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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 27 of 49

Connect With Client to Create Portrait


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 27 of 49

Connect With Client to Create Portrait


Lesson Info

Connect With Client to Create Portrait

Let's welcome Janice onto our set, come on in. I've got a stool in behind here for you to sit on so you don't have to stand. Oh, good. Alright, have a seat. And then I'm gonna get you to slightly kinda turn this way. I'll hold the back of it 'cause it's got wheels. Boom. Done. Are you happy with your feet being up there, or do you want a box to put them on? I'm fine. You good? And if not I'll put 'em on the floor. So when you start to look at this set, I wanted to create balance. So I'm gonna take my photograph from back here, from a slightly higher perspective, looking down so I can see the elements on the table. If I took the photograph from down here, they're gonna look like flat objects, and I'm not gonna be able to read the text and things like that. Also if I took it down here instead of coming up, I'm then gonna start to have a lotta blank background on that backdrop where I can't hang anything. So coming from that higher perspective, I can slightly shoot down ...

and this is gonna be my frame. So now I can start to see that this photograph, see the title of the book, see all those different elements that are gonna make sense to the photograph. Alright, so some of these things Janice, is this kinda what you would have in your home? No? (raucous laughter) Well definitely this. (audience laughs) And probably some food. I bought this for you from Australia. It's got a wombat on it, so you can take that home with you. Oh you're kidding. No. Oh, it's gorgeous, oh that is so pretty, thank you. Wombats aren't really that pretty. Yes it is! No, in real life. It's pretty, this is pretty, this is a beautiful drawing, but wombats are actually quite ugly and smelly. No they're not, they're not, they're not. So we'll turn it around 'cause that's got a little bit of connection there. And we have your photo album. When you were writing, did you use a typewriter? I laughed because I have, I have a portable typewriter in the garage that I'm trying to get rid of, nobody wants them anymore. But yes, I learned on that. Yeah wow. So CreativeLive have an incredible inventory of props and things like that that you can use. So because I couldn't go to Janice's house I'm kinda trying to simulate something that can help tell a story and yeah, it's pretty exciting. Janice has an amazing story to tell, and when she mentioned to me that she was a literature major, that allowed her to edit anything and everything of everybody else's work, but it kind of like, stopped her from doing her own stuff. Uh-huh. (lightly laughs) So what were some of the things that you liked to write about? If I were going to write, oh, I started writing my mother's biography, and I got to and that's when she and I met in the hospital at my birth. And yeah, it's sort of wandering off. I have a few fiction pieces that I really wanna get back to, but eh. And my computer does not always cooperate. I was writing some things to you and the computer just erased. Yeah yeah, you said that. Well I think the word is delete, I'm trying to get as techie as possible and tear myself away from the easy stuff. Oh those are so, can I take it home? You're trying to get rid of one. Well I know but this isn't, that one is such a mess. You might have to bargain with Jamie over there. (softly laughs) Okay. I'm just borrowing them. So for the idea of this photograph, I kind of got a sense when I was reading your emails that you have a pretty cool story to tell in terms of writing your own biography. I don't know if that's true. I did start at one point in communicating that I had spent a lot of time working at jobs that allowed me to skate through without recognizing that women basically are discriminated against in the workforce. Mainly because they were union jobs, which meant, like I said about the gas company, the women in the office got the same money as the men in the field reading meters, but we didn't have to carry snakebite kits, that was the only difference. And then I got to the point where I took a job in a small community in California, San Diego county, running a Chamber of Commerce office. And it came to decide what my title would be, and I balked when they said you can be the executive secretary. I'd never been a secretary. And all the men who had similar offices were executive directors. I said why can't I be that? Well, well shortly thereafter I quit, and the community was going to incorporate so I got on the incorporation committee. And we did incorporate, and I was on the ballot for the first city council and I was the top vote getter. And on my fourth year I got to be mayor of that little community. I said I believe the phrase is I waved the bird, and it made me feel so good. (audience laughs) What page are you on in here? There you are. This, this was my last year in office, and some of the highlights of that. Okay, that was the year that the Olympic Torch came to San Diego. And it was carried through all the communities in the east county. And all the mayors of the other three cities, in their knobby-knees and their shorts, carried the torch. Nuh-uh, not me. We had a young woman in the local high school, and she was a cross-country runner and she had won lots of awards, I gave her the torch. And of course I got an editorial in the local paper. I also came out, I mean this was kind of dumb but we were having the Miss Santee Pageant and I came out rather loudly against it. I said until we recognize young men and young people with problems in the same way that we recognize gorgeous young women, I said I'm not in support, I got another editorial. (audience laughs) I mean there goes the bird again, I mean I had fun. I love that you stood up for everything that you believed