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Fine Art Photography

Lesson 8 of 38

Identify the Problems

Brooke Shaden

Fine Art Photography

Brooke Shaden

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Lesson Info

8. Identify the Problems
Learning to identify problems in your own work helps you focus on areas to improve your art form. Watch Brooke work through some problems in her images. Learn to correct the problems that you see in your images.

Lesson Info

Identify the Problems

now there are problems I feel in this image now this is actually from that bed photo shoot something that I shot on a whim just because I was like I've got to shoot something I'm still standing here and water for six hours I'm going to take a picture so I did and this was on a win wasn't planned really and so I wanted to go through what I disliked about this picture now these are the things that I consider lighting location wardrobe pose an expression these are things that are really important colors composition editing I take all of those things into khun federation when I am creating my images so if I move on from you I'm gonna break all these things down lighting what is wrong with the lighting in this picture maybe you think nothing maybe you're like oh that's beautiful or maybe you're like wow I would never let a picture like that either way I think there's something wrong so there's a hot spot on the foot I don't like that I don't like that the foot is too bright I don't like hav...

ing that distracting little bit at the bottom there I'd rather have it fade into darkness that's my style and it's distracting on the floor I feel so we're all that light is spilling it on the floor I could have gotten that out in post and I didn't and a kind of wish that I would have it's glowing some people love glowing light I happen to really dislike it I don't like when light is so bright that it just bounces and over exposes on the subject and that's what's happening here so I didn't like the lighting here that's one of the many problems that I see with this picture um and it's hitting the subject unevenly because it was such direct light the subject couldn't be posed exactly what the light hitting her evenly therefore she has a lot of shadow a lot of highlight that something that I try to avoid in my work and it's harsh in direct sunlight coming in the pool I didn't do anything to stop it I shot it on the wind but I kind of like the pose so I kept going with it the location the pool is visible I don't like shooting in a pool if I can avoid it but sometimes it's really convenient but if I do I don't like it to look like a pool so this did this to me walked like a pool just based on how the light was hitting the floor so I didn't like that and so that's something that I identify as a weak point the wardrobe the blue is too dull so I had our wearing a blue dress I wanted that to be the vibrant point of the image but it was just ended up a little bit too dull actually have that dress around here somewhere that will be playing with a little bit later and it's not a bright blue dress I made a bad wardrobe choice on this so I it was kind of regretful about that his pants are too tight just kind of funny I've brought him pants that like only went up to his calf and it was really bad and so his pants are too tight which is quite obvious in this picture it's underwear kind of sticking out it I didn't like that about it so I wish that I had made major wardrobe that changes in this the pose an expression the man is too strained in my opinion I would have liked it to be a little bit more graceful maybe instead of looking like he's really struggling to hold her up because I know that he wasn't but he was struggling to stay underwater um he's too turned too far from the camera I would have liked them to be a little bit more even so it's a straight profile instead of being a little bit turned away from me so that was something that was just hard to control based on me floating all over the pool trying to take a picture and the colors which we did talk about their overall very dull on dh there dis saturated and that's a choice that I made him post that I regret making to sigh in on the floor I left the color of that floor go a little bit tio saturated something that I regret something that I look back on and I would change and then the blue dresses not blue enough as we mentioned the hair isn't red enough something that I really regret she has kind of red hair especially when it's under water I would have loved to have pull that out and I didn't the composition of the couple is turned too much just like I said before I wish that I had rotated them on dh I didn't get low enough so I feel that if I could have gotten really low and then looked up maybe there would be a sun flair and be a lot more interesting shot to get down at that low angle and see what maybe like what the man is seeing looking up at her and so I regret not doing that the editing lots of things and editing that could've fixed the highlights on the floor not enough color the streaks of light aren't highlighted enough in my opinion I would have loved lovely streaky light in there not enough texture to feel like it's organic so this image really felt like a pool and it felt like a straight shot from a pool and I wish that I had textured it a little bit more the pool is too visible so identifying more problems now in this case with this creative live picture that I did I want to break that down a little bit into how I remove myself from the image emotionally and just say this is why it's not working so in this case is the light highlighting what you wanted to be highlighting simple question that you can ask yourself is the light doing what you need it to dio do you want your subject highlighted as the main main thing in the picture or not and so in this case the light was really hitting the back wall a lot the subject was the same color as the background which her skin just blended in a lot and so that was something that I didn't like about this and that I would change so too much light on the background not enough light on the subject that was my problem in this picture the location does your location match the story now in this case I did feel a cz though I had failed so this is a simple