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Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 40 of 49

What to Consider For Print Competitions


Capturing Story in Portrait Photography

Lesson 40 of 49

What to Consider For Print Competitions


Lesson Info

What to Consider For Print Competitions

When it comes to different paper types, let's go back to that because I've got some papers here that I wanna share with you. We do all of our imprinting in my studio for our clients. And when it comes to printing your photographs for print competitions, I used to send it away to a lab and then I get it back and I'd be like, ugh, this is not what I wanted. Why is it so dark? Why is this? But at that point, and a few years ago, I actually wasn't aware of all of the different paper types that are out there that are available, and there are so many, and which papers were better suited to which photographs, so the purpose of having a light image and a dark image. I am by no means a printing expert but I like to have full control over what I'm doing. So even if I have to print multiple images to get it absolutely perfect, I will do that because I know that when it comes up in front of a judge, they're gonna go, "You know what, I really wish this was on "another paper type." Or, "I think this...

image would've been better suited "to a Lustre or, you know, a more cottony "or a more fiber-based paper like a cotton Rag." So they're the things that I've really gotta consider. So every single image, and there's three of mine up on the wall over there that I've entered previously, every single one of those photographs I print on at least three different papers. And I hold them up under a lighting situation like this, similar to judging, judging light booths, to see which paper is gonna best suit that image. And it, I can't tell you the difference that it makes in terms of submitting to a print competition because the, being able to print your work is like the reward. And seeing it come off the printer, there is, for me, no greater level of excitement. When you go back to developing film and processing images that way, you know, when it became digital you'd sent, sent your digital files off to be printed somewhere else and then you get them back. Now I have that same level of a control that I used to have, obviously when you would have to develop film right through to that print process. So I love seeing those prints come off the printer. But for me, being able to choose the right paper is really important. So I've got four different paper types here. Two are cotton Rags and two are a more Lustre base. So one's got a smoother texture and one's got a bit more of a texture to it. So when I've photograph babies and they have this beautiful soft skin, I'm not necessarily going to use an extremely textured paper on their skin because if you look at it really close under the light, it's gonna look quite motley. So considering all of those different elements. But these are my favorite papers when it comes to entering competitions. And I always use Canson Infinity paper because the quality of the paper is phenomenal. The Baryta Photographique, the Platine Fibre Rag, so they're your two more Lustres, one's a little bit smoother than the other. And then you've got your Rag Photographique and then your Rag Edition, and the Edition is the one with more texture. So I've printed these images, these two images on all four papers to show you the difference of how those prints actually come out. Because when you are printing a really dark image like this, the paper can have a huge impact on that final result. So I'll go ahead and turn the light box on. All right. So with the dark image, when you hold it up under the light here, you can start to see where all those blacks are starting to block up and absorb into this paper because it's a much more textured paper. This one here is the Canson Edition so it is the, the Rag, which is quite textured. And it's really quite soft. So those inks are gonna really absorb in there and they're gonna block up. So when you're printing dark images, this is probably not my go-to paper choice because in those blacks, when I know on my screen, I can see the detail and every shadow, I don't want those blacks in the ink to block up, to remove that detail, if that makes sense. So yeah, that's a more cotton, fiber-based. So if we put it now against, I've got here the Baryta. So this is a much smoother Lustre but you can see just how much darker that paper is there than this one. Even though this is lighter and you think you might be able to see all the detail, when I go in, those blacks are really blocking up. But when I have a look here under the lights, I can actually see all the detail in those shadows even though it appears to be a much darker image. It's just it allows the photograph to be more contrasty and to really show that through that print quality. And then we have the more textured Lustre, which is the Platine. This is one of my favorite papers. And this is actually one of the papers that I use to print a lot of my client work on as well because it's got that great level of contrast. So what I'll do is, I'll print my photographs out on all these different papers, I'll hold them up underneath the light, and I'll go, right, which paper is gonna look better under these similar lighting conditions that the judges are viewing them under? 'Cause they literally come up. And I'm guilty of it myself but you come up and they're looking this close to make sure, number one, you know, your image is in focus, but they're looking at the overall print quality as well. Not just the photograph, it can be, god, it can be one of the most impacting photographs but if it's printed terribly, it's the judges, honestly they sit there and they're like, (groans) so frustrating, why, why, (laughs). So I can't emphasize enough just how important this is. So that's a light image and so I would be, I mean sorry, dark image, so I would be more inclined to be focusing on my Barytas, my Platines for photographs like this to be able to show all of that detail in those dark, dark shadows and to stop all of those blacks from really blocking up. We'll have a look at the lighter images. I go with the heavier papers as well, around that 310 GSM. I just, I like the feel of those a lot more but that's a personal thing. But there is, I mean, gosh there's so many papers out there available. So this one here is the Edition, so that's got a beautiful texture to it. I actually loved the final print quality of this on here. But when I come in and I have a look at the baby's skin because it's so soft and you can see the texture in this paper, it's starting to make the baby's skin tones look a little motley, I suppose, blotchy. There's no banding in there, which is perfect. But if you have a look at this later on, you'll be able to see close up the texture in that skin tone. And it's such a small area but when the judges come in to make sure that that, that baby is in focus and, you know, there's no banding and things like that, they're also looking at how that texture of the paper is really impacting the skin. And is it distracting? Could it have, could a better paper choice been selected? So this one here, we've got the Baryta. So it's a pure white, ultra smooth paper. So it doesn't have enough texture for me. Underneath the lights, it's great. You can start to see that there is a slight difference in tone as well. Because this is a pure white paper, it's gonna look a lot cooler. This one here tends to have a bit of a warmer tone to it so it's gonna make the print also appear a lot warmer. And that's another thing to really, you know, be aware of when you are choosing the