Skip to main content

photo & video

Fine Art Photography

Lesson 4 of 38

Storytelling and Character

Brooke Shaden

Fine Art Photography

Brooke Shaden

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

4. Storytelling and Character
Brooke is more motivated by storytelling than photography -- and you can tell by looking at her work. Learn how to train your mind to find your inspiration, to then start telling that story. Work on building a story by starting with an object or person from your inspiration, and asking yourself questions about that item. Build a story with elements like theme, setting, character, time, and conflict.

Lesson Info

Storytelling and Character

so my passion this story telling my passion is not photography my passion is not writing it is storytelling at the very core I love taking pictures I love writing words on a piece of paper but I love the stories that come from that so I don't love like I don't want to write an encyclopedia I don't want to write a how to book that's not what my passion is my passion it's story telling so I'm going in I am my my passion storytelling I'm using that in any way that I possibly can no matter what the medium is my motivation to see my dreams as reality and to share them with others so I don't just want to keep them inside my mind I want to put them out there I want to share them and I hope that other people enjoy listening to them watching them viewing them whatever it may be that you have to do to interact with it that's what I want to dio from my inspiration dark and whimsical imagery so if my imagery is dark and it is also whimsical that makes me happy you can't expect to be inspired witho...

ut understanding yourself first I think that a lot of people just say well I'm a photographer and I really want to be inspired and I'm gonna try all these different things that's great to try different things I highly encourage it but what I don't encourage is just trying different things without thinking about why you're doing it or who you are as a person make associations in order to train your mind to think more introspectively so if you can think about why you've done a certain thing for example going back to that symbol of leaves in my images why do I love that what is it about a leaf that makes me so excited I understand that then I could understand how to move forward how to train my mind to find that inspiration in much easier ways so photography is storytelling so even if you don't consider yourself a story telling photographer you have the potential to be one and I don't mean storytelling very literally I don't necessarily mean that it's just like what I do where there's a character doing something in a location where there's a very obvious story happening it could be as simple as somebody photographing a landscape and maybe you happen to see a rock in the middle of the water of this beautiful lake that you're photographing maybe that's your character and your character is going to be something that you focus on it's not really it's not living but it is something that you sent her on and you say okay I'm going to do everything I can to make this rock stand out I'm gonna light it in a certain way maybe expose it in a certain way maybe I'm going to just make it the life of the party in this picture then you have a character to focus on you have a story about why you're doing that so what is the intent behind this rock why are you shooting this rock once you know that you have a story to build on storytelling is very subjective so if anyone has the potential to see a story in anything then that's great for all of us photographers because we all have that ability to take a step back and say ok there's a story here I know there is what is it I'm really annoying about this because I see a story and everything and so you know I'll go you know look at a painting like that's just painted blue with like a white dot in the middle and I'll be like oh I understand why that dots there and like all the whole story about it even though maybe it's just meant to look abstract and who knows why it was done but I'm that person so I see story and everything we all tell stories every single type of photographer has the ability to tell a story it might be that you don't tell stories with your art and your really cool with that and that's great that's fine did you don't have to tell a story but I feel that a lot of art can really be bettered by telling a story even if it's very subtle so senior portrait ce obvious story there because you're trying to capture who that person is it a personal story same with being a family portrait photographer newborn photographer you have the ability to add props in perhaps those props can really tell the story of who this person might be when they grow up pet photography another really good storytelling type of photography because you're dealing with pets who have so much character and so much vibrant c fashion photography and other very obvious storytelling method art photography which is more what I do where I consider myself to be a storytelling photographer and product photography again you're telling the story of the product why is it in this space I was just having this conversation with somebody about how with product photography maybe you have a mug and you're photographing this mug of coffee or something you can put that mug of coffee on a sleek white top with maybe a white background or you could put that on a rustic table in a really old mug and make it look really old and vintage you're going to tell two different stories with that and you have to understand why you're telling that story the components of storytelling theme setting character time conflict thes air all different things that I'm thinking about what I am telling stories so theme in this image escape that's my theme here she's running away from the camera we don't know what she's running from she's tryingto light her path so that to me says escape um setting forest we've talked about the forest a lot you know what that means to me its mystery its timelessness it's something that's very exciting to me that we have character just a girl we don't know who she is we know that she's a young girl that's all we know time the past time could be anything from time period the