in, though. And I still do, and of course right now, politically, nationally, oh my God. (lightly laughs) But I live in Susan DelBene's congressional district, number one in the state of Washington. She's in Washington D.C. with my issues. I have two women senators, I feel very, very comfortable living here. Yeah nice. God. So this-- And my husband, by the way, was extremely supportive of that. We got him through UCLA, and when he was given a teach, well when earned a teaching job in Riverside that's where we moved. And it was always a given if we were anywhere near a university campus I'd go back to school, and I did. And I was able to graduate from UCR. And I taught for two years, wore myself out, literally. Learned early on, okay. There was a class right at the end of the year, and the prof said you know, you can learn any number of names if you want to. And he said okay, the night before class starts you can take, we called them cuum cards. You can take those cards home and you'll have one for each student, and you can make a seating chart. And when you go in the next morning you can tell them where to sit, and they've got you. Or, you can not look at them, you can go into the classroom the next morning and learn their names, every one of them, and you've got them. I said but you can't do that. He said well, you can. 35 10 year olds sitting there, and I have opted to give it a try. I went home that night and I had a mental picture of every one, we played games all day. And you had to say your name, we did all sorts of things. And the next day I walked into class and I had 'em. I mean I knew them, you can do it. And you don't pick little, I mean you just, you get to know them individually and you've learned their names which is just, I tell that and people say it can't be done but it can. I think that that is probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in terms of what we do as photographers, and getting to know people individually. Oh, I'm. (loud crowd laughter) Speak up honey. I said getting to know people individually, as a photographer, it's one of the most important things we have to do, yeah. Absolutely. And that's why I'm excited to take your portrait today. And we've bought in, Janice has bought in something that's really meaningful to her. Her children made this for her on what would've been your 64th wedding anniversary? Yes, and my husband died just short of that occasion. He died in March, and the anniversary was in September. And they knew I was hurting, it wasn't an easy thing to experience that first anniversary alone. We had 70 years, we never met. We were just throw, together in junior high, and we were neighbors, and we had fun. That's pretty cool. And we have a beautiful photograph of him behind you here on set. I snuck it in there, I'm sorry. Yes, I saw that when I was sitting over there. And then she's also brought in a couple of other things in terms of proud moments, I suppose, that you've had that I wanted to incorporate into this. So as I create a set, I wanna make sure from that viewpoint that I'm gonna capture this from that you can actually see these without making it too contrived, if you know what I mean. I kinda don't want it to be immaculately placed, I want it to be just like a normal kind of area. So if you were going into somebody's home you would wanna collect some of their most, you know, treasured possessions in terms of sitting down and talking to them and saying you know, I would love to see your favorite photographs. I would love to see something that you can show me that, you know, you may have achieved like a certificate or even a book, or have you been published? Just getting to know them a little bit more, you can do that via correspondence and over the phone if you can't get to them, but I suggest if you were going to photograph someone around Janice's age that you go and pay them a visit first. Go away, come up with some ideas and then come back and talk to them about those ideas. I mean I'm pretty sure that Janice would tell me yeah no, this is not right, like if she felt that way. But it's all about communication, and it's all about having patience and listening to them. Listening to her stories, this is how I'm learning more about her life which is gonna allow me to photograph her the way that she deserves to be photographed. You know, she didn't put up with any, I can't swear, but any, you know, nonsense, you know, in the workforce, and she's really stuck with her guns. I do wanna give her more kinda powerful sort of seated position here, I don't want her down low, I want her up a little higher. And I kinda want, you know, the way that she's sitting to express that sort of body language. You saw in the photo of my grandmother, she was kind of more sort of down, looking down. I want Janice to be kinda looking up and proud of what she's accomplished in her life. And these are the things that you need to kinda focus on. So when you're creating that mind map for that person, you've got the information that you need about them, that's when you can go right, how do I wanna pose her to create that, you know, that emotion, that reaction? How do I want to light her to have that impact, to create that kind of three-dimensional look. Because, you know, when you think of a photograph being two-dimensional, you really wanna add depth. Which is why I've got, you know, foreground, middle ground and background to help tell that story. So because I've got so many different elements in here, I'm gonna wanna photograph this with, you know, a much larger aperture so I can get that detail. If I shot this at 2.8 I'm gonna have blurry, focus, blurry. So I wanna keep that focal plane quite wide and probably shoot this at about F8. But we're gonna test our lights, these are pro photo lights that I'm still getting used to, 'cause they're a little different to the lights I've got at home, which is good. (light laughter) But you ready? Sure. Excellent.

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.