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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 49 of 49

Storytelling & Subject Matter


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 49 of 49

Storytelling & Subject Matter


Lesson Info

Storytelling & Subject Matter

I talked a little bit about this photograph before with a letter in there. So you can see if you're sitting back there, you might not see the letter. And, when you're printing down for a competition, because it's gotta come up underneath the lights, you can sometimes miss elements if you don't excite the judges straight away. So, one panel jumped up straight away, went to it and another judge on a different panel didn't feel the need to jump up out of his seat because it didn't excite him. It's okay, we've seen hundreds of babies in photography competitions, photographed with the different elements from dad's career and all that kind of stuff. That's okay I got it. But, I was offended at first, but what it taught me was I need to create more impact here to help tell the story back here. Beautiful photograph, but that when we think about, that incredible excellence, that outstanding scoring range, that judges are looking for. So, they'll have a sheet of paper in front of them that will...

have a scoring range. Beside it will say, outstanding, excellent, above average, all of those things. And, then to the side of it, is a paragraph that breaks down each of those scoring ranges. So, when we look at that sheet, where does that photograph actually sit within those criterias. Is it exceeding technical excellence in superior skill and craft. Does it have impact? Does it have emotional qualities? All of those things, that's everything that a judge is considering when they look at a photograph. So, I can look at this now and go, you know what he was right. I didn't do anything unique in that fore ground. I placed a baby beautifully in a prop. I put some medals down, I put a hat down. There's nothing that's not been done before there. It's all been done before. So, it didn't excite him and this is a judge that's been judging for a really long time and I have a lot of respect for. So, I just needed him to get up and he didn't. But, I didn't make him get up. So, I deserved that. But, I learned from it and it's what took me on. But, when it does come to story telling and subject matter, you know, gosh, teaching this class has been phenomenal. To be able to share this because when it comes to story telling it's very personal. You know a lot of the stories I've told are very personal to me. I've shared a lot of photographs of my family members and things like that. Some are heart breaking, some have come through trauma and some have come through celebration and joy as well. So, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It just has to tell a story and when you can do that successfully without a title, you are gonna blow some judges away. Absolutely blow them away. But, it all comes down to, having a vision, creating a concept, putting all of the different elements together, doing the research, doing the work, taking the time and allowing yourself the time to actually do it, to build that story and make sure that every element contributes towards that story, and then to print it beautifully and present it in a way that nobody else has. And, when we think about being unique, a lot of photographers and artists say, everything's been done before. Well, I've created some work that hasn't been done before in the photography industry, I believe. I've never seen anyone create a photograph like the two on the wall with the paper airplanes and the balloon, that's different and unique. And, that's why they created this or they received the awards that they did. So, that story, everyone's story is different and that's why finding that inspiration to create that story comes from communication and listening. Listening to their stories, and when we had Janice in the studio and some of the stories that she had, even just listening to her on set, before I took her photo made me go, you know what, I had always visualized her looking this way, but I need to actually capture her looking at the camera and pose her differently because of how the stories she told at that time, impacted me, and what I resonated with and what I took away from them. So, if we go into everything fueled with ego, we tend to not listen, because we get quite caught up in what it is that we're doing and that place that we're coming from. So, it is very humbling to sit and listen and learn to somebody and their story and to tell it and it's an absolute honor. I think what we do, we forget what a privilege it is to take somebody's portrait. For me, its phenomenal. I can't call it a job, even though it is a job because what we create and what we do is truly a gift and I do feel privileged every single day that I am able to pick up my camera and create a legacy for a family. Even if it's a baby that's been alive for three weeks. Even if it's someone at the end of their life. Those moments that we capture now, are gonna live on for absolutely ever, regardless of whether you enter them into a competition or not. But I can tell you that every single photograph that I've ever entered that's done well has come from a place of love and passion and just pure listening and from privilege. I really truly do feel privileged. So, the story behind this photograph, was that the mother came in for the shoot and, then the father came home later from Afghanistan. So, I was able to photograph the baby and tell a story with words about how his father wasn't there. And then when he came home, he came home a few days later, she contacted me and she said you're not gonna believe it he's home, so they came back in and I did another shoot with dad. So, this is a client image. It's pretty cool. And, this is the image that I talked about that scored a 98 in one competition and then an 81 in another. The 81 is nothing to balk at, it's something to be very proud of but when you go from that to that you're kind of thinking what happened, why did it not get the same score. Surely I was gonna get the same score. No, because we all see differently. We see differently when we pick the camera up and we look through it. I could put a prop here on a table and ask you all to come and take a photograph and I can guarantee you no one's photo will look the same. But, it's the same as a judge, when they're looking at an image that's been put down and then they are all looking at completely different elements with inside that frame. They're all going to come up with their own story. They're all gonna resonate with something different because that's gonna be fueled by past experiences of their own. So, when you are entering competitions, just have in the back of your mind, that they could read anything into this, it's okay. They're gonna see something different, that's okay, because if they see something that you didn't see, you're gonna learn from it. If they see something that's great, you're gonna go, wow and it's gonna give you that boost of confidence that you need. But be warned, it is addictive. Entering competitions is very very addictive, because you, if you are competitive like me, you are continually trying to exceed your own skill level and better yourself, which is not a bad thing because it leads to evolution and if you have a look around at the world today, we're continually evolving at a much faster rate. So, if we're not evolving within ourselves or in our businesses or in our artwork, then we become stale and stagnant. That's kind of it, when it comes to everything that judges are looking for in photographs. My experience is what I take away from it and why I encourage other photographers to want to enter because, it is pretty incredible. It is really incredible. I don't like talking about the awards that I've won because it is a very personal thing, but my beautiful Creative Live family invited me here to do that, and I was very nervous to do it because it is personal, but it is a privilege to be here to share it with you all in our online community, so thank you.

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.