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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 9 of 48

Action Editorial Process

Dan Brouillette

Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

9. Action Editorial Process
Dive into the workflow for an action editorial shoot. Walk through Dan's process for this type of image, from working with the client to delivering the photos and invoicing. Read through an actual editorial assignment from a real magazine and learn how those details spark the planning process, including preparing the dramatic effects from studio lighting.


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:06:15
4 Personal Work Duration:18:36
5 Find Your Process Duration:20:20
6 Tethering Duration:18:35
7 Purpose For Action Editorial Duration:05:19
8 Prepare for Shoot Duration:06:10
9 Action Editorial Process Duration:11:27
10 Set Up Action Editorial Shoot Duration:12:43
12 Studio Portrait Shoot Overview Duration:05:58
18 Shoot: Action Shots In Studio Duration:04:00
19 Review Images in Capture One Duration:14:54
20 Raw Processing Duration:05:24
21 File Handling Duration:05:19
22 Retouching & Color Overview Duration:05:45
23 Retouch Images in Capture One Duration:11:37
24 Retouch Images in Photoshop Duration:07:00
25 Retouch Images With Presets Duration:27:40
26 Advertising Vs. Editorial Duration:04:49
27 Indoor Location Shoot Duration:13:12
28 Indoor Location Shoot Process Duration:11:19
29 Get to Know Your Subject Duration:13:12
30 Test & Frame Your Shot Duration:10:44
31 Create Natural Light Duration:24:33
34 Indoor Shoot Results Duration:19:00
35 Outdoor Location Shoot Goals Duration:16:51
36 Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup Duration:17:27
37 Studio Light On Location Duration:09:56
38 Create Location Portrait Duration:11:41
39 Outdoor Shoot Results Duration:13:26
40 Post Processing Overview Duration:08:42
44 Portfolio Management Duration:28:13
45 Importance of Website Duration:17:55
46 Marketing 101 Duration:18:51
47 What About Reps? Duration:05:54
48 Bring it All Together Duration:10:52

Lesson Info

Action Editorial Process

We'll get into how I kinda get these assignments and what goes into it. So, again, this would be an example of a self-assignment. I'm photographing Brock, so all you guys can see how it is. There isn't a lot of pressure as far as client input or parameters to the shoot. It's kinda like here's the location. Do whatever you want. He's bringing a basketball and that's the parameter. So, you know, you have the space. I can design the lighting how I want. We can do whatever. It's not for any client or any magazine or anything like that, but if it were, one of the things that happens within this process is your initial contact. So that's where you get the explanation of the assignment from whoever's hiring you. Whether this is a art director, creative director, content producer at an ad agency, or a photo editor at a magazine, or who knows what, there's always that initial contact where they explain to you what is expected from this shoot. Then, after that, there's the planning. Whether it's...

