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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 1 of 49

Class Introduction


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 1 of 49

Class Introduction


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

I am here to teach storytelling portraiture, and this is the first time I've actually really taught it. Because for me, it's more of a personal journey about what I love to do. And a lot of the creations and concepts that I have come from a very personal space. So I've not shared that before, because it is personal, and as artists, we tend to keep a lot of that near and dear, and not share all of that. So yeah, it's exciting to be here, but because it's something that I've not shared publicly before, it is a little nerve-wracking to get it out there. Because, you know, we're our own worst critics when it comes to creating art. We fear what other people think. Judgment, all of those things. And yeah, but wow. What a couple of days I have got planned for you. So yeah, it is incredibly exciting to be back here at CreativeLive and sharing this with you. Storytelling portraiture, for me, it means a lot. Because when you think about photographs, and how important they are in our lives, and t...

elling story through those images, it's an incredibly powerful thing to do. I'm gonna go through a little bit more of that in a moment, but when it comes to finding inspiration, I'm gonna share all that with you, and how, and where I find that inspiration. I'm gonna talk about the different concepts that I come up with. I'm gonna share with you how I light all the different compositions that I'm going to choose for each particular setup. And over these next few segments, I'm going to create five completely different portraits, in five completely different age groups. So we have a newborn coming in, we have a little child, a 10-year old, then we have a teenager, who's 17, then we have an adult in their 30s, and we have a lady coming in who is in her 80s. So I'm going to create a completely unique setup for each and every one of those age groups, which is pretty cool. But yeah, like Kenna said, I'm known as a newborn photographer. It's what my business is solely focused around. But even though that's what my business and my everyday studio is operating as, a newborn studio, I tend to really focus on my clients, and create storytelling portraits for them in those sessions as well. So it's not something that I just do every now and then, I'm always trying to create something special and unique for every single client that comes in. Because I feel that that's really important as an artist, to nourish that creativity that we have, and to not get caught up and feel stale in our every day-to-day business, in creating images for our clients. Because we all have to meet those expectations. So, when we I have a client come in, you know, I just love learning about their life. I love listening to their stories, and then creating something for them, that's meaningful for them. So I often create images that are for me, and they're part of my inspiration, they're part of my creativity. But what I really love to create, and what I find so... What's the word I'm looking for? It's like an honor. It really is an honor to create something for these families, that I know that they're gonna take away, and they're gonna hang on the wall. And every time they look at those photographs, they're gonna know the true meaning behind that. Not everybody else will. Not everyone seeing those photographs is gonna know that meaning, but they are gonna know it. And that's the value of what it is that I wanna create for my clients, and also for some of my personal projects. But these storytelling portraits that I started creating quite some time ago, did start off as personal projects, and I've been really able to incorporate them into my everyday studio, which is really fantastic, it is. But yeah, it's very rewarding, that's for sure. So, I'm gonna talk a lot about the design elements for each setup, and how I came up with those. The research into finding all of the materials to create each setup. And I talked before about light, I'm gonna show you how I use light to either create emotion, or bring mood an impact to a photograph as well. So yeah, all of that's going to be communicated through the posing, composition, camera angles, lighting, and I'm gonna share everything. Hopefully I don't leave anything out with you guys. So our first model that's coming in is a little three-week old baby. And you can see there's a little pencil drawing there. These are my ideas and concepts. And when it comes to creating something like this, I have to be able to talk to them to find out more about their story. So this little baby is the second child. They lost their first baby to a miscarriage, and so I wanted to create something that gave them hope. And I did some research around the baby's name, I did some research around other photographers who have created beautiful, meaning portraits when something like this happens. And then, I started to research some other fields. And I found paper cranes were the symbol for hope. So I've used a couple of hundred paper cranes to create something really beautiful, to make it look like they're holding that baby up, you know, that's really hopeful for them as a family. So I've talked to the mom about this, and she's extremely excited, and it really resonated with her, and that communication is really important in terms of bringing this vision of mine to life, and having them completely understand the process, and what's involved, and hopefully, bringing it to life, that execution's gonna be there. But like all subjects, there is a certain element of, you know, you're not sure how things are gonna go, or how they're going to react, so it is important to have that communication there. But with newborns, it's slightly different, because a newborn has their own agenda. You know, they're not gonna listen to my instructions. I've gotta work with them and be led by the baby to create images like this, and it takes a little patience. So you can feel in the studio this morning that it's a little warm in here. It is warming up, but that's purely to keep that baby nice and comfortable. So throughout my newborn sessions, I'm gonna have all of the same sort of principles that I have in my studio right here to create this portrait. I've got the studio set at a really constant temperature so that the baby's not gonna be cold, because it can't regulate its body temperature, and it's not also gonna overheat. In terms of safety, I've got lots of supports around the baby here. I've got somewhere nice and soft where it's going to be positioned. And, I've got towels, and I'm gonna have some assistants beside me as well. I'm not gonna have any noise playing in the background, because I'm gonna be constantly talking. And, I think that even just those soft sort of tones, those consistent tones, are what babies are used to. Because when they're inside the womb, obviously, it's quite noisy in there. But it's not necessarily about the