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Fine Art Photography

Lesson 3 of 38

Visual Examination

Brooke Shaden

Fine Art Photography

Brooke Shaden

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Lesson Info

3. Visual Examination
How you describe yourself as a person will influence your art. In this lesson, embark on the process of visual examination. Learn to visualize yourself, your style, and the story you want to tell -- and how that translates into photography.

Lesson Info

Visual Examination

so I'm going to a visual examination a visual examination is simply saying why are you these things in five words what makes you unique this is a little bit of a strange concept because this is not your photography what your photography looks like this is literally what would you surround yourself with visually if you could so you'll see in a second so it could be clothing it might be that in your dream world you can be anybody you don't have to like go to wal mart and be judged by the cashier or anything you could be anybody in your dream world what clothing would you wear what would you put on your body what would you feel best in location where would you go character who would you be if you could be anybody in the world I personally would love to be a princess like in a disney movie that sounds awesome to me I would be a fairy tale character I always have this daydream of myself like running away from something in a field that's just that's where I want to be emotion what do you fee...

l in this daydream of years and then style so these are my key words these are the words that I used to describe myself as a person dark I realized that in person I'm not actually very dark I know but inside that's how I feel that's my imagination it's dark and it's whimsical and it's creepy and it's beautiful to me and so I'm dark dawn and dusk if I could describe myself visually thinking about anything that surrounds me what it would look like everything would be lit with that amazing beautiful morning blue light so that's how I see my life if I'm out on a sunny day I don't see it in terms of this is a picture or this is how I want to be experiencing this place it's always a dawn always that dusk either one of those things rich color I love rich color I think that it's amazing which is actually kind of funny because I wear almost all brown and cream so I don't know where that comes from but if I could surround myself with something in a space I would see lots of rich color um a cloak this's going into clothing I wear clothes all the time in fact it has been quite detrimental to mason's being in seattle because I only brought a glorified blanket with me as my code and been really terribly cold here eh so it's not always practical but I own five or six cloaks and they're my favorite things in the world on dice feel like a character when I put that on and then anonymity being anonymous I love in all of my daydreams you can't really see the face I dream about people and it's always this obscured face so I translate these things into my photography I think oh if I could dress somebody in a cloak that would be amazing or if I can use you know hair to cover somebody's face that would be beautiful and so I do these things in my photography I shoot at magic hour I shoot before the sun has come up after the sun has gone down that's how I'm getting my inspiration so darkness it represents the unknown it's really simple it's just if something is dark then you can't see into it it's something you have to explore something that's very mysterious I love that it's my inspiration dawn and dusk the beginning or ending of a new day so if I look past okay the lighting is really pretty why am I so drawn to that time of day I get up before the sun almost every day I love watching the sunrise and I sit there and I think this is the start of something amazing this is a new day this is something that I could be in inspired by this is something that I am just so excited to live because I can do whatever I want in the span of this day so dawn dusk I love those times today rich color it represents life more vibrantly so this to me says if I can put a character in a bright red dress that's powerful on that's something that's really going to speak to me in a very powerful way it's something that lets me know that I have created vibrant rich amazing color all on my own and this can really inform the rest of the image ah cloak avail it's basically somethingto hide behind something that shrouds the person it's something that you can hide underneath that's very mysterious it's flowing it's beautiful it's all about the mystery and then the anonymity it allows someone to imagine their own character so when I write stories I write all the time I'm working on novel right now really excited about it I probably shouldn't say that because I only have one chapter written but doesn't matter because it's going to happen so I'm writing a novel and I keep keep writing the same characters over and over for the last a few years I've been writing out these ideas for a novel and every single time I write out my ideas I forget about the one before I write a new thing it is always the same two characters every single time with nearly identical names so I have the same two characters and I still don't know what they look like because I don't even want to know I want them to be this mysterious kind of person that I can write in any way and anybody can read them and think oh that's me or that's my friend or I know this person and it's not like oh you know she's she's got red hair and green eyes and she's five foot tall and whatever s oh I wanted to be something very anonymous you might not find your style immediately and that's okay you might have multiple styles and that's okay I don't ever want anybody to think that mastering your craft means that you have to do something very