the creative calls with a ad agency, whether it's the emails back and forth with the photo editor going over locations, the outfits, the wardrobe, all that type of stuff, even the lighting and what they expect. They might say oh, we have, this is gonna run as a vertical part of the article and then we need a small horizontal and maybe some studio stuff that could be table of contents or maybe a cover, who knows? So it's just covering all that so you know planning-wise what you need to bring, what orientation you need to be shooting, and all those kinda details that go into a shoot. Those will go into your checklist. And then you get to the shoot day. So that's when everything comes together. You know, do the shoot. Do the best you can. Get all that stuff. Make sure you cover all your bases. And then file delivery, that's where, pretty self-explanatory, you're gonna deliver the files. Whether those files are retouched, whether they're raws, all that is between you and the client and kinda what the deal is there. So sometimes I'm giving fully-polished, retouched files. Other times it's a dry full of raws before I even leave the shoot that day. So that's how that works. And the last part of this process is invoicing, a.k.a. getting paid. So, you know, that's all figured out. But this is basically, in a nutshell, the five steps to the photo shoot, from initial contact, planning, shoot day, file delivery, and invoicing. Pretty straightforward there. We're not gonna get too much into the last couple things there because I wanna focus more on the shooting and the actual creating of these photos. So this is an actual editorial assignment. This text is a lot. I'm gonna read it because it's a little small on the screen, but we'll bring that up first. So this actually happened about a year ago, so it's an actual shoot for a magazine based in New York, and it was a shoot that happened in Nebraska. So hi Dan. Our magazine has an assignment for a portrait shoot and we think you would be a good fit. We are in contact with a master turkey call maker, you've already seen one of these shots, who is one of the subjects for our Calls of the Wild feature story in our April, 2017 issue. The story focuses on several call makers and a variety of techniques, but our subject has agreed to help depict this variety, including several step-by-step sequences, so they want step-by-step photos, on the making and modifying of wild animal calls at his workshop. So I know it's gonna be at an environment in his workshop. Second part, my budget for the shoot is right at $2,000, that's pretty good for an editorial shoot, for what will likely be a full day of shooting with a variety of different options on the shot list including an opener portrait options, so whether that's the opener of the story or table of contents, multiple inside story options, and we'll have some specific reference on style, which then they sent me some pictures from my website that they liked the lighting and all that, but we're mainly looking for good portrait lighting with some falloff to leave focuses on the hands and the calls. So there I'm thinking okay, I need grids. We're gonna need to really have specific lighting. We're not just gonna broadly light this entire scene. So this gives me a little idea of what they're going for with the shoot, the content, we have a turkey call maker in his workshop with some lighting. So this is two paragraphs. It gave me a lot of parameters for what this shoot's gonna be, and I can start to visualize in my head. I was already thinking workshop, wood shop type of thing. I was already thinking of camo and Carhartt-type colors. We got tans and navy blues and greens. And that's exactly what happened. So then it's just putting together all that, getting their sample images and any visuals they have. He sent me a little, a few snippets of the story. Again, it was some step-by-step guides of how to make turkey calls at home. And also this guy's apparently a famous turkey call maker. I don't know much about, well, I didn't know much about turkey calls. I know way too much now after the shoot. And, you know, just kind of basic parameters of the shoot. And then lastly, let me know how all this sounds, we'll be looking for your earliest available dates including even this Friday, this was like on a Wednesday, or a weekend if possible. Probably not gonna make that happen. Thanks. So that all worked out. We did the shoot. And you guys saw some of those images. I'll go over more of them later, but back to the planning. So after you get that assignment, grab your notebook, plan out the details and a checklist. I had a shot list from him that he provided a little more in-depth after that email, and then my own shot list. Because with any photo shoot, whether it's commercial, editorial, or personal, there has to be a collaboration between whoever's on the other side of the camera, whoever's taking the photos, and whoever that third party is, whether it's the client or whomever. So that checklist is not only their shot list, but it's also mine because I wanna have images that, you know, come from my own thought process and fit my style. And, at the same time, you go into any shoot with a visual in your head. Even if you've never, let's say you talked to somebody on the phone. You've never met them, you have no idea what they look like, but you know they're a certain location. You have a visual in your head. Oh, I bet you this guy has a beard. I bet you he looks like this. I bet you he's sitting in a diner. And then you meet him and he looks totally different. Well, then all of a sudden your ideas change, and that's how any of these locations are. With the turkey call maker, I pictured this, for some reason, a vast workshop of turkey calls because this guy's been doing it forever. I got to the shoot and I'm not kidding, his workshop was probably five feet by eight feet in the corner of his basement with eight-foot ceilings, if we're lucky. But he had so much stuff hanging from the ceiling like old turkeys and who knows what? All this random stuff, over 40 years of a collection that this vast workshop that I was gonna set up all these lights, the picture in my head was not gonna happen that day. But that's fine. You can't be shocked by that. You have to know that things are not always gonna work out the way you had in your head, but that's not a bad thing. Sometimes the pictures that come are better because they're things you couldn't even possibly think of. And being able to change on the fly, but being prepared is important. So think through the gear placement. In that particular shoot, I knew the furthest we could have a light from him was about three feet. So how do we control that light? That's not gonna, the way lighting works, it falls off pretty quickly. When a light's three feet from your subject, the background's gonna be dark. So how far can we get these lights away? Is there any possible way to get two lights in this workshop? And there was. We made it happen. So thinking through the gear placement, that particular shoot, there wasn't a lot of options, but it was maximizing the space. And then arrive early, like I said before, to scout and visualize. So, with that said, do we have any questions going forward about kinda the process, setting up the photo shoot, or any of that? [Woman] - Start in the studio. Yup, Julie. I was wondering how you scout when you cannot go before, like if it's a location further away from where you live. [Instructor] - Say that one more time. We have noise out here. How can you scout the place when it's far away from where your studio is or where you live? Yeah, so it's not, the question was how can I scout the place beforehand if it's far away? And, again, I might not scout it days before. Like his workshop, that was not near me. That was probably an hour and a half away. It was just a matter of knowing, okay, we're gonna be shooting photos from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I'm gonna try and arrive at 9:00, so hopefully if he's home and available I can at least walk through the place really quick. You know? Other times, it might be five minutes, but as long as I can get even a little bit of time. With those shoots where you can't go ahead of time, you might have to bring more gear 'cause you don't know what you're working with, but I'm never just gonna bring gear into a place and set it up immediately. Whether I have five minutes to scout the place or five days, I wanna have some little bit of time where I can take notes, digest what we're working with, not have the camera in hand so much to, you know, figure that out, but I just wanna like really analyze what are we working with here? What are the ceiling heights? Where are the windows? Is there any ambient light? All those type of things. So, again, you don't always have time, and if it's far away, sometimes you might have five minutes before the shoot, which is not ideal, but it's pretty common. So any other questions? We have a question from Michael that says I think that one of the most important elements of environmental portraiture is the environment itself. How do you choose which props in the settings that need to be included in the frame or not? So how do you think about the scene and the props? I mean, the one thing is, a lot of times with environmental portraits you're photographing real people. They're not models. So one of the things I like to do is make them comfortable. So in the sense of a lot of locations, one of the first things I do, and you'll use it, I definitely see this 'cause we did in the pre-shoot at the artists' studio as I asked them okay, I'll do a walkthrough and scout the location, and I'll have a little area that I know is gonna work technically, or for the photo. And then I'll tell them okay, we're gonna shoot right here. I don't tell them any other details, but I ask what would you do in this space? Would you be working on a motorcycle? If you are, would you be seated? Would you be standing? What tools would you use? Are you right-handed? Are you left-handed? So I know where to put the light. If they're doing overhead work with a wrench and they're right-handed, I can't put my light over here. I'm gonna be casting a shadow on their face. So these are the questions I ask 'cause I wanna know all these little details. So as far as props, usually I let the props be selected by, I'll have someone who's the subject give me a few ideas. In the case of the butcher, he was holding all those sausage because he wanted to kinda show the process of what's final in that case and the process, and, you know, I was like all right, sounds good. Plus, it made him feel comfortable, doing that. And, you know, a lot of times I'll take a portrait where they're not propped out at all and they're just standing there and there's kind of this like, sometimes there's this awkward tension where people don't know what to do with their hands or anything like that. So giving them something to do that feels natural to the space, and I call that using your resources. As soon as I get to a location, whether it's being resourceful with the actual frame itself. You know, how can I make this boring wall into an interesting composition? What do we need to do to get there? And then how can you prop it out that way? So, again, I like to keep it natural. I don't like it to be too contrived. I like to use the resources, use the subjects. Again, in the case of the butcher or the motorcycle guy, they work in there for eight plus hours per day. They know what they do in this space. Whether it's sweeping the floor or changing a spark plug, I want them to do the things they're comfortable doing because then it'll feel more natural and authentic.