question that you can ask yourself after you get through with the lighting go to the location is the location working for you is it not did you photograph your location at the best angle now I did feel that I got a good enough angle on this it wasn't so much about the angle it was much more about the actual space that we were working in so the location was too textured and it wasn't believable enough is a bedroom then we have the wardrobe does your wardrobe tell the story that you wanted to tell doesn't match the time period is it flowing enough what is the texture of the fabric like is it stiff for is it flowing all these things make a really really big difference and how we read the image so if we're not reading it in that way if we're not looking at this and understanding the goal of the story then that might be a problem if I had had her maybe standing and like a stiff straight black dress this would be a very different picture not one that I would like more necessarily but it definitely a different picture so I actually liked the wardrobe in this picture I felt that it was much needed color I thought that it had good flow and movement to it so that I was happy with then the pose an expression so does the pose or the expression tell a story in this case I feel that I failed there the pot's very stagnant the expression very blank neither one of those things were working to really further anything on dh then is the pose dynamic enough to keep the viewer engaged so is the subject doing something that really allows the viewer whoever that is you or somebody else toe look at that character and say okay I need to stare at this character because it's telling me something she is telling me something about this story and then the colors do the colors match the image to the colors convey the right emotion now I didn't like this was a choice that I made to turn the flowers of white I don't like having all of that white in the image I did that on my own because it looked better I felt in the pink flowers that I had before but it wasn't the right choice to make so I regret doing that composition did you fit everything into the frame without losing essential details was the camera angle on lens choice appropriate so these are things that I'm trying to think about and I felt as though I should have chosen just a slightly lower angle on this because that again might help to give it a little bit more dimension to it something that might make it a little bit more interesting editing is the editing seamless and if not is it something that can be fixed in photo shop or do you have to go back and do a reshoot now in this case I felt like I definitely could have in hand with white a little bit more maybe added it more to the subject taken it away from the background but in the end I really just wanted to re shoot this picture and I probably will so you have to be able to trace a problem back to the source back to the shoot go way way back and say okay I know that I'm editing this now but was there a problem when I actually shot it and how can that be fixed so when you understand where the problem originated then you know how to fix it so I can look at that boat picture and say ok the problem was there were studio lights on it evenly lit everything I should have turned those studio lights off later on in post I should have played with the even more added more like the subject less to the background so there were things that I could've done both in shooting and editing to fix it which I did not dio I've learned from it though I know now to control that light a little bit more so some problems call for reshoot some for editing and I want to talk about some of those examples another picture of mine that I feel I messed up on so why did I mess up on this mostly the lighting so if you look at this picture maybe you think nothing of it maybe you're like oh it makes sense to me but if you're an overly critical person and you're looking at this then of course you're going to see a little bit of a problem which is the fact that I put a sky in this picture that was backlit I then took a picture of my subject who was lit from the front so you can see that there's a shadow on her arm that's coming from the front so there's light from the front hitting her arm shadow on the back but in this picture because I manipulated it there's light coming from the back and thus her arms should be lit from the back it's not that's a problem there's no rim light on her hair because she was not lit from the back s o this is something that I have to fix later on if I'm going to composite it like this I either need to change the light on the subject or choose a different sky to put in the background now this is an image where I did put a different sky in but I did it the right way essentially technically who knows if it looks okay but technically the sky was lit from behind the sun was behind those clouds the subject was also lit from behind the sun had already gone down but the sun went down just behind those mountains because the sun went behind those mountains she was lit from behind because she was lit from behind I was able to put that sky in with the backlit clouds so this technically makes sense to me so what about intuition what about the idea that you could just be drawn to something because heck you like it and that's it and you don't have to have a reason behind it well I think about intuition that just because you understand something immediately doesn't mean that there isn't a reason behind that so yes we're all drawn to certain things I showed you my favorite pictures I let you know why they were my favorite I chose them based on intuition I looked at them and I said I just love them like I don't know I just love on I think they're they're kind of cool and then I said why why do I feel so drawn to them what is it about these pictures that makes me say oh yeah that's why I like this it was the rich color the dark background the natural leaves the the darkness what what else was there I don't even remember self portrait ce they were also portrait lots of different things that went into it identified those reasons and I said this is why and so yes I chosen based on intuition but there was a reason behind it are you happy with every single image that you produce if you