specific meaning that you have tohave one style that you stick to all the time I totally understand that people have multiple passions and that's okay maybe you want to try find art and maybe you also do pet photography and that's great do it maybe combined them maybe don't but have your passions and stick with them I think that it's really detrimental to any artist or any person who tries to combine what they love into one singular thing that becomes really scary because then you're forcing yourself to be something that you're not and why would you want to do that if you have passions pursue them do what you want and then maybe later down the road see how they can be woven together s so you're style might evolve I think that's a good thing I love when my style starts evolving it's a scary thing if anybody puts their images online to put something new up something a little bit weird something a little bit different I just did that today actually I just posted a picture on my facebook it was totally different from anything that I've done and I thought oh god should I be posting this you know and I don't know what people will say and then I immediately removed that from my mind and I said this is what I wanted to create I was so passionate about this picture I did it because it was meaningful to me so if I put that out there and I tell people you know what this might be a little bit different but this is what I love to create when hopefully other people will feel that passion too so um allow your passion to dictate your style I always always try to do that so I'm always saying to myself what do I want to shoot today if I could shoot anything in the world what would that look like and then I go do it now typically that looks very similar from one image to another and that's because I don't have a very wide a range of inspiration so my inspiration tends to be very specific it tends to be the same things over and over interpreted in different ways but I know that that's not the same for everybody so when you shoot what you love than others or more likely to love that as well so the more that you can put what you love out there and maybe you say to people you know what this is different it might not be what you like but it's what I love then maybe they'll love it too just for the simple fact that you love it so much so it goes back to confidence and being able to find your voice and say you know what this might not be what you like but I love it so hopefully you love it too when you find that confidence you find the ability to put yourself out there in a new way I put myself out there a lot I try to do different things I try to put a range of images on the internet I write blawg posts about varying things I never know if I'm going to lose people but I also don't care if I lose people that's not why I'm doing it I didn't start photography or start writing because I wanted to gain a following or because I was worried if people would follow me or not I did because I loved it and that's why I started so I put that out there and I say this might be different from why you started following me in the first place that's ok that's where I'm going maybe somebody else will take your place if you want to leave and that's fine so these images are examples of two different styles from my very very beginning photography all the way to the present but they incorporate very similar things so I've got the picture on the left is uh two thousand nine I took it it's a simple image in a sense it's it's just a blank wall myself on a chair with lots of surrealism thrown in there of course but at the heart of it a simple image simple lighting simple background and I took that inspiration and I use that for something different so I took the inspiration of a chair and of surrealism that idea that we can make people turn in different ways and I re interpreted that when I was visiting dubai I went to this amazing amazing abandoned town on guy saw the scene I saw this chair sitting exactly where it is in that picture I never touched it I used it exactly where it wass and I said that kind of reminds me of that chair that I used back in two thousand nine and then I thought I'm going to do something inspired by that I sat at that location I looked at this scene and I said how can I re interpret that inspiration so I decided to take it a little bit further I used an actual location instead of just my bedroom wall I decided to do something that I had never done technically I was a little bit nervous about it it was a difficult at it I wasn't sure if it would ever get finished but I pushed through it because I was so excited about that inspiration so style does evolve but that doesn't mean that you're going way off course or anything like that I started with e simpler images simple backgrounds indoors always self portrait I was very scared to go outdoor shooting I was very scared to ask a model so in this case I did use myself again but I went on location I inspired myself by my surroundings things but I use that same inspiration of a simple chair and then wanting to do something surreal to create something different so when you understand theme you understand yourself now this seems like a little bit of a jump but I promise it's not because theme is the heart of storytelling so themes what are themes literally I mean themes are the idea behind something the reason behind something the overall grandiose word that you throw out there for what you're doing so my themes I will talk about them one of them is beauty and darkness that's sort of like my little slogan my tag line what I love creating beauty and darkness creating a dark scene and turning it into something beautiful I understand that about myself I understand that when I was little I would write stories that were a little bit creepy I thought that they were wonderfully beautiful not everybody did and that's okay but