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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 9 of 48

Action Editorial Process


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 9 of 48

Action Editorial Process


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.


  1. Class Introduction

    Jump into environmental portraits with an overview of the class. Prep for the class with an overview in this lesson.

  2. Introduction to The Environmental Portrait

    What is an environmental portrait? Environmental portraits tell a story using a single image. Gain insight into the genre in this lesson.

  3. Environmental Portrait Purpose

    Why shoot environmental portraits? Environmental portraits encompass history, story, and personality -- and they are more interesting than plain backgrounds.

  4. Personal Work

    Personal work conveys your unique passion for photography. In this lesson, Dan discusses using personal work -- even for photographers with paying clients -- to avoid burnout and stay true to your passion.

  5. Find Your Process

    Every photographer's workflow may feel a little different. Start finding your own process by brainstorming, planning out personal shoots, scouting locations and more.

  6. Tethering

    Tethering allows your camera to instantly talk to your computer for review during the shoot. In this lesson, learn how tethering can boost your workflow and can help you easily pre-process your images during the shoot.

  7. Purpose For Action Editorial

    Ahead of the live shoot, walk through the purpose of the action editorial shoot in the photo studio. Learn why studio-like shoots are often a requirement.

  8. Prepare for Shoot

    Preparation is key to successful environmental portraits. Master what's essential to the planning process and learn how Dan prepared for the upcoming live shoot.

  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.

  10. Set Up Action Editorial Shoot

    Set up for the live shoot, beginning with the tethering software. Go behind the scenes as Dan sets up lights and explains the gear and his vision for the shoot. Work with studio lighting placement, including angles and the height of the light stand. Control strobe lighting with different angles and modifiers.

  11. Shoot: Action Editorial With Athlete

    Begin the live shoot with a test shot to adjust the studio lighting and camera settings. Here, Dan shares his camera settings, like the 1/200 shutter speed and a white balance of around 5500K, then works with the "first layer" of lighting with the key light. Add fill light using a strobe modified with a silver umbrella and an accent rim light. Then, move into action shots.

  12. Studio Portrait Shoot Overview

    Take a brief break from the live shoot and learn why studio shoots are often included to supplement the environmental portraits. Gain an overview of the process before heading back into live shooting.

  13. Shoot: Athletic Studio Portrait

    Set-up the studio portrait using strobe lighting and V-flats with a bright white background. Learn how to manipulate the light to brighten the background without spilling over to the subject using side lighting and "cheats" with V-flats.

  14. Shoot: Manipulate Light to Mimic The Sun

    With the right modifiers and light source, you can mimic natural light with studio lighting. Learn how to create hard light to mimic the sun in the studio.

  15. Shoot: Change Background Color With Light

    Using the same white background, learn how to manipulate the color of the background with light. Remove the lights to create a gray background. Work with several different studio lighting set-ups to manipulate the background color.

  16. Shoot: Create Soft Light with Umbrella

    After working with hard light, work with soft light by using a black and white umbrella with a diffusion sock to light the subject. Set-up the side light to feather on the subject without falling onto the background.

  17. Shoot: Create Intentional Shadows

    Working with studio photography lighting is just as much about the shadows as it is the light. Learn how to create intentional shadows using studio equipment.

  18. Shoot: Action Shots In Studio

    Go behind-the-scenes for studio action shots. Watch as Dan works with a handheld light without a light stand to replicate the look of on-camera flash.

  19. Review Images in Capture One

    Review the images from the live studio shoots inside Capture One. Cull photos quickly with keyboard shortcuts and see the results from the live shoot.

  20. Raw Processing

    Move into post-processing by working with the RAW files. Pre-processing with tethering offers a jump start -- learn the process of fine-tuning RAWs and organizing files.

  21. File Handling

    Organizing files helps streamline the process and make invoicing easier. In this lesson, Dan shares his process for sharing and organizing digital images.

  22. Retouching & Color Overview

    Strategize for post-processing in this overview lesson. Learn Dan's process for editing, including finding your style, and working with color.

  23. Retouch Images in Capture One

    Work inside Capture One to perfect the RAW files from the live shoot. Find tricks and tips to working in Capture One, working with exposure, contrast, and basic color temperature.

  24. Retouch Images in Photoshop

    Moving into Adobe Photoshop, remove distracting elements like stray hairs and acne. Work with the patch tool and clone tool to clean up images in Photoshop.