are congratulations just go home right now it's okay I don't think that everybody is if you are then you're probably not reaching far enough not reaching past what you're doing now to see the future you should understand why you like and dislike all of your images so then you move forward so if you're not analyzing yourself and saying this is why I do this this is why I do that then you're never going to break for free from that and move on and do something even better now narrowing down your portfolio is all about going with your gut yes choosing images that stand out to you but also being able to back up your choices so being able to say you know what I love these ten images but why do I love them and then presenting that especially in a gallery so if you have a gallery situation and they're saying hey I need some images you need to be able to give them and then also say why so taking a look having an artist statement helps to guide your selections were going to do an artist statement later on during the business segment so I'm not going to go into detail about that now but if you understand the goals of your work then you can have a more cohesive portfolio okay so what are the goals of your photography what are you trying to say um so saying with your images all about the message what are you trying to put out there these are my themes these are what I want to give to you this is what I'm trying to say with my photography beauty and darkness showing the human form creating a moody atmosphere let's see square compositions I love making the subject pop that's something that really excites me creating motion having a dominant color in an image and then fairy tales this is what I'm trying to say with my photography I know that therefore I can choose images that adhere to these guidelines that I have made for myself choosing images for your portfolio that embody your goals will being technically sound super important so you never ever want to have a gallery show in which you know maybe the lighting is wrong like I showed you in that picture the worst thing ever that can happen is having somebody come in who is also a photographer and say this doesn't make sense I've had that happen before it's a little heartbreaking but still necessary it's good that people keep you on your toes and keep you you know understanding how your images work conceptually and technically who am I being compared to now you can answer this very literally you could say well I have got this neighbor who is also a photographer and I think people are comparing me to that person but I don't buy that I think that when you compare your new work to your previous work that's when you start to grow and when you compare your former self to your current self that's also how you grow so when you compare yourself to yourself that means that you were understanding who you are is a person who you are as an artist and how to move forward these are my new works and these are some of my old works so right on the bottom there that was my older ones on the top of my newer ones the newer ones have some obvious differences from the old ones but they still have the same themes running through them the same thing feeling they're all square most of them are self portrait it's their sort of whimsical even though that some are creepy so if I take a look at what the differences are the differences are that I have rich colors motion and they're outdoors that's my new work that's where I have moved so that's a big difference that I see between these two sets of images to saturated deathly static that's how I describe my older work that doesn't mean that there isn't crossover I have images that are five years old that have rich color in them but that doesn't mean that they look like my new work so the more that you khun try teo compare the oldest works with the newest works you'll see how far you've come and you'll see a clear progression of where you're trying to go choosing ten images I think it's important to understand your portfolio in terms of ten images to be able to look back and say okay I might have a ton of images but which ten are the strongest it's good for portfolio reviews to be able to show that to somebody else and say this is my portfolio for gallery submissions it's very often asked that you have ten images magazine submissions websites very very good to have a strong ten portfolio now why at least ten images because magazine spreads range from one to twelve pages so ten is a really good number to be able to submit to a magazine in a room for tex has to be allowed so ten is a good number because they probably won't use twelve um galleries like to show a cohesive body of work and ten is pretty much a good show ten to twenty maybe but if you haven't least ten they can work with that your portfolio should contain at least ten images that you're happy with technically and conceptually so that's what I'm looking for in these images that I'll show you in just a second are they technically sound and do they conceptually makes sense to me so I have over five hundred pictures that I have taken in the last five years so how am I possibly supposed to big just ten of them it is a very overwhelming prospect these are the ten images that I've chosen for my portfolio so I have these ten picked out which I forget who it was somebody said that like that one up there was their least favorite it's just funny because you know everybody has these ideas of what's good and what's not good and these air what I can personally stand behind as being my favorite images so this is what I look at and I say you know what you ask me any question about those I khun defend it I love these pictures I feel that they're technically okay I don't see many problems there conceptually I'm connected so criteria for choosing images having a through line being able if I go back here to look at these images and say there is something connecting every single one of these images doesn't have to be obvious it might be something that you have to explain a little bit but if you have something where you can say there is a through line for me it's the fairytale aspect of these I can look at every single one of these and say they're whimsical because I feel that with these pictures the colors aren't the same the compositions