that was me that was what made me stand out from the crowd and I knew that I knew that because I took a writing course ones where I wrote oh really weird story that out over I should tell it actually probably not but basically it was about menstruation and little people living in your head and it we don't need to go into it but anyways I wrote this story I gave it to my teacher and she was like maybe you shouldn't share this with the class and it was this whole thing of this is a little bit dark it's a little bit too creepy on guy understood kind knew that it was really weird it was a strange story but that was who I was I loved thinking about I was gonna say about these things not administration necessarily but it is getting too weird guys I don't know okay so moving on past theme all right so obvious symbols versus subtext so subtext is what you read below the image what what you read between the lines it's the idea that there's something bigger in the image than what we see at our first glance so obvious symbols is what this picture is an example of I've got exes over my eyes I literally cannot see that is an obvious symbol that's something that we can all look at and say oh she can't see I get it it's obvious however I tryto work subtext into my work as much as possible so I moved through ah my my portfolio and I try to advance myself in the sense that I'm not doing things that are so obvious and this means that it could get lost in translation sometimes I might create an image where it's just not very clear exactly what's happening or why it's happening or what the story is but to me I get ix I put that subjects in there and I know what I'm trying to say so anything could have meaning beyond what we see now this image is a shipwreck you might not know that because you weren't there but trust me it was a shipwreck doesn't look like a shipwreck though however I wanted to create this image where we have this girl sort of coming out of the wreckage sitting on top of it being powerful on dh so that was my in operation behind that um she's wearing red I wanted her to wear red because red is powerful so I know that you guys are all familiar with lindsay adler yes she literally took the shirt off of her back let me wrap it around the model and cut it up smear mud on it for this picture because I really needed something red teo really illustrate that point so you might not look at this picture and say oh I get it she's wearing red so she's really power awful but that's something that I hope sort of creeps into your mind after a little while after you're looking at the picture and you see it in the context of everything else that's happening so by seeing beyond the surface we begin to understand ourselves now I understand that I love power I love giving a woman power in an image that's something that really excites me something that I think is really interesting to explore so I try to do whatever I can to go for the theme of power how can I work that into an image in a way that's not very obvious we're like I don't have a woman like going like this or something weird like I'm really powerful and you know making muscles or something like that so I'm trying to do that in subtler ways so in this image I want to hear from you guys what symbols do you see so if you're looking at this image and you're like what is she trying to say with this picture what do you see survival escape yes I mean those air literally the two things that I hope that you get out of this picture so why did you say that what is it that you're looking at in this image that makes you say that the door the door and crawling through the door crawling through it from so the pose of the model versus just walking out of the door you have exactly right and she's sort of like clawing at it like she's going to pull herself out of this door so color this play is a really big role in this image because the door is red now the door is naturally red it's not like I painted it red or anything but I had to be inspired by this location I went there not ever having seen it I didn't know what I was doing here I went and then I was inspired so I looked at that door I said what does this door mean why am I so inspired by it what can I dio and then I had this idea why not have somebody pulling herself out of the wreckage red power that's what it says to me so she is pulling herself she's using the power she's coming up out of this wreckage and she's surviving she's taking herself out and she's putting herself in a better situation so this one same colors as we had in the last one but it has a bit of a difference feel ah lot of it is because of the posing of the model she's very stiff she's standing just like this she doesn't have a lot going on so we might see different things so what do you get from this image royalty regal exactly so what about the location that she then she's in a church yeah exactly sacrifice yes exactly so I was going for sacrifice in this image she sort of removed from her surroundings she's given up she knows that she is about to be feist and then we have that symbol of red again in this image so what does that red mean here this time it does not mean power this time it means blood it means life and it's leaving her body it is literally slowing down the stairs so these are the symbols that I'm using in this picture to try to further that idea I'm putting little thoughts in your mind trying to get you to see what I see but not in an obvious way so visible components of a photo shoot location color props wardrobe thes air the obvious things that most people put in an image maybe you shoot landscape maybe you just don't shoot wardrobe or props or something like that but at the very least you have to consider color you have to consider location even if you're doing black and white even if you're shooting against a seamless backdrop that's okay the point though is that