time of day so in this case it looks like late night early morning maybe maybe it's night time but the time is the past and then conflict she's being chased we don't know what's chasing her we don't know why she's running away but that conflict is really the heart of what is happening in this image why are we connecting to this image because there's a conflict so character often a great image will create an unforgettable character whether the character is human or not so I don't care if my character is human I could take a picture of a puddle that could be my character and I'm going to treat that as a character so questions to ask about your character who is it literally who is your character what would you say about this person so if you were looking at me right now and you were like okay you're my character what would you say you would probably say okay well my character is you know bob of law mid twenties female in a white dress with the weird headband and curly hair and stuff like that that's your character okay so you know who your character is why is your character there so what's setting are you putting her in and why is she in the forest is she in a modern building what kind of clothes is she wearing why she wearing those clothes so why is your character there why is it that this person is in this space so what conflict is your character experiencing if any so if your characters in a picture what has happened to get that person there why is she there so maybe there is a conflict maybe like in the forest maybe she's running away from something that's why she's there in the forest because he's running from somebody how does your character interact with the surroundings and this goes into posing a lot so what do you actually doing with that character why is it that you're taking this specific character and putting them in this space and how are they going to interact with that space so what happened before and what will happen after this is the most important one take this if nothing else think about your character in terms of a whole timeline not just this one person in this one space right now but how did they get there what came before what's their story what did they do in their life before that moment and then what will come after for them because that will guide your whole entire image in terms of how you pose your character what kind of wardrobe he put them in it's important to know the back story of what you're doing so who is it who am I I might be well we're just going to draw on my love of disney characters and whatnot so maybe I'm a princess in them in a castle and my conflict is that I have to get married to a prince and I don't want to marry him because that's like every single disney movie ever created so that's my conflict and so what do I do so think about that in terms of the character what does your character do when confronted with this conflict so who is this character in this imagines girl walking off the wall to you who is this character go on tell me so why would somebody be walking up a wall what who is she what is she breaking the norm yep defying gravity so think about what she's wearing she's wearing this really sort of flowing timeless gown that makes me think of a ghost because she's walking on a wall how could she be walking on a wall if she's human something to think about the whole entire place is decayed the wall is falling apart it's crumbling paint is peeling the chair is completely broken it's just got a hole in it it is completely dilapidated so who is she she's somebody who either doesn't belong there or who has been there a very long time and is integrated into the scene so that's my motivation behind this I thought about this character I said who is she I thought she's somebody who died here she's somebody who was in this space when it was vibrant when it was amazing who is she she's a ghost she's trapped here she can't get out of the space she's walking up the wallace this is her domain jane where will she go after this she's going to try to break free she's going to try to get out of this entrapment that she's in that's my character for this image this character who is this character now there are a lot of different interpretations for this picture I know that much aa lot of it depends on if you're religious or not right so you can sort of see like the hand of god coming down that's one interpretation it might be somebody in a creepier setting who's just being controlled I love science fiction so I'm sure there's some like slight doctor who influence in here yeah definitely let me know if you're into doctor who um and if you're going to the gala free one convention I'm missing it a very sad okay anyways I'm very super tangent I almost worked hardest socks today but I didn't okay so this character means something different to everybody it's something that I had a very specific idea of who this wass it might not be what you think it iss but because I had a story behind it and I thought about who this character wass it should be more obvious that there is a reason why this characters here I didn't just throw this together and say I thought a hand looked cool there's something more to it than that there's a story behind it so why are we spending so much time on character character is the heart of an image or at least it can be so understanding character can mean understanding the story and every other part of the image so if you have a character very specific character you might then say ok um why is it that I am creating this character why is it that I as she's in the forest why is it that she's sitting on the book who is this person so once you know your character you khun decide where you're putting that person so tell me a story character setting time conflict theme all of these things go into what an image is I'm not going to go over this too in depth setting pretty obvious anywhere the purse sin is or the character is and then we have the character anybody who's in your image or anything that you want to turn into a character the focal point of your image beyond that um time time of day time period let's see conflict anything bad that's happening anything that your character has to overcome super simple and then we have the theme the message of your story what are you