aren't necessarily the same little they're quite similar but there is a whimsical fairy tale quality to them that I feel runs through everything so making sure that something about each image relates to the other thinking conceptually and technically backing up each image not only with a y but with a how both of them being able to say this is how I did it this is why I did it that way this is the meaning behind it choosing images that represent the style that you want to put forth not the style that you think might be good but you're not into any more the style that you want to move into and choosing new or works to keep her portfolio updated so incredibly important to keep showing new things to people and not keep the same portfolio every single year so why these ten images that I chose their newer works the content is consistent visually the concepts are pretty pretty similar lighting theme those things are pretty consistent throughout each image there's a consistent mood like I said that whimsical fairy tales feel it embodies my style their fairytale whimsical dreamy bold color and square format even though one of them is that panorama that I talked about it's actually three square image is put together she was a range of work within my style so like I said different colors different locations things like that and I feel personally connected to those images so your favorites may be completely different from my portfolio that's totally ok because it's all about the passion that you put into it how you feel towards it and how you can put that out there to the world so to share or not to share why are you putting your images online you have to know that before you do it you have to understand if you're trying to get feedback or if you're putting it out there because you're confident now I'm okay with sharing my work because I'm confident I'm not generally looking for feedback when I put my work online I accept it I love it I think it's awesome when people participate like that but that doesn't sway me from what I feel about my work so if you want feedback be specific about that be sure to say ok this is what I want I think that this doesn't work for example here maybe it's the lighting I don't really know aboutthe lighting I'm not really sure if I should change the clouds or something like that then asking for help specifically if you put it out there and you say this is the problem that I have identified what can you do to help me people are a lot less likely to say this whole picture sucks they're going to say oh the lighting okay well this is what you could do to change it and then you're going to feel more confident about how you're approaching the situation titles were going to talk about this a little bit later as well so I'm going to kind of sprint through this but titles are so incredibly important when you are critiquing your own images take the title into consideration really strongly so what is the title and how do you go about finding that so does the mood and flow match literally how you hear the title when you say it out loud does that work with the image so this isn't one really funny example that I love it's a dolly title that I just saw on a museum that I visited it's called skull with its lyric appendage leaning on a bedside table which should have the exact temperature of a cardinal's nest I think it's fascinating it exactly matches the surreal picture because his images are all painting his surreal painting because all of his paintings are very surreal it's amazing because it makes you think about so many little things that you might have completely overlooked but it still doesn't even begin to tell you what that pictures about and I love that so this is the title for this image the hostile branches of whistling fog forest and has a flow to it it had its lyrical just like the image how I hope that you see that image to be prepared this image is much more stagnant she's standing still there's still some motion to it but the idea is that she has all these umbrellas she is very prepared I want you to think about that I know I can be funny sometimes right so I put that out there capturing inspiration is the title for this image so I've got this image of this girl who's just sort of whimsically watching this train come through the wall meant to be her imagination so she's in her imagination bubble her imagination room she's capturing her own inspiration this one is called phoenix we talked about this one earlier she's coming up out of the door we have the red which he says phoenix and so that's why I titled it like that you have to think about themes and symbols so themes destruction decay emerging from ruin escaping death and then the symbols red as blood water is rebirth greenhouse giving life door as a broken home now themes in this one entrapment abandonment neglect murder so the net in this picture symbolizes a trap the glass symbolizes entrapment they abandoned pool symbolizes neglect and this is called life behind glass so I'm getting my titles based on the symbols that I'm putting into my work so why do we fear our own portfolios we fear them because we invite critique when we share our portfolios but if you understand exactly why you're creating than that doesn't matter anymore so we fear that our images won't be understood that we're going to receive negative feedback we fear that nobody's going to respond at all that will put our work out there and nobody's going to say anything about it and we fear that other opinions will sway our own and that is the worst thing that we can have happen but the moment that you believe in yourself is the moment that you don't need others to believe yet perhaps is the moment that others will believe in you so if you khun sake confidently I do this because I love it then maybe others will feel the same way belief in yourself causes belief in others it's the most important thing to remember about critiquing your own portfolio when you understand what you d'oh others will begin to understand what you d'oh when creating art there's no need to defend it but instead embrace it personally and allow others to do the same in their own way it's okay if people don't agree with you it's ok if they have negative feedback who cares about that we should not care about that at all

