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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 20 of 49

Introduction & Inspiration For Adult Portrait


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 20 of 49

Introduction & Inspiration For Adult Portrait


Lesson Info

Introduction & Inspiration For Adult Portrait

It's been incredible to be here and create these images and to share with you my thought process behind them, to share with you how I come up with these ridiculous ideas sometimes, and how I execute them as well. But as you've seen so far, I've used completely different techniques with every single set-up which is what I wanted to do. I didn't wanna come here and create five photographs, five portraits using the same techniques, because then that's no fun. And I think the best part about this is we push, we need to push ourselves outside our comfort zone, so that we can learn and explore, and truly have some fun. Because you know when you are able to create, it's just so nourishing for the soul. And it can be addictive (laughs). Okay. So when I'm photographing adults, again I'm incredibly inspired by their stories because they lived. When you have a new-born, they've lived for three weeks (laughs). You know. When you've got a child, they're going through, you know, different challenges...

and different situations in such a short period of time, so you can come up with more sort of, you know like a story-telling in terms of, huh.. you know, story books, and using your imaginations, more fictional sort of set-up and things like that. When it comes to photographing adults, I'm really focused on them, and who they are as people. So I'm excited to be able to share with you this particular set-up that we're going to do today with Remond because, gosh, this is gonna be fun, doing a double exposure live on camera. I've only ever done this in my studio, and playing around, and you know, doing things with flowers and trees and other backgrounds. But to share this live on, on, on creative live is pretty incredible. So we're gonna have some fun doing that. So I wanna take you through again finding that inspiration, and I've talked a lot about talking to your models and clients. But particularly, when it comes to photographing adults, this is where I find the most inspiration in terms of the story. I'm gonna share with you some more personal photographs in a moment. But you know everyone has gone through something in their life time. And whether or not they want to share it, whether or not they want to bring that to the the forefront of creating actual art work with it, it's entirely up to them. So when I was communicating with the model today, you know, it was all about whether or not he was comfortable with sharing, you know part of his past, in term of creating this beautiful photo that's going to really represent what he's achieved, you know, in his life, and where he's come from. So things like that bit. When you talked earlier, you know, in the, in the series about creating that's meaningful for the person in the photograph, I'm not creating this photograph for anyone but Remond. This is for him. And that's where this thought comes from. And that's where I'm getting this inspiration from. But again what I did was I still even though I'm inspired by his story and this is the story I wanna tell, I'm still going to places like Pinterest, I'm still researching different things that I can do. And I did come up with some sort of pretty far out concepts, but I wanna keep this really kind of positive, and empowering, because that's what it needed to be. But that's my interpretation of it. So obviously if you are communicating with people about the stories, you have to be able to, you know, get the right information from them and able to know: do you want me to make this more story-telling in term of illustrative and bring in lots of different creative elements to this, or do you want me to keep it really simple, classy and communicate the story in a different way. So that's the information that you need to be able to ask, you know, during those interview processes that you've got with the families that are coming in. And the brain-storming here. A lot of what we are gonna create throughout the set-up has come from brain-storming, and going :"Oh what if I do this? Or what if I do this. Is this gonna work?" And going through that process of elimination of ruling out all of the sort of factors that might not you know, be able to make it work, and then sort of focusing on some of those more positive things to be able to bring this bring this image, I suppose, to life, which is pretty cool. So Pinterest was definitely my friend for this one. We're gonna create double exposures, but when you look at double exposures on Pinterest, there are so many. This photograph, I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with it, but it's been around. I created this image about four years ago for my mom. So she was 68, huh, sorry, 58, when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the type of leukemia that children get. So quite rare for someone who's 58 to actually be diagnosed with that type of leukemia. And it was so left-filled. Like my mom's worked, you know, hard in her entire life. She's always been really energetic. We played in the same sport teams. like I used to play basketball against this woman. I tell you I was scared. Like she's always been so athletic and strong and for this to kind of, you know, hit her it was, it was pretty hard on, you know, not only her but all of us. So mom