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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 43 of 49

Creativity, Style & Composition in Images


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 43 of 49

Creativity, Style & Composition in Images


Lesson Info

Creativity, Style & Composition in Images

So in terms of creativity and style, and we talked about this, you want to tell that story, and you want to style it so that it suits that genre. For me, the babies obviously, I've styled it in a way it's very earthy, down to earth. Every other element in this image all kind of blends in terms of color and tone, and then those babies stand out as the brightest part of this image. You want the babies to stand out, so you want to see them from back there. Then you go up, and you start to look at the empty bowls, and then you sit down, and that, in terms of creativity and style, is presenting something with a judging panel that they've not necessarily seen before. So when I came up with this concept, and the three different bowls for my client, I was like, you know what, this is pretty cool. I'm going to enter this in the awards, with their permission, and it scored a gold award as well, because of that creativity and style, because the creativity is what told the story. Being able to add...

those different elements, that's where that story came from. And you know what, you see it done a lot now. When I entered this into the competition, this was probably about five years ago. So five years ago, it was the first time they'd been faced with an image in the newborn category with multiple props, multiple bowls, and now we're starting to see it a little more. That's just how trends kind of move on and grow, and people start to put their own spin on things, which is incredible. This is really, really important. When we start to consider composition, and when you think of composition in terms of you know, your rule of thirds and things like that, it doesn't necessarily need to be what we were originally trained to look at when we first started photography. Here, I've created a lot of negative space around my two dogs, and then balanced it out with repetition, kept the color palette really harmonious again, but it's got to hold the judges' attention. I'm looking at it, you're all staring at it. It's got to hold your attention, that composition. It's got to have leading lines, and the use of light in terms of competition, is what's got to also grab your attention. That was window light, so just single window light coming in and highlighting the different elements that I needed it to highlight to tell that story. This was a very, very simple setup on a backdrop with two cushions, the same, and my beautiful heartbroken dog, and my other dog that she had shared a bed with for 10 years. So the reason I created this story was because when he left us after 12 years, she sat at the front door and waited for him every day, and it was heartbreaking, and I'm like, I've got to tell this story. Like, she just was heartbroken until we got out our lead. This has a lot of meaning and power for me, and entering into the competition, I didn't need to, but it did win the pet category at WPPI, and scored a gold award purely because of those compositional elements that brought your eye into the subject, that told the story. When I listened to the judges' comments, it was really quite fascinating, and you know, moving for some of them as well. Because that's what you want to do, you want to be able to tell a story with zero words. But you can see when we talked before about the leading lines, even of the cushion coming in, leading you straight to her. All of those things are taken into consideration. You could darken them down, but do they add to it, do they distract? So you got to consider all of those different things. So entering competitions for me is a very personal thing. I think in terms of your own personal gain, I love competition, I study it a lot. I grew up playing a lot of sports and being very competitive in that sense, so when I couldn't play sport any longer, I still needed to be competitive, because I've got a competitive nature. But when I enter a competition, I'm not competing against anyone else. I have to compete against myself, because we're only as good as our last image, and I've got to continually raise my own standards and bar. If I think about it, and thought, where would I be right now if I'd never entered a photography competition, I don't think I'd be standing here, because I wouldn't have that confidence to do it. So even though it's one of the most nerve-wrecking experiences you can go through, growing as a photographer, and achieving results like I've achieved, helps boost your confidence. But you've got to be careful, you don't want to confuse confidence with ego, at all when it comes to that. I don't go into this with ego, and I never think that I'm gonna win anything, ever. I go in it to learn and gain experience, and to see that if I'm getting better every time I enter. I also have, especially with for example, WPPI, they have their accreditation and masters program. So for every gold award that you win, you get two points. For every silver, you get one point. To become an associate of WPPI, you need five points. To become a master, you need an additional 15 points. Then every year, it's about sort of 10 to 15 points to move up to double-master, triple-master, and become a grandmaster of photography. So I'm competing against that challenge, to get those points, that's all I want. All I want is to get those points to be able to move to that next level, so that I can call myself a double-master of WPPI. I was a double-master of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography. So those challenges, those personal goals that I set myself, are extremely important in terms of my growth, but when I'm creating, I don't create images to necessarily win, obviously winning's great, but I don't also create those images to, you know, from the wrong place, I create them from the right place. I listen to the story. I don't come from a place of ego, I come from a place of creation and love, and I think that's what's helped me along the way. When you go into it with ego, you tend to lose sight of what it is that you're doing. I am one and a half points off becoming a triple-master at WPPI, and I only started