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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 9 of 49

Introduction & Find Inspiration For Child Portrait


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 9 of 49

Introduction & Find Inspiration For Child Portrait


Lesson Info

Introduction & Find Inspiration For Child Portrait

Even though I'm not doing composites, there is an element of Photoshop in these, which I think is really important to share and explain, because compositing is fun, and I've created a lot of composite images, but I love that challenge of getting all the elements in frame, so that there's no afterthought. Because I find that with a composite, you're often thinking after you've actually taken that initial frame, oh, what can I do next? Where can I take this? What can I add? You're thinking about it afterwards instead of thinking about that process leading up to it and creating that thought process that goes into creating something like what we're gonna create next. But I'm gonna talk you through some of my things that I look at leading up to taking a portrait of a child, and again, the thought process and that planning it out is all very similar for each shoot regardless of the age that I photograph, but there are different elements with those different ages that we're gonna talk about. ...

So this beautiful portrait here was taken of my daughter, Georgia, when she was about nine years old. And she's a funny little thing. She's nearly 15, but she has this beautiful kinda dark, moody side to her that I absolutely adore and cherish, and I would often just find her, sitting very quietly, playing on her own, and she's very comfortable on her own in those situations. So this is why I captured this. I was inspired by an illustrative piece that I found on Pinterest. It was a drawing, and I thought to myself, gosh, that face just looks like my Georgia, in the illustrative piece. And it was very dark, very moody, so that's why I went ahead to create this, and make it all about that beautiful side profile of hers, but it's so simple. I went on to enter this into the Photography Awards and I think it got a Gold Award, from memory. It's quite, it's been taken quite a while ago, but it is one of my favorite pieces of her, because it shows a side to her that not everybody gets to see. Usually, only a parent gets to see, and that's why I love it so much. So, when I'm finding inspiration for kids, again, going through all of those same points, communicating with the client, communicating and listening to their story. When it comes to communication, that listening is the most important aspect of the whole process. If you're not listening, you're not learning what it is that they want, and what they're hiring and paying you to do. You know, researching things relevant to their story. So when it came to Olivia that we're going to be photographing today, when I found out that she had some learning disabilities, I actually focused on those first, and I started to really research that. And I looked at images on the internet. So I would search words and then instead of going all, I'd go images, and then I'd see what that would bring up. I would go to Pinterest, and then I started to think, this is not the way I wanna photograph her. But that was my first, my first sort of go-to. And it wasn't until I did that, that I started to evolve that thought process into, okay, do I really wanna focus on those issues that she struggles with daily at school, or do I wanna make something really beautiful here? And then started to read more. So I would go research something, then I'd go back to all the information that I had about her in terms of the correspondence, the notes I'd taken. Re-read that, then go back to the internet, research some more, and this is where my idea started to evolve. So it's not that an idea (snaps) comes to you straightaway, it's a process of evolution. All of the different factoring things come into it to help you get to that end goal. And like I said, don't be so hard on yourself if it doesn't work out (laughs), because you learn something from every experience. But yeah, Pinterest. So I actually saw, when it comes to this image, actually saw on Pinterest an installation art exhibition of a swing hanging, and it was very dark, it was on a black wall, so it was very minimalistic. And I thought, I really love that idea of that illusion that it's floating on these two balloons. So then when I read that Olivia thinks that anything is possible and the sky's the limit, I'm like, there it is. And I visualized it. I even, on this image, I even drew it out, and you could see the drawing from my first slide of how I started to evolve that thought process and then start to think about the different elements that I'm gonna bring in. But, art galleries, again, magazines. And brainstorming with friends, and this is where it comes to that point of, like, if I do that, what's it gonna look like? Is it gonna look silly? And then they start to bring their input in, and it's not that you are using their input, but their input often takes you on a different train of thought, in a different direction, and that's what helps you move outside that square to kinda create something that you didn't think was possible in the beginning, which was really exciting. Okay, I photograph my kids a lot, like I'm showing you a lot of photos of my kids. But this is my son, and this was inspired by him. So, when he was five years old, he had hidden himself away in our house, somewhere with his iPad, and he'd set it up, and he'd recorded a little video of himself. And two years later, we're getting iPads fixed and things like that, and I'm going through all the old videos that are on there, and I come across this video of my son, he's missing his two front teeth, and he's got the iPad set up, and you can see he's hit record before he set the iPad up. So he's put it into position, and then he sits back and he says, "Today I'm gonna show you "how to make a paper airplane." And (laughs) I just started crying, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and I'm like, I didn't even know he'd created this. And he had paper, and I knew he loved paper airplanes, he had books, he was researching them, but I didn't realize how much, so I never wanted to forget that moment. I wanted to make something inspired by that and his love of paper airplanes. He's never