right papers because some of them will have a sightly different tone in white. If you can get the little sample packs of paper, like they come and they're only about this big, like business card size, and you fan them out, you'll see all those different shades of white. So when you're printing a warm photograph like my owl image up there, if I print that on a warm paper, it's going to look too warm. So I wanna make sure that I'm choosing, not only the right texture of paper, but also the right color. So I tend to go with a lot of pure white papers because then I know, you know, what I'm looking at on my screen, that paper color's not going to have too much of an impact on it. Then we've got our Platine. So this is another ultra smooth. It is a pure white but it does have a little bit more of a texture to it. I love this because what that texture, for me, when I'm looking at it, does is it just makes it appear a little bit sharper. So when I come in and that eye line, if you consider how small that baby's eye is in comparison to the entire image, you gotta nail that focus because if they come in and go, yeah, it's not focused, it's not focused, it's not sharp, they're gonna knock off quite a few points in terms of judging because of that. So yes it is in focus but it is such a small piece of the print that you wanna make sure that the print quality allows you to sorta have that contrast and add to that sharpness that you're looking for. Now with the lighter print, this is the Rag Photographique, so it's another pure white and it's an ultra smooth. And in comparison to our other Rag down there, you can see, it's got the same kinda quality just without that texture. So I would really be tossing up between this one here and this one here. But depending on what you're going for, so I've got the textured Platine and then I've got the smoother Rag, but they would be the two choices that I would go for in terms of what the judges would be looking for in that print quality. But what I love here is the softness that this paper here adds to it. So I would learn more towards the Rag because it's a, it's a beautiful cotton Rag and it's softer, whereas I think this might be just a little too contrasty for a baby photograph, if that makes sense. So depending on what the subject is, depending on, you know, the look that I'm going for, this is why I print on multiple different paper choices to choose the right paper for that print. Especially if it's a dark print because you don't wanna lose any of the detail in those shadows 'cause they're gonna be looking for it every single time. So the power of print is huge. And there's nothing I love more than seeing photographs printed beautifully. And then, as a judge, from a judge's perspective, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a gorgeous image come up, and that image be printed not so well and on a wrong choice of paper. So yeah. I'll turn that off. There is a... The printing world is a whole other world. But when you do start printing your own work, each, each paper comes with its own paper profile. So then you've gotta have obviously a fully-calibrated monitor to be able to know that what's on your monitor is going to come out in print. And then you use those profiles that the paper comes with. You put those into your computer and then the computer and the printer are able to print that image, you know, according to that paper type. So it should look correct. Because if you started to print, you know, one of these photographs on one of these papers and you didn't put that profile in, it's going to look nothing like what the photograph on your screen looks like. So it's really important to understand those printer profiles. But any of these large paper companies have all of that information on their websites as well, how to install those ICC profiles, and a lot of those big printers like the Canon printers we use, then you're able to sort of, you know, calibrate those and sync those up with your monitors to make sure that you're getting the best print quality. Now like I said, I'm, I am not the perfect person to talk to you about that capture to print and that's Rocco Ancora. He's taught a class here on CreativeLive, all about that. So if that's something that you are interested in, I highly recommend watching that class because you will learn so much about that. And he taught me, and that's why I now have full control over my images. And I don't teach this to other people on how to get that perfect print, because that's not what I do. I just know that I need to get perfect prints for my entries into competitions. And that's, that's one of the, I suppose, one of the challenges but one of the things I enjoy the most because when you get it perfect, my god, it's, it's wonderful. It really is a wonderful feeling to see your photograph, you know, exactly the way you wanted it to look. So the viewing station is really important. You can set up your own light box, and which we do. I actually do it with an LED daylight balance continuous light. And I, what I do is, I have a light meter on my phone, it's an app you can download, and I, I look up what the lighting conditions are for the light boxes for each competition. And they may change depending on the type of light box, but it's usually a lighting setup at about, f/2.8, at a hundred ISO, and about a 1/25 of a second. But don't quote me on that. You've got to look it up, and most competitions that offer print competition, they will tell you what those lighting conditions are so that you can print according to those. And you can see the images up on the wall, they may look slightly dark to you especially against a white background. And that's because I print them and I make them for those lighting conditions. If we were to hold those images underneath a bright light, you're gonna see them in a very, very different way, and all of that detail. So you'll often see award prints that look dark and that's because of those viewing conditions. So yeah, I've had a lot of people kinda say to me, "Oh, they're a bit dark." And it's like, oh no, have a look at them under the light. And so what I'll do is, I'll have that light meter on my phone, which is an app, very simple, or you can have a light meter, and I'll hold that up in front of a piece of paper that's hanging on the wall, and then I'll move that light or change the intensity of that light 'til I get it just right, that's matches the, the viewing, viewing lights, and then I'll have a look at all of my prints underneath that to make sure that I can't see any banding, I can't see any blocking up of colors, I can't see things like the texture on the baby's skin, things like that. But before that, I used to hold my prints up outside in the sun in the middle of the day. If I can see detail, they're fine. (chuckles) So it's, it is a lot to consider when you are entering print competitions. There are some incredible print labs out there that will work with you and ask you what your preferences are in terms of paper. So even if you're not printing yourself, places like Graphistudio, you can contact them, and say, you know what, I'd really love to have this printed on two different paper types or three different paper types, like a Rag, a Platine, or something like that. And they're gonna be able to deliver that to you because they know what they're doing when it comes to printing and delivering quality prints. But yeah, it is a lot of fun when it comes to print comp time and my studio becomes a sea of prints all over the floor. And it's just part of that process. But every year you learn something new about it. And it's from experience, totally from experience.

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.