noise, it's more about that consistency of sound, because they're not used to it being dead quiet. So yeah, I'll be talking throughout that whole process. Our next shoot is with our little 10-year old. And this is something that I've been wanting to actually create for some time. And when I met this little girl over the internet, prior to coming to Seattle, and I really resonated with her story, because she reminded me so much of my own daughter, who's just a year older than she is. So, she has some difficulties with learning. And so does my daughter, Mackenzie. So when it came to creating this portrait, I wanted to create something that was really positive for her. I didn't wanna focus on all of the things that she struggles with, I really wanted to focus on her. And gosh, the life that she's got ahead of her. And it's the same with my daughter. You know, we really focus on all the positives, because, you know, school can be tough for kids that have got a difference, and it can be really challenging for them. So, we need to be able to lift them up, and make them feel as important as what they are. And this little girl is fascinating. She has her own charity where she helps other children with similar struggles. And she just thinks that anything is possible. She has the most beautiful, positive nature and attitude. And for me, the first thing that came to mind was the sky's the limit. And it really is for someone like her. So I wanted to create an image. And all of these are gonna be in-camera single capture. For me, that's really important, because I love that creative process of coming up with something prior to actually taking the shot, and thinking the whole, entire setup through from start to finish. I just love that aspect of it. And when you click that shutter, and you look at the back of your camera, you know you've got it. It's just, you wanna jump up and down. I won't do that, though. (audience laughs) So yeah, the sky's the limit. So I can see behind be, I have this big backdrop. Now, that's an iPhone photo taken out of a plane window. So we were able to print that. And there's three strips, you can see the seams. So in Photoshop, I'll obviously remove those. But I wanted her to be above the clouds, with that sky's the limit, and have some burnt balloons, and make it really age appropriate. So this is not a formal portrait, this is just something that's gonna capture her right now, and tell a little bit of a story, and be fun, which is what I wanted it to be, and have a positive swing on, you know, just her life and where she's at right now. And focus on the good things that she's doing for not only herself, but other people around her, which is really incredible. So I'm excited to finally meet her in person. And then we have our teenager. So this was really fascinating for me, because in the United States, photographing teens is very popular. In Australia it's not. So you don't often photograph a teenager unless they're coming in for a family portrait. And my daughter is almost the same age as this young lady that's coming in, so I've got a very... My older daughter, sorry. I've got a very good understanding of where she's at right now in terms of the pressures of high school, fitting in, all of those things. And, when she wrote to me, to tell me a little bit about her, the first sentence was, "I'm average." Most teenagers today feel average, sadly. It's because there's so much pressure on them on social media to feel a certain way, to look a certain way, to be perfect. And, when you've got parents that are pushing you to get good grades, and do this, and do that, you know, it can be really restraining. It can feel like you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I purely, throughout this shoot, just want to make her feel like she's not average. I wanna show her how beautiful she is, and that she is the queen of her own life. So I've made a beautiful prop for this, and we're gonna style it and set it up, and just show her exactly how beautiful she is. Because every day throughout my life, and my daughter, and constantly telling her that beauty comes from within, it's about being a beautiful person, not beautiful to look at. Even though she is beautiful, but anyway. And then our next subject is going to be this incredible human being called Raymond. He is coming into the studio to share his story with us. This is gonna be a little bit of fun for me, this is a double exposure in-camera. So I'm gonna use two different light sources to show... How do I explain this? To show the life of where he's come from. So he's had a life, a previous life, that he knew wasn't right for him. He had a lot of struggles. And what he's been able to overcome, and to achieve, since some of the really hard times that he's been faced with, is mind-blowing. So I wanna show his previous self, and then photograph his current self, and how powerful he is within himself, and what he's doing for his own family and thousands of children around America that he goes and does speaking to, in terms of getting your life on track, and pointing it in the right direction. So he is a very fascinating character, so he's gonna bring in two changes of clothing. It was actually tough to know how to tell his story, because I could have gone in so many different ways with this. But, at the end of the day when I was communicating with him and listening to what he was saying, I just, you know, what he's achieved is phenomenal, and I want to portray him in that moment. So it's going to actually be very very simple, but the final result is going to be quite impactful and powerful. And then our senior shoot is of a beautiful lady in her eighties. And she's has a fascinating life as well, like really fascinating, and she's wonderful to listen to. But throughout all of our communication, she never mentioned that she was a writer until the very last email. But I was reading these emails and it was like reading a chapter of a book, I didn't want to put it down. It was really amazing. So, the more I started to learn about her life, and what she's achieved, and what she's done, and the places that she's been... And, she was a literature major. So it enabled her to edit and do anything and everything with everybody else's words on paper, but not her own. So I said, have you ever written anything of your own, and she said 'I have filing cabinets 'full of stories' that she's never edited. So, my portrait for this is going to basically share her with a very empty, clean slate, but almost thinking about the life that she's had, and what she will write next, because I believe that she will. So yeah, that's gonna be really exciting. And I'm gonna use probably more props and things like that with this setup in that segment, but yeah. So yeah, we are going to cover a lot of different styles of photography. I wanted to make everything extremely different across the board, from our newborn right through to this shoot. And, just to show all the different ways that you can light, create style, and pose to bring different elements to a photograph.

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.