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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 16 of 49

Building Set for Teenager Portrait


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 16 of 49

Building Set for Teenager Portrait


Lesson Info

Building Set for Teenager Portrait

With our setup today, I'm actually gonna show you how I can create something really quite simple. For the dark background, I've got two lights here. I'm gonna work with strobes. This one here has got a three-foot Octobox, so it's gonna create a beautiful, soft light that's gonna come down towards her face from that elevated point. And she's gonna be sitting on our chair. And the other light that you can see here behind me, that's actually gonna create some separation on the backdrop. I'm gonna take my first shot without that light, and then I'm gonna have a look at it, and then I'm gonna introduce that light in to have a look at how I can add some sort of light to that background and create some more texture and detail. And then what I'm gonna do is use three blankets here, three backdrops that I've brought from my studio. I've made a crown, which is kind of fascinating, and I've got a heap of behind-the-scenes photos of making that. But we went to a craft store, and it's cork. It's li...

ke a soft cork. So I bought a tin of paint. I know that I'm gonna tone down that gold, because they didn't have the gold color I want. I'm gonna make it a more muted, sort of rusty gold, but that's okay because they didn't have the color I wanted, so you can make due with that. And then I just found some little ornate pieces that I've stuck on to give it some detail, and then some little gems. And so therefore, the green fabric's gonna tie in with that. I'm gonna photograph her with this, and without her as well. And so I'm just gonna show you how you can actually just use some pieces of fabric to create an outfit, and turn something that's really nothing, into something. Which is kinda cool, right? Yeah, are you excited? (laughs) Okay. Are we ready to get going, Kenna? I believe so, yes. Fantastic. Absolutely. Okay, so. I wanna have... Maya's gonna be sitting. And where I shoot this, I'm probably going to be kind of here, down low. When you're photographing someone, and you want to elevate them, you come from a lower perspective. It's like putting them on a bit of a pedestal, which is what I really love. So when I photograph her, I'm gonna come from a lower angle. So I need to take into consideration, when I come down lower, that height of that background. So I'm actually thinking, it's at a good height here, and I've got enough foreground because I'm actually gonna drape this fabric down across the bottom of the floor there around her, and make her look quite regal. Okay, where is Maya, come on in. Alright, so. Let's start with this. And this is kind of, I suppose, a really good example of being able to do something without really spending any money. This cost probably about 15 dollars to make, which was really cool. So I've got some clamps. And in my studio, I'm always creating, so whenever I make something, I just put it on the shelf. So something like this, going back to a previous question that we had, I can reuse some of those things for other setups, but I would never do anything that is exactly the same. Can you spin around that way for me? Alright, so I just wanna get rid of that frayed edge. Alright, okay, arms up for me. Now I'm gonna pull this quite tight, just let me know if it's uncomfortable or too tight, okay? Is that okay there? Yes. So I'm just using little clamps, here. Now is that gonna bother you, is that okay? Mm hmm. Alright, so, let me turn you around now to face everyone. And I'm just gonna give it a little pull here, not too tight, because when she sits down, she's gonna need that to stretch a little bit. And if I pull it too tight, pin it, and she sits, that clip's gonna come flying off. So I'm just pegging the back there. Alright. Okay. So, this one's gonna come in just behind you. I can see the center fold there, so I know where the center is. And I'm just gonna fold that top down. Okay, turn and face me. Okay, arms up a little. And what I'm gonna do here is I'm not gonna tie it at the front, but I am gonna peg it here. And the reason she's still got her jeans on is because I know that that's exactly the height that I wanna peg this, so I can peg it to those jeans. So if you just hold that there for me. Alright, so we'll find these jeans. Just gonna pull that up a bit. So, let me come on this side. And what I'm gonna do is kinda fold that down in there, and then come from back here to hide this peg. Now, just let me know if I pinch you at all. I'm trying not to, I've got my thumb there. Alright. And then I'm just gonna twist that over, so now we can hide that peg. And when she sits down, I'm gonna be able to place that even better. Okay, turn around this way a little more for me. Now, my idea is to have all of this beautiful fabric kind of draping down to the ground. And it's all in the pose for this one, so it's not necessarily about the outfits, the costumes. Obviously, styling is incredibly important. And color tone, because color creates mood, and adds to composition, but I don't want it to be overpowering. It's gonna