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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 47 of 49

Technical Excellence in Images


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 47 of 49

Technical Excellence in Images


Lesson Info

Technical Excellence in Images

This is where we start to look at absolutely everything. Our print quality and we've talked about that. We're talking about sharpness. Have you got that focus right. There's so many occasions I've been on a panel of judges and one thing that really, really stands out is a focus point. Where you want the eye to be in focus this connection the eye's looking at the camera and you look around and see maybe the hair's in focus or the jumper's in focus but that eye is not in focus. So you've gotta really make sure when you're taking a photograph if there's connection you've gotta make sure that you are focusing and the sharpness is right there on that connection. Because the judge is gonna see if you've tried to over sharpen it in Photoshop because you didn't get it in camera and things like that. But when you see this photograph in print up close you see every single pore on her face. So I haven't softened it so much that I've lost detail on the skin. I've retouched it in a way that has all...

owed me to keep all of that beautiful texture there and that sharpness that was needed. When it comes to exposure, getting that exposure right in camera. If I had underexposed this photograph which I do see a lot of photographers today doing. And it's not understanding your camera's capabilities or understanding how the light, I suppose is captured within that camera and using your meter to expose correctly. But that's a whole other class. When it comes to exposure, you've gotta get it right in camera because like I said, if this was underexposed I'm gonna start to see a lot of banding in skin tones and I'm gonna start to see a lot of noise come up in shadows as I try to lift the exposure of that image. So getting that exposure correct in camera is huge when it comes to judges coming in a going this is really beautiful but there's a lot of banding going on in the arm and the skin and things like that. So when I'm printing I want to make sure that I'm printing just the most immaculate quality in terms of that exposure and sharpness. And then when it comes to the mounting as well when I said I contact my framer and I'm like okay it needs to be very simple, understated because I don't want to take away from the photograph but it's got to be immaculate. Like if there is anything out on that print in terms of the matting I'm gonna take it straight back and ask him to redo it cause I go to a specific mounter because he is the best and he is extremely particular. But it took me a while to find him. And I drive 35 minutes to go to this framer I really don't care cause I know he's the best. And I know when it comes to entering my prints if I'm gonna look at every pixel in a frame I'm going to go and find the best framer to mount them. He's actually no more expensive than anyone that lives close to me. He's just exceptionally good at what he does. If he was a millimeter out he'd be devastated with his own abilities. So it's finding someone who can do that for you and listening to exactly what it is that you want so you're presenting a photograph that is not only printed beautifully but it is mounted and presented beautifully without any marks, scratches, dents or imperfections. And then it's the use of color. So you can see here in this image it's really muted it's really soft. It is a little bit warmer in print the screen's made it a little cooler But it is such a beautiful simple tone and I kept that background really similar to the skin tones because I didn't want a different color to overpower the subjects. The color of the background is really important in terms of either adding to the image or taking away and becoming distracting. If that was a really dark background she still would have stood out because she would have been contrasting. But for me this muted tonality that's throughout the whole image is kind of light, it's bright. A lot of people would look at this photograph and see perhaps a woman with cancer but she didn't actually have cancer she had alopecia where she's lost her hair. And when I first photographed her she had her wig on and I said, can I just adjust your hair. And she's like, oh it's a wig do whatever you want. And I said, oh and she said, yeah. And then she started to explain how old she was when it started to happen. And I said to her, and she has the most beautiful face oh my goodness I would love to photograph you without your wig. And she's um-ing and oh-ing and I said you're so beautiful I said, and your daughter, regardless of how you feel with that wig on or not your daughter is going to look at you and only see beauty and love. I said, I think this image could be really powerful plus I really love the contrast of how much hair the baby has as well. And she loved that as well she was making a little bit of a joke about it. It took her a while to love that photo. So I couldn't actually show it for about 12 months until I got her permission because that was a big thing for her, she always wore a wig everywhere she went so it was really, I was extremely proud to be able to show other people that photograph and talk about that. You know when we talk about entering competitions. I've obviously entered this. The technical excellence is there. But the judges start to read a story into it. One judge was even crying thinking this poor woman had some form of cancer but this is how they read into it. Afterwards I let the judges know it's okay, she's okay. But that's the impact that you need. And when it comes to that technical excellence in terms of print quality, sharpness, presentation getting that exposure right in camera. Knowing your camera, experimenting. The thought process and the planning that goes into a shoot like this is huge. If you don't understand exposure and things like that you would expect to be able to pick up a camera and be able to deliver something like this first time around. This comes with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience and practice and then you can go in and go five minutes, snap, got the shot. But at the same time you've gotta understand all of the different elements that are required for this. When it comes to that paper selection, again I printed this on about four different paper stocks. And I ended up sitting with a more plantain fiber and that was the gloss which gave all of the detail in her skin, all of the texture in her skin it really made it pop. And it gave it that little bit of contrast with that depth in terms of the shadows and the highlights there as well. So I did print it on a couple of fine art papers because originally I sort of looked at it on my screen and went oh I can't wait to see this printed and instantly thought to myself, a rag. But then when I printed it on it, it didn't have that same depth that I needed. So that's when I chose that other paper stock to really be able to bring this image to life so it pops out on the screen. That's something that I'm always kind of looking for.

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.