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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 37 of 49

Editing In Photoshop® CC: Senior Portrait


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 37 of 49

Editing In Photoshop® CC: Senior Portrait


Lesson Info

Editing In Photoshop® CC: Senior Portrait

So again, opening in camera roll. That warmth is kind of perfect here. We'll just bring it back just a bit more. In terms of the exposure, if I start to darken that, I'm gonna start to darken a lot of these areas in the background here. When you think about the information in a file, you're gonna have a lot more information in those midtones and highlights than you are in those shadows. So I'm going to leave the exposure exactly where it is because I know I've got more information to play with in those midtones and highlights than I do in the shadows. So let's open that up. With this, the first thing I would probably do is give it a crop and straighten my horizon line. The horizon line is always the one thing I look at and I can tell if it's off, in other photographs as well. We're gonna go in and crop this and I'm gonna keep it at that 6 x 4, that 2:3 ratio, as a landscape. I'm gonna rotate it here to straighten that horizon up there. I can bring it across just a bit more, so I don't ...

lose that curtain, and we get rid of that V-flat in the background there. Give us a little bit of height. So, you can see Janice is now smack bang compositionally, smack bang in the middle of this image. Her head is going through the middle of those top two-thirds, which is exactly where I want it to. And all of these different elements that are in here are all bringing you back to Janice, in terms of leading lines. They're extremely important. These lines here in the front, I am gonna darken them down because they're quite contrasting and they're bringing your eye away from the subject. Everything else is going to lead us into Janice. Even the line here on this box, that line brings you to Janice. The back brings you to Janice, the curtain does, the frame does, it's on an angle. Then you've got that connection and then the line across the back here, all leads you toward Janice. The line here, coming in, that's a line that leads you toward Janice. These are things that I'm continually looking for in terms of how I place objects within a frame. This is a very busy scene. And she can get quite lost in there. So unless you are using the objects that you place to create leading lines, you are just going to lose the subject. And then how I use highlights and shadows to darken down some areas to draw more attention to those leading lines, that's always what's gonna draw you back to Janice. You'll start to see that the more you look at photographs, even paintings. I recently learnt, Ryan Schembri was showing me, how there are some paintings in art galleries that have got pinholes in the canvases, where artists would direct those lines with string to where they wanted the eye to go. It's the same thing. All of these techniques that we learn throughout our career, really allow us to take our imagery to that next level. So it's fascinating stuff. That's why I love learning, it's really incredible. Okay, so we've got our crop. In terms of darkening down that background, I'm gonna use the exact same technique here with the Multiply, but I'm gonna make sure I obviously select the information in the tones that are already there. Instead of coming from over here and across, I'm actually gonna come from this top corner and down, because I want to darken down the top of the frame and not so much this area over here. I'm just going to, and we're still at about 50%, come down and across the image. Then you can start to play a little more with where you want to darken that down. Now we're starting to see that light come through. Adding that layer mask, using a black brush, we can take it off areas that we don't want it to be on. We want information, though, in a lot of these areas. Let's reduce that a bit more. Even the flowers in the background here. The radio, the top of that desk. The books, Janice's hair and her face, bringing her out. Definitely the photo frame. So you can see the difference that makes to drawing your eye now more towards Janice. You would come around and take it off all of these different areas. It's all about building. And then what I love to do is flip an image upside down, have a look at distracting elements in that photograph, remove them. I can already see here, and you'll be able to see there, that when we zoom out, there are one, two, three, four, five, six really bright elements in there, and Janice is one of them. I'm gonna bring Janice out and darken down those other five bright areas. Still keep detail, but Janice needs to be the brightest part of this photograph. Even without over-exposing the highlights in her hair. I'm not gonna lighten her anymore, I'm gonna darken down the one, two, three, and even this, five, and these little things here in the foreground. Darkening those down to bring in that detail towards her. When it comes to the highlights in the background over here, let's have a little look at those. We'll create another copy layer. And really simply going up to your layer mode, selecting Multiply, adding a layer mask, inverting that. Now with my brush, I'm gonna keep it at about 20%. I'm gonna come in and I'm gonna start to darken down some of the highlights here in the background. I don't mind shadows, they're realistic, but it's the highlights that are drawing my eye towards that area over the frame. Because this is a darkening layer, if this is too bright, you can come in, paint over that, because I'm multiplying the information that's already there, I can darken it right down. And then the paper, don't want that to be too bright. We are almost at our time limit here, but you get the picture. In terms of how we use highlights and shadows to draw our eye in towards the subject. You can see just by removing some of the highlights there on her arms. Here in this foreground, on the book. Over here. Going really quick. I can almost feel a countdown going. Editing is something that I actually really enjoy doing when it comes to creating pieces like this. I know editing can be tough when you're doing client work and a lot of the images are quite similar. And wedding photographers, my goodness, they have to go through so many photographs, so they're always trying to find ways on how they can reduce the amount of time that they sit in front of a computer. For me, when it comes to this, I kinda get lost in that process of bringing something to life. I'm going over some of these highlights in the background. And then down and behind Janice here. You would obviously continue to reduce the size of your brush. And be very careful going around some areas. I just want to show you, very quickly, the difference of removing some of these more highlighted areas. Just removing a lot of those highlights there, we're now starting to really bring Janice to the forefront. So I would add a little bit of contrast. I'm actually going to de-saturate a lot of the tones here and add some warmth in. In terms of that de-saturation, it's just a matter of coming in and bringing back some of the color tones here. And again, using a mask and painting that on, or using a black brush and taking it off. Janice's skin, for example, that's at 100%. Maybe not that much. The colors really do make a difference. If I wanted to add some warmth coming in here, from this direction, really quickly, I'm gonna use my gradient tool. I'm gonna select one of these warmer tones. Over here. And we'll go up a little bit higher here. Let's go about 30%. Come in from this side and darken that down with that warmth. Change the mode from Multiply to Screen. Now I can reduce the opacity of this. Then I can add a layer mask and I can take it off now. Up here. Then have it coming through. Where do we have Multiply, there it is. There we go. So just by adding that little bit of warmth, and removing a lot of those highlights, if we have a look at the before image and then that image, Janice is starting to stand right out for us. Every highlight, every shadow on her jumper, every highlight, every shadow, on all of the different elements are of importance to her, I'm gonna go in and I'm gonna play with those, to really bring out that detail. I'm even gonna come into her hair, and you can see here, we've got detail in her hair. I'm gonna come in and I'm probably going to focus on some of the highlights and shadows in amongst her hair here and how it sits on top of her head. I would, with a really small brush, come in, go over the highlights, go over the shadows. Not increasing those highlights so they become overexposed or lose detail, but just so I add some dimension to the hair so it doesn't look flat. I would spend probably a week on this image alone, purely because of all the different elements that are in here that tell her story. Highlighting those shadows, working on one area at a time. So it is quite a big piece to work on, but in terms of creating an art piece that tells a story, there's so much in this photograph that you could really bring to life and create so much dimension in terms of making it look 3D on, gosh, it's gonna look incredible in print. I can't wait to actually see it.

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.