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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 29 of 49

Shoot: Be Creative on Set


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 29 of 49

Shoot: Be Creative on Set


Lesson Info

Shoot: Be Creative on Set

So this is kinda what I had in mind when I was visualizing it, we did our pencil drawing, we had an idea and a concept. And then the more you get to know Janice, the more you get to talk to her, this is where you start to go, right, oh, I need to do this, I need to change this up. So, what I'm gonna get you to do, I'm just gonna move your chair, it's on wheels, just forward just a bit so you're a bit closer to the desk. Is that okay there? Uh-huh. And I'll hold it while you sit back down. So if you can be straight on to the table. So, yep, and feet up. There we go. And I'm gonna just wheel you a bit closer. There we go. And I want you to kinda come forward. Yeah, that's it. Perfect. Yeah, I like that. So that modeling light that we can see coming across there, I'm having a look at the shadows, and if you keep your face exactly there, yep. Perfect. So you can see when Janice goes straight on, that shadow and that light on that side of the face. So we're gonna try and fill it with th...

e reflector. So if you can bring that reflector just this way just a little bit. Perfect, woop. Come back a bit, Jamie, 'cause it's leaning on the flowers, yep. Is Jamie still there? No, Jamie's not there. (laughing) Jaime's gone. (laughs) Can't see on the other side there. Sorry, Adam. You're good. So if I was in a client's home taking this, I would probably use the available natural light and a reflector, because it's more intimate. For me, to just be knowing the light that's coming through, I can see it and I can focus on them, as opposed to continually moving our light source around. But it depends obviously on how good you are with light sources, artificial light sources, in terms of knowing their placement straight away. That is perfect. (shutter clucks) I love that, I love that position. I feel that that's a little more powerful to me. And I'm gonna bring that exposure up just a little bit. (whispering) Oh, yeah. It's grabbing that. Yeah, weird. All right, here we go. (shutter clicks) Better? It looks like it's grabbing this. It is, yeah, but I'm focusing on her eye. Which really strange. Yeah, move that toggle point. Unless you wanna like disconnect from the back and maybe with your viewfinder, maybe, it's just... Let's have another go. We're just having a look at that focus. I'm moving my focal point to Janice's eye, I am shooting this at an eightieth of a second. So it should be in focus, but it seems like it's just grabbing the front of the album there. And often when you are focusing, the camera can sometimes struggle when it is trying to grab that focus. And sometimes it will grab the highest contrasting point, so we'll just make sure that we nail this focus. (camera beeps) (camera beeps) And what I might do, actually, I'm just gonna bring up my ISO, because it's on 640, so I'm gonna increase that to a thousand, (camera beeps) which is gonna help me with my shutter speed. So I'm now at 1/25, so hopefully we can get this working now. Okay, here we go. (shutter clucks) A little bit brighter. That's better. Yeah, it's better. Much better. Okay, perfect. And I think I really like that light. So I'm having a little look here at the histogram as well. I can see that the highlights, there's lots of detail in those. But one thing when you are photographing someone with gray hair, when the light comes through and it hits the grays, you can lose detail in those. So you gotta be careful that you don't overexpose those highlights in the hair. So this is where you would kinda come in, you would get some more sort of close up shots around, do you want me to hand that to you? I can take it. (laughing) Get some more close up shots, things like this. Do you know what I love right now which I'm gonna photograph? Janice is sitting there playing with her rings and it's paying attention to all those little details. And it's just perfect, and I love the way she's kinda looking there. So we'll get one more of that and she's been an absolute trooper. So it is a lot brighter on the screen over here, because that's not a calibrated monitor. I'm going off the screen over there to make sure that it is exactly how I want it to be. (camera beeps) Perfect. (camera beeps) And a little smile. (shutter clucks) It's a little brighter. (Adam whispers) It's pretty good. Yeah. Not bad at all. All right, so I've got lots of detail in the background in terms of the shadows, nothing's kind of falling off there which is gonna cause me any concerns. Because what I'm looking for when you've got a lot of information here, I'm done with that, thank you, when you've got a lot of information here in a set with a lot of dark objects and you're trying to expose for the highlights, you need to be able to bring some detail back into those dark objects, which is why we use the reflector. Because if I had not filled those shadows and then what I'm gonna try to do in post production is lift those shadows, and this is where I'm gonna run into noise problems, banding problems, all of those and that lack of information. So yeah, was that okay? Not too painless? (laughing) You've done this before. I've done all sorts of things, but I've never done, let's