you're still considering why you're doing those things so for this image I shot in a forest it's dark reminds me of a fairy tale it's a mystery that's why I love the forest it represents the unknown so I've got this forest that's great I love the forest I know why I love the forest now I can move on and say what other symbols of my going to put in here red we talked about read a lot now so I don't need to go into that too much blood life death power love so many things that you can use it for that's why I love it so much because I can really grab on to that and understand why I'm using that color ah vintage dress it's old it's timeless it's flowing it's feminine it's powerful at the same time I love into his dresses for this reason therefore I used them a lot it's my wardrobe of choice ah lantern so a lantern lights a path it's old it's romantic these are the reasons why lovely interns I'm not just picking up a lantern handing it to the model and then saying it just looks cool so do something with it and I hope it looks good that's not my motivation I do like how a lantern looks of course but I also love the meaning behind it the symbolism behind it what it represents in the image so recurring themes emerged from a repetition of specific elements used frequently this is not always the case this is something that I believe is true in my work that I think and further a lot of other people's work but if you use specific elements frequently a style becomes apparent your themes become a parent so your pictures don't have to look the same you can deal with different topics different locations lots of different things but you will often find a through line with your theme so my theme's translate from one to the other very easily beauty and darkness that is a theme fairytales that is another theme but those two things could be very interchangeable if you use them in the right ways so I'm starting to understand my inspiration what themes do I use why do I use them and then how can I move that forward in my life themes will govern your art so if you understand what your themes are then you can keep taking that inspiration turned into something else and something else and keep using it in different ways so yes I love beauty and darkness and I will show you two examples of that so we've got this picture right here that I kind of have like printed here where I took it in a sewer I'll be talking about that later just a dark background beauty and darkness something beautiful the leaves the colors of the leaves that's all very flowing that's beautiful to me but it's literally in darkness I love that because it's beauty in darkness in a very literal way but also something that just makes you feel something so I have other images where they're they're quite happy images they look beautiful maybe they don't make you feel anything too creepy but at the same time maybe the subject it's sad maybe the subject isn't vibrant and so that's beauty and darkness a subject feels dark but I have created beauty around that subject that's my goal so the meaning behind the elements in near images will automatically become themes so if you understand why you're using very specific elements I use leaves I used leaves a lot I love nature I understand that therefore I can translate that into a theme it's something that's recurring in my art why did I use nature why do I use leaves branches the forest because it's mysterious because it's timeless because those air themes that I can take from one image to the other without being repetitive with specific props so what do you d'oh we'll talk about this again I'm a photographer that's what I do why do you do what you d'oh to find beauty in darkness that's my why that's the core of who I am that translates into my dreams my daydreams what I want my future to look like what I love in my heart when I love writing about all of those things that goes into this beauty and darkness that's the why of why I do what I do so what do you want to dio and a really important question to ask about your future literally if you could do anything in the future what would that be career wise or hobby or whatever I want to be a writer that's my thing I would love to have a book published a fiction novel that's what what keeps me going I love writing novels and short stories and poetry and I love writing that's my future what I want to dio but why do I want to do that it's very similar to my photography to allow people to get lost in another reality so if I can create new worlds with my writing and allow people to read that and feel like they're getting lost in it that's my whole goal behind what I d'oh because I want to get lost in it it's a selfish thing as most hobbies and careers are you do it because you love it and then you hope that other people love it too so when you understand why you understand your motivation passion and inspiration now like I said at the beginning inspiration is great inspiration is what you need to make you feel vibrant and the live and like you're living life to the fullest but if you don't turn that inspiration into motivation what's the point it's great to feel good for a few hours and say yeah I'm really inspired I mean this amazing abandoned building right now and I can't wait to go take a picture and and oh my gosh I don't even care what I photograph because it's just so cool in here but if you do that then you're going to go home and say wow I didn't really use that inspiration how I should have I didn't think about it enough I just took a picture of a cool space because it looked awesome and I don't know why so whenever I'm shooting I want you guys to challenge me and say why are you doing this like do you really have a reason for doing this or you're just doing it because it might look good and I will hopefully always have a reason for doing something

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.