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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 48 of 49

Photographic Technique


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 48 of 49

Photographic Technique


Lesson Info

Photographic Technique

When it comes to photographic technique, there's quite a lot you've got to consider. You've got to look at your posing and when we talk about posing, a lot of it is connection and body language. I actually did a body language course a very, very long time ago and learned a lot about people's body language. So when it comes to posing, it's funny how, subconsciously, I actually bring a lot of that into what it is that I'm doing, and I use some of the techniques that I learned throughout that course to make my clients relax. One thing that I always do is talk them through the entire process and I show them exactly how I want them to sit. So, throughout the storytelling class, I showed and demonstrated exactly how I wanted everyone to stand and sit. And every single client that comes into my studio, and this was a client, and, you know, I knew she had triplets so I've come up, before she's even got there, with an idea and a concept, and I had to lay down on the floor, and show her exactly ...

how I wanted her to lay, and sometimes it can look really awkward but, you know, this woman's just given birth to three babies (laughs). The poor thing. Like, I'm making her get down on the floor. So when it comes to any of those sort of things, you've gotta take into consideration the age of the person that you are photographing. You wouldn't come up with a concept like this for an elderly person, that's for sure. But, you know, the comfort, when it comes to posing. You know, the energy that you want to deliver with that particular pose. The connection that you want to create when it comes to photographing couples and how you have them come together, and use of fabric to bring people closer together. Or even just to give them, you know, some form of statuesque. So, when it comes to posing, it doesn't always have to be glamorous and beautiful, you know? It can be quite, sort of different, depending on the story that you actually wanna tell. And then, again, lighting. So, here, this photographic technique that judges are looking for. They're making sure that the direction of that light is perfect, it's not creating any unflattering shadows, but what they're also looking for is detail, everywhere. So, it's a little hard to see here, but in the print of this, you can see all the detail in her hair, every single strand, and when you can control those highlights and shadows with lighting, and bring out all of that detail, judges are just gonna go wow. That's pretty amazing. I recently saw a photograph of it was a bear at WPPI, and when I looked at this photograph, the detail was insane. Every single hair on this bear looked like it was in absolute focus. It was absolutely incredible. So depending on what it is that you're photographing in terms of the subject, the age of that subject, and how you want to capture all of that detail, the lighting is really important. Because if there's not enough light back here, then those shadows are gonna lose a lot of that detail. Composition for something like this, we've got our rule of thirds and we've got our mom and babies smack bang in the middle of those top two thirds, heavily weighted with the design of the dress coming down. The dress there has added another element to this image that, for me, just creates an art piece. I put the dress there. I could have cropped in tighter. I did in one of my images that I entered into awards. I actually cropped it as a circle around there. I lost the bottom. And it didn't do as well as the full crop. But I suppose when you look at it from a compositional value, that negative space really adds to the impact of her, and the flowing lines of that dress come up, from the bottom corner, come up and lead you up into her. The circular lines lead you to her face and lead you in to these babies. All of those different factors, those leading lines, the composition of this, have impact. They're huge when you consider that overall look and feel of an image. And then when it comes to ISO, and we're still talking about this photographic technique, the ISO on your camera, obviously, if you're limited with light, you gotta bump your ISO up. So when you're planning out an award shot, an award entry, you wanna make sure that you're using the right amount of light so that you don't have to shoot with 3200 ISO. Because if you don't nail that exposure, you're gonna have a lot of problems with noise and grain and banding. When you increase ISO what you are doing is you are sacrificing a lot of the quality of that photograph. So the lower your ISO, the more quality, the more amount of information in that file. And that's what it does. I wanna make sure that when I'm taking into consideration how I'm gonna light this, that there's enough light there that I don't have to continually bump up my ISO to sacrifice some of the quality of that file, because it all comes back to that print quality. And then your lens choice. This is huge. So we often see a lot of photographs shot at wide angles, and unless you're going for a very artistic creative style of portrait, a wide angle is not very flattering when it comes to photographing people. So if you consider your lens to be long and straight, that's at a very long focal length. As the lens gets wider, and just say for example I'm photographing you, the wider the lens comes, the wider this becomes, the closer I have to actually get to you to fill the frame with you. So say for example we've got a 200 mm lens here, for me to photograph here with say a 35 mm lens, I'm gonna have to come quite close to fill the frame. Therefore, parts of you are gonna become distorted as they get closer to the end of the lens, if that makes sense. When I'm shooting a portrait like this and I do not wanna get on a ladder above her because she's got three babies in her hands and for safety, I'm going to shoot with the camera strap around my neck, I shoot with a 24 to 70 lens so it gives me lots of versatility. I stood to the side of her over here and I held the camera, so her head was here and her body's here and I'm standing, and I've got the camera out there and I can just see the back of my LCD screen to see if I've got her exactly where I need her to be on my live view. I've photographed her. I've taken quite a few captures to make sure that I've got it in focus. But I've had to shoot that at quite a wide angle. So therefore I've got to fix any lens distortion that I have in post. It's a bit of a sacrifice, but I'm not gonna sacrifice the safety of a baby to get a long focal length. So that's just not what I'm about. But if I wasn't photographing babies, I'd still have to be very, very considerate of all the safety elements when it comes to photographing, say for example, a lady laying down on the floor, but I would use a longer focal length and I would use a higher perspective to take that shot so that I'm not sacrificing any distortion or perspective for the sake of shooting with a wide angle lens. When I shoot with a long lens, then I'm usually shooting children, I'm shooting adults, teenagers, all of that. And I'll probably stick to around that 70 mm focal length. And that's gonna allow me to not have to be too far away, but to also not have any distortion in that photograph. But it all depends with that lens what the style of photograph is. If you're shooting detail, then you wanna use a macro lens. If you're shooting full pullback shots like this, then you might wanna use a 70 mm focal length or a 50, but be prepared to have to fix some distortion if you are shooting with a wide angle lens. Because if you do and it wasn't necessary or it should have been shot with a longer focal length, the judges are gonna spot that. We can see distortion. Whenever I'm judging in the baby categories I'll often see a very large head and a very small body or small feet. So always look at the perspective and how in proportion all of the body parts are to that photograph. So then the exposure again, talking about all of that. But all of these things have to be considered. And in conjunction with creating photographs of absolute technical excellence. It is a lot to take in but when you consider all of these different elements within one photograph and you do the work, there is a lot of hard work into this and that's why I talked earlier about how much pressure I put on myself. And I've set that standard really high. But it's because I want to increase my standard level of excellence. I wanna be at a higher level. I wanna know that I'm creating work that I've never created before because if I just keep creating the same old, same old, I'm gonna get bored. I'm gonna lose my inspiration. I'm gonna lose my push and my drive. And for me, the only way that I can succeed is if I keep that drive and determination fueled by continually wanting to exceed my standards, if that makes sense.

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.