Class Description


  • Brainstorm and plan a fine art photograph
  • Design a story with props and posing
  • Shoot an image that only exists in your imagination
  • Complete the vision in Adobe Photoshop
  • Self-critique your own work
  • Build a business from fine art photography
  • Approach galleries with confidence
  • Grow your own unique style and brand


Sometimes, creative vision is bigger than a camera can capture. In this class, learn how to turn imaginative ideas into physical fine art prints. From planning the shoot to assembling composites in post, work to turn the images in your dreams into a concrete photographic image. Go from a dreamer to a professional photographer with the help of artist Brooke Shaden.

Start with defining your style and building your creative vision in this three-day class. Then, learn tips and tricks for bringing that vision to life using posing and props. Go behind the scenes in nine live shoots ranging from self-portraiture to creating your own fairytale. Use posing, props, motion, and composition to tell a story.

While fine art photography isn't usually the first business model that comes to mind when considering a career in photography, Brooke shares how it's possible to earn a full-time living from your art. From building a brand to approaching fine art galleries, learn what you need to turn a passion for fine art photography into a career. As Brooke says, you can't stop because your best work is just ahead.


  • Intermediate photographers ready to take fine art to the next level
  • Professional photographers looking to expand their storytelling and compositing skills
  • Fine art photographers at any skill level


Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom


Brooke Shaden is a storyteller. The American fine art photographer is well-known in the art world for her dream-like, fairytale images. Her work often uses dark tones, heavy emotions, self-portraits, and juxtapositions. Working as a fine art photographer for more than a decade, she started her art journey after studying film in college and now teaches and speaks along with continuing her work. Brooke's work has been featured in dozens of gallery exhibitions, along with magazine and book covers and limited edition fine art prints. After growing up near an Amish community in the United States in Pennsylvania, she now lives in California.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Brookes Posing Guide

Self Portraiture

The Art of Self Critique

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Brooke says she wants to be inspirational - she has achieved this and so much more during this course. I am so inspired to follow my dream of becoming a fine art photographer and step out of a life as an academic and stop finding excuses. Watching other photographers shoot and edit is always a great way to learn, everyone does things slightly differently and I enjoy Brooke's no fuss techniques. Seeing so many of Brooke's beautiful images through the course has been great and seeing shots from the shoot through to editing really makes them come alive. If you are looking for inspiration or you want to learn techniques or new skills then this course provides all of these things with a big dose of positive thinking thrown in.


Brooke is amazing! I love this course. Brooke is easy to listen to. She has a beautiful insight into creative fine art . Love it! I have learned so much. I especially love that she is so candid about everything.

renee Akana

I love Brooke and the wonderful way that she teaches. She is a gift to us all. Jane, her model, was lovely - a beautiful girl, a wonderful attitude and a real professional.. I could not do what Jane did to help Brooke convey her story.