say I've done everything that was legitimate. (Kelly laughs) But Janice has been in front of a camera before, so it makes it very easy for her to understand sit this way, pose that way. When you are photographing someone that's not used to being in front of the camera, first you've gotta build that rapport with them, you've gotta build that connection to help make them feel comfortable. You've gotta communicate with them. Ask them, number one, if they're comfortable, because I know Janice has got a sore knee. So you're gonna come across people within this age group that are gonna have either back problems, hip problems, (Janice laughs) knee problems. And making sure that you are not positioning them in a way that's uncomfortable is really important. Yes. Because if they're uncomfortable, you're gonna see that in the photograph. So you've gotta continually ask them are you comfortable, are you okay there? Because you don't wanna make them sit in one position for too long and you definitely don't wanna make then stand in one spot for too long. And then you gotta take into consideration like having regular breaks and things like that. When I went to the home to photograph the baby with the great-grandmother, there was no way that she could've stood to hold the baby. So she actually had to sit in a chair and I positioned the baby on her chest, but I had her grandson's hands in there the whole time because she couldn't hold the baby. He was only eight pounds, but when you are sitting and holding a weight like that for a long period of time, it becomes very heavy, really heavy. So you've gotta take all of those things into consideration as well. Do we have any questions, Kenna? Kelly, are you still going to try to put the scarf in later? Are you going to do that as a composite? Oh, forgot about the scarf. Oh. (laughing) There you go, live. We will do that. Let's do it. We might just bring those house lights down one more time. She reminded me of something I was going to do and I forgot to do it. So do you mind? Well, I would've reminded you, but I didn't know what it was. (laughing) I'm sorry. No, no, not your fault. I apologize. Not your fault. (class laughs) Here, let's open these up one more time. These photos of Janice and her husband, there is one common denominator, they're both always laughing and smiling which I think is absolutely brilliant. So they have lived a long life together enjoying so much time and (chuckles) occasions, which has been brilliant. So I have this one little space over here. Aw. And what we're gonna do is kinda have as I go to capture the shot, we're gonna have the fabric kind of drift in like a curtain, like wind blowing through a curtain. And I'm gonna have sort of Janice lean forward and look up towards the curtain. So yeah, who's gonna be my curtain woosher? I'll get rid of a couple of these frayed edges. Oh, I'm so glad you reminded me of that, 'cause then I would've walked away from here going, oh, I didn't get the shot that I had visualized. So you're gonna have to come in quit close and come in a little closer. Yep, and it's gonna have to be a little bit higher and it's gonna be kind of like just a little, and then as it comes back, that's when I'm gonna capture it as it captures that air. So it's gonna kinda come up (Janice cheers) and then down. Thank you. Let's do this. Good luck. (laughing) So Janice, yeah, if you kinda lean forward on that arm a little bit more and then look in that direction like you're looking out a window. Okay Garrett, give me one woosh and then what we're gonna have to do is come up a little higher. 'cause it's kind of like it's coming inline with the fan and the globes, so just shorten the fabric there. And just level it out, yep. (camera beeps) Ah. (camera beeps) (laughing) Perfect. Okay, show me your woosh. And just bring it down now 'cause you're up higher. (laughs) Keep coming down a bit. Okay, woosh away. And maybe down a little bit more. I'm just looking at where that fabric falls. Down a little bit more. Yeah, go again. Okay, so we're gonna have to try and fan it out now. I reckon if you kinda hold it wider, yep. Okay, here we go. One, two, three. (shutter clucks) Might be a bit too much wooshing. Oh, look. Yeah, it's blowing a gale in there. (class laughs) So I'm not an over-shooter if you haven't noticed, but this is where you would probably take quite a few shots just to get that (snaps) perfect bit of fabric. Okay, go again. (shutter clucks) Oh, we nearly missed it that time. So timing is everything here. Give me one more shot. Okay, ready, set, go. (shutter clucks) I think that's a bit of a wind gust as well. Yep. Okay, here we go. Go. (shutter clucks) Oh, I missed it, go again. Now we've got like one long end coming through. Like that? If we hold it like that, can we kinda just go-- Forward and back? Yeah. Yep. And then that way it spreads out a bit. (laughing) Oh, he's used to me being really picky. Okay, ready? (shutter clucks) Ah, that was it. There's just that little curtain. That'll do me. So I'm gonna then direct some of that light in post production, I'm gonna use a lot of highlights and shadows to really kind of create that impact that I'm going for. And darken down a lot of the area up the space here so it looks like that light is really coming through that curtain as she kinda looks out. But yeah, that was a bit of fun.

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.