trying to say with this image okay I've got some stories here to read so I'm going to read them this is my interpretation of this image so let me go ahead and read my story my reason behind creating this and then I asked our in studio audience to give me some of their interpretations so I'm going to read some of those as well and I want to show you how vastly different we can interpret the same image however there was still a story to be found in this image even if it wasn't the same his mind so I've got right here a girl wanders into the forest and loses track of time she becomes lost and falls asleep under a tree by morning snow has fallen and she finds herself bound to the tree by branches wrapping around her hair and the trees she slept under her dress is now made of sticks as the forest claims her she tries to pull away but the branches are chains binding her to the place she desired to explore this is my story I created this image where this character is a victim she is trying to pull away from the tree but it is holding her back that is my story behind this image but if I move on I have these keywords this is every little bit of why I created this the setting the time the character it's a girl she's in a forest there's morning that's the time their snow that's kind of like an element of where she is the forest has claimed her that is the same here she is being held back by something and it's binding in her so that is the theme so now this is how I put the image together I went through these individual elements who is my character what time is it etcetera and I put it into this image this is joshua's interpretation so we're going to read that so josh said that time slows down expanding the space between breaths into an eternity she is the heart of the cold the very spirit of winter transforming our world in tow ice and snow her goal is not to destroy on ly to create what she sees in her dreams so super different interpretation right like you're thinking this character is like giving life to everything like this is the character in the forest who's just you know like she is the heart of it to me she is not she is trapped here in the forest has claimed her totally opposite and I love that I love hearing different interpretations just the fact that somebody could interpret it in a different way means that I feel successful about what I've done it doesn't matter if you like the picture the fact is though that there is a story to be had there she's not put there for no reason and that becomes obvious when a picture is put together in a certain way so I'm actually going to skip past jin's interpretation because it's a little long sorry jen anya von sorry I'm just moving on because we're really low on time right now but maybe we'll go back to them later they were really good and exciting so yes so a picture does not have to be so literal but if you understand the backstory then you're going to understand the potential of your work so if you understand why you're creating all of those different elements then you're going to find your inspiration a lot easier inciting incident I find it extremely important to talk about this the inciting incident kind of goes along with the conflict as you'll see and the resolution thes three things go hand in hand the inciting incident is the point of no return the point where your character has to make a decision so there's a story right I'm a disney princess blah blah and I'm going along in my little story and I'm really happy he and my dad is like you have to marry this prince and I'm like no and then that's the inciting incident that's what has happened so something happens to change this person's life something happens where the character has to make a decision I'm going to say yes dad I'm going to marry the prince or no I refused to marry the prince I'm going to run away and we're going to make a disney movie out of this and then that's the story so the inciting incident the moment where the character realized that realizes that she can't turn back that is the point of the inciting incident that's how you know that you've got a story that's really building momentum conflict the main occurrence which prevents the character from reaching his or her goal so this is the conflict meaning that something has happened we don't talk about it that much but something has happened where um something happens in the story it says the character can't move you're stuck there's a road block something has happened where the character cannot move past that point and that character has to figure out how to break free from that the resolution the ending to your story or how your character ends up so it could be that I am the fairy princess disney princess and I'm like I'm running away and then I run away and I'm over here and then um I die because I fall through ice or something like that so that's one ending to the story obviously the first thing I thought of but maybe you think of something different and I find somebody else to fall in love with and I lived happily ever after as a kitchen wench or something I don't know that's a weird story okay so photography is choosing the most interesting part of a story in my opinion and turning that into an image so the most interesting part might be something different for everybody I don't know now I'm going to read no I daydream my little place happy place that I go it's kind of long but I'll read it quickly okay so in an old stone castle walls burned black from torches wildly passing by lived a young girl in a green silk dress us day in and day out she waited for a time that would never come when she could move freely beyond the castle walls and run through the fields and smell the forest her father was captive at the castle so she was forced to stay until his release she had lived all her days there when her father died in his prison cell in the dungeon she thought that this was the day she would be set free after fifteen years in that place but instead she was detained in her father's place as punishment for his untimely death a year had passed and still she sat in the dungeon where her father died slowly though over time the prison guard grew soft and they talked each evening until one night when he left the door unlocked he said nothing but simply unlocked