went through her treatment. The first week of actually being diagnosed she had a heart attack. Not because that she, you know, had an unhealthy life or anything like that. She actually had pristine valve apparently. But leukemia affects the blood and the tissue, and it weakened the valve which tore one of the major arteries going to her heart, and created a flapping effect which stopped blood flow to her heart. So in her first week, we nearly like lost her which was really really hard for us. So getting through that whole process and watching her go through treatment for six months, and hospital was not only tough on her, it was extremely tough, but tough on all of us to watch it happen. And for anyone out there that's experience that, you know, it's, it's not nice at all. And this is the first time I've ever really talk publicly about this so but it's taken four years to be able to do that. But creating this image was actually collaboration with her. What happened was she needed a bone marrow transplant, and there wasn't anyone on the list that matched her, her cells. So what we did was we created a blog post and some photographs, and it was basically a sign-up-now to become a bone marrow donor. You don't even have to go out and have bone marrow taken to become a donor. They literally put a swap inside your mouth, and it goes on the registry, and one day you might be contacted to say you could save a child's life, or my mother's life. So three weeks after I did this blog post, I think nearly 400 shares, my mom got a phone call, and she got a donor. He was a eight out of ten match, and he lived in the UK. And they flew that bone marrow all the way to Australia. So I personally like to think that in creating these photographs helped in some way. Even if it didn't get her, if it wasn't the reason she got a match, it may helped someone else out there needing a match. So sometimes when I was creating these photographs, they are for other reasons. And I think I achieved what I set out to do in term of making the bone marrow registry more you know, obvious, and making it aware for people to perhaps join it. So I set out to do something and I achieved it with this photograph. And it makes people uncomfortable, but I'm ok with it. Because sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable when we look at photographs. They have to tell us that story. So all of the words written in the background were written by my mom. And she wrote them down on a piece of paper, and I overlaid them into the background. So two weeks before she was diagnosed, she was at my house. She didn't look very well actually, but she was at my house. It was her day off and she was just sitting there, and I got a new lens. So I'm like, let me test out this lens. And then two weeks later, she was diagnosed. So didn't know at this point in time. So then I went to take the second photo, I was like, I come across this. I was like, I didn't even know that I was taking that photo for a reason. And it was this same kind of expression, so I had her hold up a piece of paper and that's how we created that. But it tells a story. It's been done before. The piece of paper being held up has been done in so many occasions by other photographers. And that's ok. You can take inspiration. But if you are going to use a concept that's been done before, just make sure you make it your own. And yes, because it sort of speaks for itself, even if you've seen another photograph using the same concept, it's completely its own image. I was really lucky enough to, you know, mom encouraged me to enter into the photography awards. And she actually sat with me at the judging and watched it get judged, which was pretty cool. She's still with us. She's still alive, still, still going on. She's doing well. So the outcome of this has been really incredible, which is amazing. So she watched that image get judged, and it's got an 98 in Australia, and the score is out of 100. So I was absolutely blown away with that. And then when I entered it to WPBI, it's scored 100. So it moved the judges so much that they were challenged in how to score it. But obviously it wasn't just the impact of the story in the photograph, it was the presentation, the print, and all of those things that I'm gonna cover in that segment when I talk about entering competitions. So I'm creating story boards for this kind of thing. You know, they are more sort of personal story boards, and they are more well-thought in term of telling that person's story, because, you know, that story can be quite great. So it is more focused on that individual, and finding different elements that you can bring to it. But when you're creating the story boards, you're looking at what sort of colors and tone do you wanna bring to this. What sort of, you know, how do you want to bring that color harmony into it to create that right mood and tone. You know, in terms of composition, all of those things. So you're gonna create story boards based on, you know, your color, your style, your pose, your lighting. Not just the picture you find you think is great, You're gonna start to break down all the different elements of the photograph, and then find images, find things that are gonna represent those elements. And then you're gonna look at it, and then you're gonna circle that big piece of paper, you're gonna go: "Right. That's the lighting I want. That's the color harmony I want. I love this pose." Then you're gonna start to bring all those elements together to create your own.

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.