entering there a little while ago. So I've been able to achieve some really incredible results purely because I went back to what it was in terms of requirements to enter. I read the rules over and over again. Those rules are so important, and understanding the categories that you're going to enter. Then I think about the process of the creation. So when we go back to our story-telling portraits, what's my plan? This is the idea I have. This is the process of creating that idea, right through to the capture, and then that editing process, and you can see, I didn't spend much time on those images, but showed you a rough idea of what I would do to bring those images to life, and then the printing of it. So there are so many steps, and if you've not entered before, I highly recommend going through those steps and studying it. But if you can get yourself to a print competition, even if you do not enter, sit there and listen to the judges' comments. Listen to the feedback on other peoples' photographs, and the things that they see, the things that they don't see. Because when you start to take all of that on board, you then start to look at your own images and go, oh, I probably shouldn't have the elbow there, or the lighting's completely wrong, or I should have printed it on this paper, because you've heard them talk about it, and yet you're listening to it. My very first year at WPPI, eight years ago, I sat in the judges' room for two days straight. I was too scared to go to the toilet in case I didn't hear something from the next image that was being judged. Listening to that content, and the feedback was invaluable to my own level of knowledge and creation, I suppose. Also, every year a lot of competitions will show you images that were entered in previous years, and what you can do is you can jump online, and you can go through those, and see what was awarded, and see what really stood out in terms of those high, high scores. You can look at that for inspiration as well. Not to copy, because when I talked before about originality, judges are gonna jump out of their chair if they're looking at something that they've never, ever seen before. So you got to make sure that you are always coming up with a new spin and a new idea. That's why when we look for inspiration, we go to places like art galleries. Not just art galleries that have paintings, but art galleries that have you know, installation art, things like that. Lots of different types of art, and you'll find that you are instantly drawn to one thing or another. That's the thing, we could all walk into an art gallery right now, and we will all be connected and drawn to something completely unique and different. That's the beautiful thing about print competitions, is when you see all those images come up, they all belong to somebody different, and what they saw and the story that they're trying to tell is all really unique. So it is an exciting process to be a part of. Like I said, nerve-wrecking, but the growth is insane, and the more people in this industry that enter things like that, the more we can start to understand that industry standard, and raise the bar on the level of that industry standard across the board. Like, I've heard a lot of photographers go, "Oh it's not for me." That's fine, it is, it's absolutely fine. But it is also nice to be rewarded for your hard work, and being able to put your work out there. Entering print competitions for me, has got me global recognition for some of my work. That's why I said before, I probably wouldn't be standing at CreativeLive today if I hadn't of won some awards, and received incredible achievements, and reached these goals without that. I'd probably still be sitting back in my studio, too scared to do anything and not create. So it's important to get out of your own way sometimes and let down some of those barriers. If you get a bad score, don't be disheartened. Learn from it. I remember one year I entered eight images into the Australian competition at state level, and none of them scored higher than a 78, and I was really flattened for about two weeks. I sourced another photographer, and I went to that photographer, and I asked for advice, which is huge. This is something I highly recommend, having somebody else go over your images. This photographer said to me, "If you want a gold, I'll edit them for you." So I kind of questioned that, and went, "Okay, well maybe it's in my editing. "What do I need to do to improve that?" So I then went and learnt more about retouching, but I was actually really kind of, do you know what, if you think my work, I'm gonna show you. That was a challenge for me. So once I got over the heartbreak of not receiving at least one award out of eight, I then found drive and determination from that to actually go on and achieve something. So sometimes those low scores can actually kick you up a gear, and point you in that right direction to finding the results that you want. But when it comes to having someone else look at your work, really try to find someone who knows what they're talking about. You don't have to know them personally, or you may have met them one or two times. Someone in your local organization, someone close to you, that you trust, that has the knowledge and has the experience that you can value, and that can give you the right feedback that you need. I know a lot of photographers ask their friends and family. When a good friend asks me for a critique or review of their photo, I'm always gonna say, "Oh, it's lovely." Do you know what, ask someone who you don't have that emotional connection with, and say to them, I want your honest, raw, feedback. If I was to put this in front of a panel of judges, how do you think it would go? Don't ask someone that you've got a connection with, someone that you know. Your friends and family are gonna say it's beautiful every time. They're gonna try and encourage you, you don't need that. You want someone to see something that you haven't seen. You need that fresh set of eyes to look over that image, because you know, when we start talking about that level of impact, that creativity and style, composition, lighting, print quality, all of those things, all of those boxes have got to be ticked to be able to achieve the results that you want to achieve from entering competitions, which is huge.

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.