the door and left she never saw his face or knew how to say thank you and so she fled and the cloak of night she ran through the gates of the castle unseen and ran until the first blue light lit her path she was breathless running through the fields she had dreamed of until she saw forrest in the distance a cool breeze ran through her hair and it rustled beautifully across her face but her eyes were intense and fixed without waiting another moment breaking the silence she ran toward the forest with the determination of freedom found finally she burst through the first of the trees and bramble making leaves fall all around her as she passed into the safety of the branches wandering through the forest she could no longer see the field she had come from the branches began to close in all around her until she found herself in a small clearing mushrooms blooming from the ground and vines hanging all around her seeming to glow in the darkness of that forested cocoon she could hear voices from the distance and she knew that they were looking for her but that they would not find her she was lost but a new home was found this is my story this is my daydream I lived this all the time I go through this in my mind I imagine myself there so we have a story ah full story beginning middle and end we have a conflict and inciting incident it's all there but what do you get from this story we were all thanks something different so if I take a look which part do you photograph out of this whole story what is it that you are going to pull out of this as the most interesting part of the story so there's the girl in the dungeon maybe that's interesting to you want to photograph a girl in a john dungeon space that could be really dark it could be really intense really interesting maybe there is a girl escaping the castle so you see her maybe running through the gates or something like that finally freeing herself from the castle um maybe the girl is running through the field so maybe you want to have a very beautiful graceful picture where the girl is in a field and she's running and she's free maybe it is that the girl is staring at the forest there's that kind of intense moment where the hair is brushing a gun against her face and she's looking at the forest maybe that's your moment maybe you're a portrait photographer and you want to get in there and capture that moment and then we have the girl jumping through the trees with all the leaves falling around her that's more action based there some props involved there maybe that's what you gravitate towards and then we have the girl in the clearing of the forest with the mushrooms and the vines which is a really interesting part for me because I can really play with that space and make it really magical so which part do you choose who has an idea of what you would want to photograph from that story the last one I saw you nodding when that one came up escaping the castle through the bramble ah beautiful see everybody has this different moment that you would want a photograph and that's because the story is different to everybody we all pick out different parts that are important to us now I love the part of her running through the field I love that because it's freeing I love motion in my images I love that idea that somebody can move freely and finally do something so I love that I would want to photograph that but that wouldn't be my moment my moment is where she's staring at the forest actually it's kind of surprising I love that part I love where she's just intensely maybe looking over her shoulder and staring and we have this really moody image where her hair is blowing everywhere something like that and then I loved the last part two okay so stories khun b inspiration for any photo shoot I fully believe that it doesn't have to be this strange character building stuff that I do necessarily so if it's a senior shoot maybe ask them about their future if they could live any future what would they do with their life and then maybe build a whole scene around that why not is totally doable ask a family may be where they'd go on vacation and then maybe re create parts of that for them for a family photo so maybe they loved to go to alaska so maybe you build a snow scene for them or it could be something simple like that where it doesn't take a lot but it could offer a really interesting perspective on family portraiture and then maybe asking couple how they met and how you could maybe imagine that with a twist so recreate that scene for them of their first meeting but then do it in a really magical way and put your own spin on that how do you photograph it in your style that's where we come into this issue of okay we all have these different things from that story that we would really want a photograph but how do you do it in your style you don't have to be a writer to be a dreamer that's something that I want to stress because even though I'm going over all these different things that really involve a lot of writing you don't have to be a good writer you just have to visualize that you just have to be able to understand your motivations for doing something internally inspiration is refined by understanding why you naturally gravitate towards certain choices so if you understand why you love shooting in the forest or why you love shooting modern women in their business places or something like that then you understand what your inspiration is and you can build on that so yes I love the forest but I love it for certain reasons so maybe all branch out from there and I say okay I love the dark this of it I love how it's so mysterious well there are lots of dark and mysterious locations to explore so I can use that his inspiration and take that with me when you understand yourself you understand how to create the art that you love now we've talked about this already I'm not going into depth again but if you understand who you are and why you are those things then you understand how to inspire yourself shooting blindfolded is one of the most amazing things that you could possibly dio because it forces you to make decisions so if you put a blindfold on yourself and I'm standing there with you um let's just pull somebody up andrea come here okay so keep your eyes closed okay she can't see this is andrea