Class Description


  • Confidently create environmental portraits
  • Light any portrait, indoors or outdoors
  • Compose strong environmental portraits
  • Cull and polish high-end images in post
  • Develop a portfolio and marketing tactics


Create dramatic images anywhere by mastering on-location scouting, planning, lighting, and composition. Join professional photographer Dan Brouillette in a start-to-finish course on the art of environmental portraits. From planning and scouting to post-processing and portfolio building, gain the skills to shoot high-end portraits, anywhere. While designed for environmental portrait work, this class is also for any photographer that wants to create better light, on location.

In this light-intensive course, learn how to craft environmental portraits using photographic lighting techniques working with both natural light and studio lighting equipment. Work with multi-light strobe set-ups and natural window light to turn difficult lighting conditions into beautiful light. Then, learn how to mix natural light and studio lights for dramatic effects that complement the scene. By incorporating light in new and inventive ways, Dan will help you push the boundaries of your portraits and improve your workflow.

Finally, work with culling and post-processing. Learn how to polish images using a combination of Capture One, Photoshop, and Alien Skin software. Then, gain insight into building a portfolio and marketing your work to work in editorial and commercial areas for environmental portraiture.


  • Budding portrait photographers
  • On-location portrait photographers
  • Photographers eager to learn on-location lighting
  • Photographers branching into commercial and editorial work


Capture One 11, Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, Alien Skin 2018


Dan Brouillette's high-end editorial style has lead to work with celebrities from Anne Hathaway to Scarlett Johansson. A commercial, editorial and senior photographer based in Nebraska, he's known for giving everyday people the Hollywood look. His previous work as a lighting technician helped him build his signature style using dramatic lighting techniques typically used for commercial work. With an insightful and easy listening teaching style, he helps photographers learn to craft with light.


Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience for this class and absolutely loved it. Watching Dan create amazing images from start to finish in front of us was so inspiring. I've learned so much from this class. It actually gave me the confidence to start playing with lights in my studio. It was really useful to see how he sets his lights and how he can easily mix ambient light with artificial. I also love how he focuses on getting the image right in the camera to only do light edits after. I recommend this class to anyone wanting to learn more about lighting, shooting tethered and editing efficiently!

a Creativelive Student

I love this guy! I so appreciate his honesty while he is explaining his thought process, admitting that his “shoulda/coulda/woulda’s” - which I experience ALL the time. I am now going to dust off my light meter and start using it on location as I’m convinced that it works now that I’ve seen Dan’s class. I enjoyed the detailed way he sets up each light individually, checking to make sure it adds the amount and quality of light he wants. Definitely recommend this class - especially for those people who have experience using studio lights and want to see how they can be used to get specific results. Dan’s clear, simple explanations, his unabashed humility, and his sense of humor made this a truly enjoyable way to spend my time learning his methods.

a Creativelive Student

Dan is an excellent instructor! He's completely transparent with his thought processes, from technical to creative. He doesn't waste time horsing around or getting off topic, but is structured and sticks to his outline. Every minute watched is on topic, and is understandable. He's sincere and likable. The course is great for anyone interested in this genre!