Then the next thing is Mark. So, I have a very harsh sidelight here. All the light is just basically hitting this side of Rick's face. So I want to next try flattening out the light a little bit more and having more of a filling both sides of his face, and we'll see what happens with that. So, come on over here just a little bit flatter, Mark. Again, when you look at the studio class that we did, as soon as the highlight really just was falling on one side of his face and the other side went extremely dark, it fell out of my preference range. I didn't really like that effect on his face. It's now getting in a point where I'm seeing and revealing more about the subject. So, we'll shoot a few more and we'll keep moving this around. This looks really nice. One other effect that the strobe has outside is it allows the color, the bright colors of the carriage house to be very saturated and rich, much more so than the daylight only, no strobe-assisted outdoor lighting. You'll see the colors really pop and saturate. 15. On Location: Indoor: This is an area that there isn't a lot of ambient light. We could shoot at natural light, but for this I'd really like to just corral a little bit of light on Rick and let the space just fall away and have rich color. So, in here, I think I'm going to do primarily a strobe assisted light. A single light. Again, I don't have a lot of space to put three, four, five lights and we want this to go fairly quickly as well, too. So, we'll do a single light source and then we'll shut all that extra power off and also shoot a daylight balance light or a set of ambient light only without strobe and we'll just compare and contrast those. So, let's get started. We'll see how this first one goes. All right. Rick was describing this great Victorian chair. He's painted portrait subjects here in terms of this furniture as translated into paintings where he's created portraits and it's just nice to replicate that as in shooting Rick as an artist and shoot him sitting on an object that's often or sometimes found in a painting. I'm not able to physically get down with the wall here much lower but I can lock focus on Rick's face at an approximate level and then just pan down so I can see his feet, because right now it's important to me to show his entire body and as much of the environment as I can right now. So, it just allows me not to crop his toe off which is just a pet peeve of mine. If you're going to have part of the foot, let's see the whole thing and not just crop that off. I don't know if you paint that way sometimes. But yeah. So, I'm locking focus and then I'm just moving the camera down enough. This is really nice. Really rich colors. We have burgundies in the couch, we have a blue patina on the wall and it's all popping the strobe, it's really doing its job to give it a really rich saturated look. So, we're working on the next composition now which has this old staircase that goes up to the loft area and I'm really intrigued with this triangular shape and how we could frame that around Rick. In here, I'll just talk briefly about the settings I have. This is only specific to this area, in case you were curious. Every environment will have slightly different settings. I'm at ISO 200 fairly slow and my shutter speed has an 80th of a second, my aperture is at 4-5, so I'm letting in. There's a lot of window light also streaming in here and I want to retain that. So, I'm using a slower shutter speed and also a slower ISO speed, so the strobe and the ambient light outside the window light will be held in to some degree and won't blow out so. That's great Rick. I'm being especially mindful of the intersection of this triangle and where exactly the staircase is, how much space it's leaving around his head. So, I'm working horizontal and vertical. Vertical gives me a little less information. Top to bottom, there's less textures and objects. When I go horizontal, I'm definitely getting more of the stove and the couch and the color of that. So, definitely play around with vertical and horizontal compositions. Last four. Two and one more horizontal. Fabulous. So, I think we've had a really good day here with Rick comparing the studio shots that we did and we're really going to be able to tell a nice story between not just the studio portraits but to really get on location in an area where Rick does his work and describe how he lives, a little bit of the space where he imagines his work and he creates it. So this is all part of who he is in this environmental context. This location is the only place that can offer this information about Rick. So, when you're out talking to your friend or family member that you're going to create a story with, you want to ask questions where are places important to them, what's significant in their life and where are those places that you could potentially create a portrait. We all have places in our lives that are significant and creating a portrait in those places can be very powerful and also give the viewer some idea of who this person is and really add a lot of color and texture to your photographs. So, good luck on your assignment. Ask your friend or family member or anyone that you might have interest in photographing. Start exploring, start interviewing them, start talking to them about where would be a great place to shoot an environmental portrait. So, good luck. Get out there and make some great photographs.