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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 48 of 48

Bring it All Together


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 48 of 48

Bring it All Together


Lesson Info

Bring it All Together

When I talk about bringing it all together, I've told this story a few times, it's from a past job a couple years ago at my alma mater at Iowa State. One day I got an email, I always shoot a lot of their marketing materials for their sports teams and it's one of my favorite jobs each year. I really enjoy working with them, I'm a big sports fan myself, I have season tickets to all their stuff. So this is kind of one of those fun jobs every year where I get to be a little more creative. There's this freedom but they also have a structured plan and they work with an ad agency based in Des Moines, Iowa so I always first of the year, every year they usually start sending out concepts for their sports posters, for football specifically. And a couple years ago they sent me this comp in an email and they said, "Hey Dan, we want you to photograph our sports poster." And again, the whole point of this story is to show you how it goes from creating this personal work and making these environmenta...

l portraits and creating them offsite. So all these photos were taken by an actual game, so they're live action photos. Whether it's the quarterback throwing, the running back. In fact, the reason they were doing this poster is 'cause that coach, those logos are Photoshopped. He was actually a coach at Toledo and he was wearing blue and they Photoshopped his jacket and if you were to see it high res it's just a crude Photoshop job to show how they want the layout of this poster but the catch is, these were all taken in October, November in football season. Two of these guys are no longer on the team but we like this general layout but you can't shoot live game action because we need these all shot indoors in the studio to look like they were shot at the game for the new poster. This is the treatment we're gonna do to it, this is the general composition, can you match that? So this is really fun for me. This is one of those assignments where I'm like, "Alright, we got a puzzle." So, it's breaking down. First thing I look at is alright, we clearly have photos of five people so we're gonna have five players, four players and a coach. We look at the highlights here. We have specular highlights when we're looking at the lighting. It's the sun so we see these harsh highlights or harsh shadows, bright highlights, specularity on the helmets. The coach looks like he's coaching on a cloudy day so that's totally different so we gotta kinda pick something and go with it. And they're telling me, "You're gonna have about three hours to shoot this, "maybe about 20 minutes with each player and the coach, "an hour to set up in the indoor practice facility "on the turf and we're gonna have to cut them all out "and put this back together in Photoshop "but we really like the feel of these photos." So, there's two challenges there. One is the lighting and two is how do you get guys in the off season to really care enough to catch a pass or the running back, and this is a running back down here but they want it to be a receiver but they want that pose. So, I'm a football fan so it's like alright, he just caught a pass, now he's about to take off. Ball's in his left hand which shows me that his left leg is up because his right foot is planted in the ground. Things like that that I'm looking for, how do you create emotion out of a coach who looks like he's coming out on the field after an interception or something to cheer his team on when it's the middle of January and he's never even worked with these players before because he was just hired? How do you create all this? So I'm going through these scenarios of how to get people to do that, you know, watching some football and what came up was alright, I need to shoot in the indoor practice facility on the turf. So here's me. The first thing was the lighting. What you'll see here is a big silk. So this is, it's like an eight by eight or 10 by 10 foot silk, knocks 1.6 stops off the light, and what's behind the silk is two of those Magnum reflectors. You can actually see it here above. It's hard to see but I stacked two of them to get a wide light spread that would give similar light to the sun. So it's just Magnum reflectors without any diffusion other than that silk and the reason I use the silk is to give a nice, wide area 'cause if we're gonna have football players running through here at full speed, we need a little leeway to work with as far as the camera goes. So that was our main light. Then the fill light is a big 46 inch Softlighter, same thing we used in here for the shoot. And then what you can see if you look closely way over here is another light stand and another umbrella up there. That was actually another Softlighter with no baffle with silver to give a little bit of that kicker light like it might be the sun back lighting them or stadium lights or whatever it may be. And I forgot sandbags so we got to use weights. So again, the next thing was how do you get these guys into action? So I asked the coach, we showed him this previous picture, what happened here, and he said, "Oh, I was just coming off the field, "we got an interception at a big time "so I was coming out all pumped out." I was like alright well let's bring a couple players out here and we need to fake this. So there was a lot of laughs as you can see here. He was doing some stuff that was just not into it. I was like, "Is that really all you got?" So what happened was we had to get him in the mindset that this is actually happening so again, when it comes to environmental portraits it's not always natural, sometimes you have to force it. And when we're making a poster like this, you have to get people in the right mindset, especially the football players. So here's a couple of those shots. So again, what you'll see here is we're mimicking that shot so here we have our light. He's walking off the field, we finally got a genuine look. And I don't