by the way case you didn't know e yes I just got confirmation let's do it let's go ahead and shoot we'll take okay awesome so we're going to shoot blindfolded I don't have to just stand here with your eyes closed let's bring in the backdrop and the wardrobe and we're going to shoot blindfolded while that's coming in do you would you like to shoot blind folder awesome so andrew is going to shoot blindfolded oh we have a scarf amazing thank you this is good so why don't you tie that on yourself I trust you not to cheat okay now the whole point of shooting blindfolded is that we are creating a scenario where you must make every single decision without even seeing what you're working with this is about pre visualization this for me is the ultimate in finding inspiration understanding how you work and how you're going to build an image so I'm going to bring a camera in I will be shooting this for andrea because if there is one thing that I want to stress it is this it does not matter if you hold the camera or if you push the button that is not what makes a photographer what makes a photographer is the idea behind the image how we're creating why we're creating and the decisions that go into that so I lied undo your blindfold for a moment she's like what am I doing you're going to stay put right there while we shoot this okay first thing that I want you to do though is look at that wardrobe and tell me which dress you would like the model to wear the pink one third the pink one and that was good no why I just really like it I think you know I think it's flowy exit vintage and has personality okay so what about the style of it like what is it about what story does it doesn't make you think of um I like the lace around the caller and I think that it's dynamic I think what kind of a character would wear that um probably someone who was get jane in this thank you I feel like I feel like it would be like someone from a storybook character would definitely be wearing that what kind of a storybook character maybe a young girl okay is she powerful is she meek is she shy is she shy she shy yes okay so let's talk about now once the model puts that on she'll be coming right out for you shall stand against this backdrop okay that's where we're going to shoot her from let me ask you all sorts of questions after I get the camera and once you're blindfolded so good and put your blindfold on now you will not be able to see okay yeah you're gonna do this the right way okay so we're going to have a character maybe a storybook character a little bit shy how would you have her pose could put that on before you answer do you want me to tie it for you I think I can get it okay I'm probably hiding her face okay and definitely not facing the camera so that her body language would mimic her personality okay so what kind of body language maybe with her shoulders curved in a little bit of a little bit and hiding her eyes like this ok and so where is the camera then is the camera like looking at you this way yes okay got it so is she standing you said yes I guess she's say anything she has her shoulder sort of like back sort of curved at the camera a little bit you keep that okay I'm watching you always okay you ready come out here dane is our model for the whole three days she is amazing okay um I'll grab my camera oh hand that to you thank you you didn't tell me uh I think there's been some cheating going on yeah oh my god do I just been you're not going fast enough very good okay perfect now we're ready to shoot okay so let's have you stand right against the backdrop here that's perfect now I know that she said that she wants your body turned a little bit so a little bit more good now hunts the hunters shoulders over a bit and then head down so we don't want to see your face too much good now how else do you want a poster what do you want her hands doing for example um can ask which way she's facing she is facing you she's facing me okay so you can place your right hand kind of over your eyes a little bit and then your right leg kind of been did a little bit so you're bending down and just bring your left hand on top of your leg so you're kind of like cowering to the camera beautiful okay wonderful turn a little bit away from me I think there you go yep okay now what height do you want the camera at do you want this shot low or high or straight on straight on straight on okay full body yes full body now let me see I'm going to do my absolute best to actually get her and focus but I have focus problems so we'll see I mean it's not the camera it's literally just me I don't know how to focus things and now as far as your f stop goes do you have any preference um no I mean I think that probably four would be good that's where back any emotion that you want any dress moving or anything like that um no because no ok good so I'm gonna take a shot and then we're going to see if this is that all what you want got it okay you can un blindfold yourself thank you jane that was super simple so we've got her post here thoughts maybe no hair in front of her face where you can see the bottom of her face and the alternate the hands okay got it alternate the hands good find fullback are well we'll take one more shot so moved that hair as much as you can just like flip it over to the other side even yeah there you go okay alternate the hands perfect and then covering the eyes good good let me tuck your hair I want to make sure that we yep I want to see some cheek okay that's good okay okay perfect okay pull the but in a little bit yep there you got it okay so hopefully that's a little bit more what you wanted there we go yeah you good luck yes I can call so I'm trying to illustrate with this the simple fact that if you think about what you want before you shoot then you're much more likely to create an image that has meaning so when andrew first picked the stress she said I just like it which I said oh no no no this is not happening no we're going toe pick a reason why why do you like it why are you drawn to it why're you posing your character like this who is she to you what is the story behind this character so that is why I love this exercise we're going to stop there so you can have a seat thank you thank you

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.