be more about her, the pose, and the light. Alright. So she is going to be quite front-on. But what I'm gonna get you to do when you sit is kinda come towards the front of the chair there, on a little bit of a side angle. Your feet are gonna come here, and then you're going to lean with your elbow here. I always find showing your clients, your models, what to do first, gives them a really good visual, so they understand. And with those storyboards, they're great to kind of go through at the beginning of the shoot, you know, 'This is the post that I love,' 'This is the lighting that I'm going to show you, 'or I'm going to reproduce,' and things like that. And so then, with this elbow, I want you to just kind of have your hand underneath your chin, really soft like that. This hand is then gonna drape down like that, and then we're gonna have all this beautiful fabric around her. Alright, so we don't want you to trip. And I'm gonna pull that out as much as I can. Just be careful, because it does rock forward a little bit there. Perfect. Okay, Garrett, I'm gonna get you to come and help me fan some fabric. And then with the red, just fold that top section over again. I'm gonna come in behind you here. And then, what I'm gonna do is just pull this strap out a little bit. I'm going to attach it in here. Okay, so the trick now is to kinda hide all of the white fabric. So if you can start turning around some of that over there for me, Garrett. (asks for clarification) Um, just kind of soft and drapey as you can make it. You want the fabric to kind of flow. And I'm gonna show you, in Photoshop, a great way I like to make fabric look a little softer. Alright, so this is what we like to call fluffing. (laughs) Garrett gets a little frustrated with me, because I tend to over-fluff. But, it's being a perfectionist. It sometimes can be painful, but other times can make or break an image, really. It's paying attention to every little detail. And there's nothing worse than getting the photos up on your screen, and then going, 'Why didn't I fix that?' 'Why didn't I see that?' And it's not rushing, it's really taking your time, and allowing yourself to get it absolutely perfect. Okay, so just there, I'm gonna spin that clip a bit more. Perfect. Kelly, we've got a lot of people asking, again, about this fabric that you're using, because it's incredible to see what it looks like. Can you describe it again for us? So these are sort of like an imitation painted backdrop that's printed on fabric. So it's nice and stretchy, and allows you to kind of put it on the backdrop stands. And I mean, when I travel, I can't take all my beautiful backdrops with me. So I pack all of these, and they're from a company in Australia. So yeah, they are extremely handy. I'm just trying to hide some of those little highlighted bits there. Okay, comfy? Yeah. You look amazing. So communicating with your models throughout the process, it's just always talking to them. When you talk to people, you make them feel comfortable. If you are silent, and not communicating, they're gonna feel a little unsure, they're not gonna really know what to do next. So, you've gotta be able to guide them throughout that entire process of, you know, where to put their feet, where to pose, all of that sort of stuff. So I want you to kind of turn this arm here, that's it, and sort of bend that elbow in, and then bring it in a little closer, and then just relax that hand. I think I love that. Perfect. So, if you look a little towards that light there, you can see now, if I'd had Maya turn her head this way, and I shot that way, her hair's gonna be covering her face. So we're gonna be able to open that face up, and have her kind of sit in that position up towards that light, which is gonna be absolutely beautiful. Okay, how you feeling? Good. You alright? Yeah. So I'm gonna get a shot without the crown, and then I'm gonna come and put it in. And, you have the most amazing green eyes, which is perfect for this color. So now I want you to bring this elbow here forward, and then just kind of, perfect. And just bring that hand in underneath the chin, and bend those knuckles, and just rest your chin down just a little bit. Beautiful. So the reason that I brought that chin in, just relax your hands for me, is because if her hand is out here, and I'm focusing here, it's gonna be closer to the camera. So depending on the focal plane, and your aperture, you wanna make sure that everything's in line.

Class Description


  • Brainstorm and develop concepts for creative portraiture
  • Turn a client's story into a unique portrait
  • Design and build your own props and sets
  • Take great portraits of subjects at any age
  • Shoot and edit portraits with confidence
  • Increase the odds of success in photography contests
  • Move beyond traditional portrait photography


Tired of the traditional, overdone portraits? Dive into creative portrait photography by turning a client's story into stunning portraits with substance. Learn how to brainstorm concepts for a unique image based on a client's story and personality. Explore options for building your own unique set and props. Working with techniques like Photoshop composting and in-camera double exposures, learn how to turn abstract ideas into portraits with meaning.