said I wanna be a pilot or anything like that, but I sourced those little different elements to kinda go with this to create the scene. So, similar to what I've done here, that was another iPhone photo, from my phone from an airplane window. I've printed it on massive sheets of paper. I even remember going to this print lab and it was just a very, very, like a photocopy center, and the lady said, "Um, that's not gonna print that big, "it doesn't look very good." And I'm like, it's a backdrop, it's fine, it's for my kids. And she kept challenging me on the quality of this image, and I'm like it's okay, it's okay, 'cause I, in my mind, knew what I was going to create and that it would work. So, I'll show you a little behind the scenes of how we captured this in camera, and how Garrett, my husband, and I sat and folded 200 paper airplanes. (laughs) So, what we did was, we hung the backdrop. We then brought out multiple lengths of fishing line and attached them to different areas. You can see one's even attached to the top of the door with a clamp. But, what we didn't realize is that we would have to become like commandos and have to roll in and out of the fishing line then. So we created this 3-D effect. This was also inspired, the way that we hung this, by another installation art project that I saw, so I am fascinated with installation art, and that comes from my daughter coming home from school saying, "Mummy, for our Art, "we have to create an installation art." And I'm like, what is installation art? So, I had to research it to find out what it actually was, and then my mind was blown. So it's actually been brought into a lot of what I create. So this is me, I've got the light source behind me, we've blocked out a little bit of light on one side to create those shadows, but, I mean, look how handsome he is there. What I then did next was brought in a smoke machine, and we started to fill that space with smoke to give that illusion of those clouds to be able to create that. So, I remember being in the judges' room whilst this is being judged, and one of the judges said, "There's no way this a single capture, no way." And she challenged it and challenged it, and this is why, in those competitions, you have to submit the raw file, which is wonderful, because you can't cheat a raw file. But being able to create that and challenge people's imagination, and to really, truly create something with that illusion of it being real is the most rewarding aspect for me as a photographer. This is another one of my daughter. And to show you where I got the inspiration from from this, is lamps, light shades. So this was in a hotel I stayed at, and I was teaching a class just off the balcony where I was standing there, so I was grading all of my students as they came in, I was waiting, and I just kept looking at them, and after the class, I don't know why, I came out, I took a picture. And I was like, I just loved those light shades. So, to be able to create that image, I used that inspiration of the light coming from within, because for my daughter, McKenzie, who does have learning disabilities, oh my God, does she light up a room when she walks into it. And she doesn't let anything like that, you know, those challenges that she faces, stop her from doing anything. So creating those beautiful photographs, but also, when I am photographing my kids, and we all know what it's like having kids that don't wanna be in front of the camera, like you pick up your camera, they run, and like, "Not again, Mum." And for me, it's really important to have them in those photographs, so I barter with them, and I say, how would you like to be photographed? Give me an idea, give me a concept. And I said to McKenzie, for this particular photograph, you know, how do you wanna be photographed? And she said, "Well, I like Maleficent, the movie." And I said, okay. So, instantly I'm thinking, horns and black feathers and things like that. Anyway, we started to talk, and I said, don't you wanna be photographed in another way? And she's like, "No, I don't really feel like it." And I said, why? And we started to talk about how she feels. And she's a very happy child, but there are times when she lets you in to her more darker inner thoughts that she keeps to herself, and we started to talk about her challenges, and she feels like she's caged, and she has a fascination with birds, but she feels like she's in a cage and she can't get out. I mean, imagine what that must feel like. So this is why we created this image. And we'd recently just got back from a trip. We did eight countries in eight weeks, so what I did, because it's a heavily composited image, I brought different elements from each of the eight countries that we visited with our family into that photograph, so when she looks at that photograph, she's like, "Oh, I remember when we photographed "that bird in Amsterdam. "I remember running up the stairs "through that archway in Rome. "I remember going to the Louvre and having a piece of paper "and having to walk around and find the different paintings "that were on the piece of paper." So for her, this has, this holds a lot of memories from her younger childhood that she's gonna grow up with and she knows the meaning. Not everybody needs to like it. I love it, she loves it, and it just tells this beautiful story of her sort of in a darker moment and I think it's really fascinating for a 10-year old at the time, to come up with that concept. It was really cool. So I love incorporating them, and communicating with them to really bring out something, but, again, barter with them to try and get them in those photographs. (laughs) You know, we all have our muses, and then again, creating storyboards. So, for me, for that last image that I just had, I was just bringing in all these different elements from our trip and things that I had photographed, things that I had captured. Laid them sort of all out on my screen, printed it, and I would just look at it over and over again, and then, when I took it into Photoshop, being a composite, even though I had an idea in my head, it wasn't until 3:00 a.m. one morning, when I was editing still, 'cause I couldn't put the pen down, my Wacom pen, that I went, no, this is not a landscape picture. This is a portrait. And that's when I really started to bring it to life and create something like it was.

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.