  25. Retouch Images With Presets

    Work with cropping inside Adobe Photoshop. Then, move into Alien Skin to work with presets to work with different colors and dramatic effects. Work with film-inspired presets, then learn how to fine-tune the effect.

  26. Advertising Vs. Editorial

    Editorial work and advertising work have several distinct characteristics. Learn the difference between the two and how to please both types of clients.

  27. Indoor Location Shoot

    Move into the second shoot of the class with an indoor shoot on location. Gain an overview of the goals and process for the shoot.

  28. Indoor Location Shoot Process

    Prepare for the shoot with tips on the process of the environmental portraiture. Work with a checklist and a shot list, then jump into the first in a series of behind-the-scenes videos in an artist's studio.

  29. Get to Know Your Subject

    Understanding your subject helps create unique, authentic images. Learn how to collaborate with the subject. Find the essentials to quickly getting to know the subject.

  30. Test & Frame Your Shot

    With a shot list and understanding the subject, Dan then moves into analyzing the location and the natural light or ambient light that's already in the space. Work with testing the light and framing the composition.

  31. Create Natural Light

    Placing lights where they'd naturally be in the space helps create flattering, dramatic lighting that doesn't look terribly out of place. Work in the shooting space with initial lighting and start shooting.

  32. Natural Light & Alternate Light

    Every portrait doesn't need studio equipment lighting -- work with natural lighting and window light. Alternate lighting can build variety into your environmental portraits.

  33. How to Shoot Indoor Location Portrait

    Along with action-based environmental portraits, a more formal, looking-at-the-camera shot is often part of each shoot. Work with shooting portraits on location, from setting up the studio lighting to composing and getting the shot.

  34. Indoor Shoot Results

    Review the results from the indoor shoot in this lesson. Dan explains everything that went into the shot and why he made some of the decisions that he did.

  35. Outdoor Location Shoot Goals

    In the third shoot of the class, head out to a location with natural light inside a garage and outdoors. Learn how Dan prepared for the session and the goals for the shoot.

  36. Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup

    Work with outdoor and semi-outdoor locations by tackling the lighting. After scouting and settling on a narrative, work with studio lighting tools to create dramatic effects. Go behind-the-scenes for the three light set-up using artificial lighting.

  37. Studio Light On Location

    Mix the natural light with the ambient light in this shoot outside the garage, continuing the third project of the class. Learn why you might use artificial lighting outside and how to mix the sunlight and a studio light kit.

  38. Create Location Portrait

    Work with the location portrait from the third shoot of the class. Learn how to spot locations for the more formal portrait and work with graphic compositions and more dramatic light.

  39. Outdoor Shoot Results

    Take a look at the results from the final shoot. In this lesson, Dan shares his thought process behind creating each shot and why he made the lighting and composition decisions that he did.

  40. Post Processing Overview

    Make a plan to polish the images from the second and third shoots. In this lesson, get an overview of the editing process before jumping into the post-processing.

  41. Choose Selects & Sort Images From Indoor Shoot

    Cull the images from the artist's studio and the garage inside Capture One. Review the images and go through the process of choosing what photos to edit and deliver.

  42. Edit Raw Images from Indoor Shoot

    Learn how to polish those indoor shots inside Capture One. Work with exposure, contrast, and color with the shots from the artist's studio.

  43. Finish Images in Photoshop & Alien Skin

    Work inside Photoshop to remove scuffs and scrapes on the walls and other clean-up tasks. Then, work with files in Alein Skin to color using presets.

  44. Portfolio Management

    Moving into the portfolio and marketing segment, gain insight into building a strong portfolio. Dan shares tips on building a portfolio, from what order to use to choosing what images to include.

  45. Importance of Website

    Websites serve as a first impression of your work. In this lesson, learn the dos and don'ts to building a photography website, like focusing on images and simplifying navigation.

  46. Marketing 101

    Your portfolio doesn't do much good if no one is actually laying eyes on it. Develop strategies to get your work in front of potential clients for editorial and commercial work.

  47. What About Reps?

    Reps work with the numbers while you focus on the photography. Learn the basic pros and cons to working with representatives or agents.

  48. Bring it All Together

    Wrap up the course with a final chat on environmental portrait photography. Once you've built a successful business, remember to take the time to get back to your roots and shoot for yourself.


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!