Join Kelly Brown, a nationally recognized portrait photographer that's captured several awards for her storytelling abilities, and go behind the scenes for five live portrait shoots. Create portraits that span multiple age groups, with a behind-the-scenes look at portrait photography for newborns, children, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens. From brainstorming to editing, weave a meaningful story in front of the camera.

Following the live shoots and editing, Kelly shares insight into photography contests, from the submission process to tips for wowing the judges. Learn how to prepare an image for a print or digital competition.

This isn't the beginner's class on creating a good portrait with basics like depth of field and properly lighting the subject's face -- this is the portrait photography class for photographers ready to go beyond the basics to capture their best portraits yet using creative storytelling techniques. Stop regurgitating the same tired traditional portraits you've seen hundreds of time and capture creative portrait photography that inspires.


  • Intermediate photographers looking to break out of the norm
  • Professional photographers in a creative rut
  • Environmental portrait photographers


Adobe Photoshop CC, Adobe Camera RAW


As one of the most awarded portrait photographers, Kelly Brown is known for her knack for capturing creative portraiture. The owner of Little Pieces Photography in Brisbane, Australia, Kelly is most known for her work in the newborn genre, though her portraiture spans all ages. With a straight-forward, easy-to-follow teaching style, she's taught newborn photography and posing classes in more than 20 countries. As the judge for international print competitions and the winner of highly reputable contests such as the WPPI Photographer of the Year, Kelly also shares insight into photo contests with her students.


  1. Class Introduction

    Dive into storytelling portraiture with the why behind this type of photograph. Gain an overview of the course and see the story behind inspiring portraits.

  2. The Power of Portrait Photography

    Photography is powerful -- build the tools to unlock that power by using your own experience, challenges, and limitations to bring them to your portrait photography.

  3. Introduction to Newborn Portrait

    See the inspiration behind the newborn portrait and the props involved. Learn why Kelly designed the shoot the way that she did -- and how her creative storytelling grew her business. Touch on the elements that are different when photographing a newborn, including safety concerns.

  4. Find Inspiration for Newborn Portrait

    How do you find the inspiration for a storytelling portrait? In this lesson, Kelly discusses researching the subject -- the newborn -- digging into relevant topics, and finding inspiration for the shoot. See other samples of storytelling newborn photography and learn the story behind the images.

  5. Create The Scene for Newborn Portrait

    Take storytelling ideas for newborns and turn them into reality with handmade props. In this lesson, Kelly walks through different props she's created and how she went from the original inspiration to crafting a unique prop.

  6. Prepare & Pose Newborn for Portrait

    Kelly preps for the live shoot by checking the props and making sure everything is within easy reach. Gain tips for working with babies, including wrapping and posing.

  7. Shoot: Techniques for Photographing Newborn

    In the first live shoot, go behind the scenes as the story comes to life. Watch Kelly work with getting the baby settled and in position and gain shooting tips when working with newborns.

  8. Newborn Image Review

    While reviewing the images from the shoot, Kelly shares tips on composition, camera settings, and why she framed the image the way that she did. Gain additional insight into the shoot from student questions.

  9. Introduction & Find Inspiration For Child Portrait

    Dive into storytelling portraiture for children, starting with tips for finding inspiration. Build the ability to research and brainstorm ways to represent a child's story visually.

  10. Create The Scene for Child Portrait

    Building the setting for the story is an essential part of capturing a story online. Delve into creating a set -- or working with a composite -- for a portrait of a child. Learn tips on matching the lighting to the set during the photo shoot.

  11. Prepare Set for Child Portrait

    Build a set that creates an illusion while keeping the child safe. See the inspiration behind the set, then gain insight into tricks for creating special effects like fog and wind indoors.

  12. Shoot: Capture Child Portrait

    With behind the scenes access, see how Kelly created an imaginative shoot with minimal Photoshop work. Gain insight into posing and working with kids. When shooting portraits and a prop or element to the shoot doesn't work exactly as you thought, learn to tackle unexpected challenges.

  13. Image Review for Child Portrait

    See the results from the live shoot, including the exposure settings like shutter speed and focal length. As she reviews the images, Kelly further explains elements of the shot that she didn't detail during the live shoot.

  14. Introduction & Inspiration For Teenager Portrait

    The teen years can be a tough age -- so where do you find inspiration to create a storytelling portrait for a teenager? Kelly shares tips on finding inspiration for these portraits, as well as portraits that she's created in the past and where the ideas stemmed from.

  15. Create The Scene for Teenager Portrait

    Go behind the scenes for Kelly's prop designs for teen portraits. Learn how to build a unique wardrobe piece and craft unique props with a built-in light source. See a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the lighting and studio set-up.

  16. Building Set for Teenager Portrait

    On a limited budget? Learn how to create a crown prop with about $15 in craft supplies. Then, see how easy it is to create a "dress" from backdrops that you already have on hand.

  17. Shoot: Portrait with Teenager

    Craft a story for a portrait featuring a teenager, a technique that's great for high school senior portraits as well as any youth portraits. In this live shoot, see the lighting settings, the pose, the camera settings and more involved in the teen portrait.

  18. Shoot: Pose Teenager for Multiple Looks

    Introduce variety into the stylized portrait session by building in a variety of poses. Using the same props and set, go behind the scenes as Kelly builds several different shots into the same session.

  19. Image Review for Teenage Portrait

    See the results of the live shoot, including the camera settings for each shot. In this lesson, Kelly shares the shots and how she plans to continue the vision during photo editing. Gain additional insight from student questions.

  20. Introduction & Inspiration For Adult Portrait

    The more years a portrait subject has, the more stories they have to tell. Learn how to find inspiration, develop the ideas, create a storyboard, and work to bring a story to life for adults.

  21. Creating The Scene for Adult Portrait

    Go behind the scenes for an elaborate prop set-up for an adult breastfeeding portrait. See how Kelly turned the idea into a custom prop set.

  22. Lighting for Adult Portrait

    Lighting evokes the emotion of the story. See how lighting is essential to creating the mood for the image. Walk through the lighting set-up, including the modifiers, used for the next live shoot.

  23. Tell Your Subject's Story

    Meet the subject for the live shoot and learn his story. In this lesson, Kelly discusses the inspiration for the shoot and where the idea for the double exposure came from.

  24. Shoot: Lighting for Double Exposure

    In the live shoot, learn how to capture a double exposure portrait in camera. From framing each shot to working with lighting, watch the concept of the double life come to life in a portrait.

  25. Introduction to Senior Portrait

    The older generation often has the most incredible stories. In this lesson, Kelly shares tips for creating portraits of senior citizens that tell a story. Develop the ability to find and build inspiration in this lesson.

  26. Create Storyboard & The Scene For Senior Portrait

    From the subject's story, build a storyboard and scene to capture a portrait. See how Kelly assembled the set for the live shoot, and why each element went into the set.

  27. Connect With Client to Create Portrait

    Building a connection with the client is essential to learn their story in order to capture a true representation of the client. Watch Kelly work to build that connection, live on set.

  28. Shoot: Lighting for Senior Portrait

    Behind-the-scenes in this live shoot, perfect the set, composition, and lighting before taking the shot. Work with the light source modified by a softbox. Put it all together with the final shot and the perfect expression.

  29. Shoot: Be Creative on Set

    Add variety and creativity to the senior portrait by building in different poses. Gain insight into working with the older generation, including posing with a subject that likely won't be able to sit in one position or stand for long periods of time. Work to imitate the look of natural light, window light and even a curtain using studio lights when a window isn't available.

  30. Image Review for Senior Portrait

    Take a look at the RAW, unedited results of the live portrait session. Work through Kelly's thought process to improve each shot, taking better portraits with just minor tweaks.

  31. Portrait Shoots Recap

    Review all the images from the live shoots during the culling process. Kelly explains why planning the shoot helps to prevent overshooting, and what she looks for when selecting images.

  32. Global Adjustments in Camera Raw®

    With the shooting finished, jump into editing inside Adobe Camera RAW. Work with color temperature, get started adjusting skin tones, and work to keep composite edits consistent.

  33. Editing In Photoshop® CC: New Born Portrait

    Starting with the newborn portrait, develop a workflow for editing stunning portraits. Work with tools to correct perspective, apply a crop, fix the background, adjust props, perfect the skin tone and more.

  34. Editing In Photoshop® CC: Child Portrait

    When the expression on your favorite photo isn't quite perfect, learn how to swap faces inside Photoshop. Perfect the child portrait from the live shoot, including removing the safety clamps from the props and extending the background.

  35. Editing In Photoshop® CC: Adult Portrait

    Tweak the double exposure adult portrait from the live shoot. Learn how to remove a tattoo, fix highlights and shadows and more in this behind-the-scenes edit.

  36. Editing In Photoshop® CC: Teenager Portrait

    Work to perfect the teen portrait from the live shoot. Learn how to adjust the color of your props if you couldn't quite get it right when assembling them. Draw the eye to the portrait subject with a few editing tricks.

  37. Editing In Photoshop® CC: Senior Portrait

    Fine-tune the senior citizen portrait inside Photoshop. Work to draw the eye to the subject using a gradient tool and layer mask. Dodge and burn with a layer mask to continue to draw the eye when working with a busy environmental portrait.

  38. Introduction to Entering Print Competitions

    Photographs that tell a story are great for entering into competitions -- but how do you get an image noticed by the judges? In this lesson, Kelly discusses why you should enter photography competitions.

  39. Process of Print Competitions

    Photography contests follow a specific pattern. Pinpoint the difference between print and digital competitions, then walk through the process of preparing an image for a print competition.

  40. What to Consider For Print Competitions

    Sure, you probably considered factors like composition and sharpness as you shoot, but there's much more to consider when it comes to print competitions. Even the paper type that you choose for your photo plays a role in how that final image looks. In this lesson, Kelly walks through the different factors to consider for print.

  41. What Judges Look For Overview

    Understanding what the judges are looking for allows you to make the best choices when submitting to competitions. Dig into all the different elements that judges look for in a competition.

  42. Image Impact

    Creating an impact is essential to winning a photography competition and getting the judges attention. In this lesson, Kelly shares tips for making an impact on the judges.

  43. Creativity, Style & Composition in Images

    Composition meshes with creativity and style to tell a story. In this lesson, see a selection of images demonstrating how each element plays a role in the image as a whole -- and how that image performs in competitions.

  44. Entering Photography Competitions Q&A

    Gain additional insight into photography competitions with questions from students during the live class.

  45. Image Lighting

    Lighting helps create a mood in the image, from the source to the direction. In this lesson, Kelly expands on the portrait lighting tips from the live sessions with details on natural light, lighting direction, shadows, and more.

  46. Image Color Balance

    Color balance ties together creativity and style and keeps the image cohesive. Discuss using different colors to create emotions and tie together elements in a photograph.

  47. Technical Excellence in Images

    Technical excellence is essential to success in photography competitions. In this lesson, Kelly explains the technical details that the judges look for in a competition, and what photographers should consider before entering the image.

  48. Photographic Technique

    Gain insight into different tricks and techniques involved in creating an image. From building a connection with clients to demonstrate poses, pick up additional portrait photography tips using different techniques with a photography contest in mind.

  49. Storytelling & Subject Matter

    A story and subject that wows is key to getting a judge to look closer at a photograph. In the final lesson, gain final insight into capturing that story and choosing the subject.



Among a sea of wonderful teachers here at CL, Kelly is the cream of the crop. All of her classes are outstanding and this one is no exception. Amazing teacher. Amazing class. Amazing education. If you are hoping to stretch yourself to create deeper more meaningful stories in your images, or are feeling the pull of print competition but need some direction, this is definitely the class for you. Thank you Kelly!

Melissa Soto

Kelly Brown is a true inspiration. She has been my idol in this industry since I began. This class was amazing. I love how honest, authentic and genuine she was. But most importantly I loved her wise direction and teaching style. Kelly brown thank you for this gem. You helped light a fire in me. I’m so excited to start telling amazing stories with the skills I have learned from this class.

Marjorie Stevenson

Just loving this class! Kelly is one of my favorite instructors. She is very good at articulating her ideas and carrying them to an absolutely wonderful end product. Her images are always stunning. I love that she always puts safety first with her models. Thank you Kelly for sharing your creative visions with us.