know if you've ever photographed people clapping, it's really hard to time it out, especially when you're using strobes. I didn't have the fastest recycle time. So we had to do that like 10 times, probably more. This player here, he goes back to the comp and is gonna be this guy. So instead of number two we have number five but I need him to have a spot where he's running and we want the ball in that hand and we want that knee up so I actually put a little piece of Gaff tape on the ground and that's his spot. I told him, "I just want your left foot to stomp "on this spot so that I know I need to shoot "right before that when his leg's up "and get that same angle." And you can see how the lighting's coming together. And then this guy again, if you look at the comp, we have this guy right here so that's number 35. They wanted, he had graduated, they wanted 17. So it's again figuring out those angles but polishing up what was existing in that poster so now we can actually see his eyes, we can see his eyes. The other one you couldn't so it adds a little more connection. And then cutting all of them out in Photoshop, bringing it all together. So there you go, starting cutting it out. We also photographed the quarterback, I just didn't show all the shots. Similar arm angle. I took off the diffusion to make that really harsh light. And what they were actually able to do was Photoshop some of the original game shot with this because the ball was catching reflection weird, but we were able to catch the angle so similarly that they could Photoshop that in and you would never know. So then you can kinda see the progression. So it's just kind of a fun shoot, it's something that I like to show because it shows the commercial version. There's all the personal shoots and those are great but we need to make money as photographers, too, so it kinda shows. They presented me with this and I'm able to break down that vision, bring it through with some behind the scenes and show how it's made, a little bit of the actual shots, and then you can easily cut things out in Photoshop, and then bringing it all together. And they did this design work in-house at the agency. So it's just kind of fun to show that progression and how you can take all the things you know with lighting and again, this is more of a faking that environmental type look, but bringing it together for an actual ad client. And that happens a lot so what's the product you wanna sell? What is the emotion we wanna get from our viewers and all that type of stuff? So, just a sample of that, and that's something I'm kinda proud of and something that's just fun for me as being a fan of that team. In closing, I just wanted to let everybody know, for one, this was awesome and I hope you guys learned something from this. I know I even learned stuff from it just from shooting and working at the motorcycle garage especially dealing with all that reflection. I have a lot mental notes going forward. So getting back to your roots, why did you become a photographer? And figuring out if you have to pick that one direction to kind of master one genre, how are you gonna get back there? Again for me, it was having that portfolio review where someone asked me that same question and thinking, "I don't know, I don't really know," and then remembering, "Well, I used to go to Borders Bookstore "in 2003 in Ames, Iowa and stare at environmental portraits "in ESPN Magazine and GQ and Vogue and all those "and that's what drove me to work at the newspaper "to recreate those environmental portraits." So my roots were pretty clear at that point but I never really realized it. Over the course of experimenting and growing as a photographer, I've shot fashion. I'm not a fashion photographer so that's why it's in quotes. Fashion is like really hard unless you're into fashion. I've shot a lot of the live action sports, I end up caring too much about the game so I don't look through the camera enough. I miss all the shots because I watch them happen in real life. So things like that. It's like, I love all these other aspects of photography and I respect and appreciate the photographers who shoot them but for me the work that was most satisfying to create was these environmental portraits and that'll be different for everybody. I have friends who are amazing food photographers and they know everything about the ingredients and all that and they just are passionate about the food. I just like to eat it. So it's a matter of what you like to do and getting back to your roots as to why you're a photographer. And that goes with shooting for you. While you can have all the paying clients in the world, I know photographers who are super busy with work but they haven't created a photo that actually means something to them in years because they're always just doing it for the client. And again, getting back to the roots and shooting for you, I make myself do those personal assignments and if you don't make yourself do it, you won't do it. It's really easy to find excuses that let you stay in bed or go do other fun stuff and sometimes it is a little bit punishment to go out and shoot for you at first but once you do it you're like, "Oh wow, I'm really glad I created those photos." And it helps you get more jobs and refines your vision as a photographer. Whether you're experimenting with lights to try and use that experimentation to be able to take those type of lighting techniques into your next job. Whether you're messing with new equipment, new locations, any of that. The main thing is just to create work. And like I said, whether I'm doing it because I have a portfolio review coming up or because I'm really just wanting to go out and shoot, I'm always trying to create new work to throw up on my Instagram, put on my website and show people, and just to stay creative and do something new because I wanna keep evolving as a photographer. And that goes to even your question earlier of will I keep the same look. I don't even know if I'll keep shooting the same thing, I just know I love photography and I love what I do so being able to evolve through that process and see where it goes is pretty fun in itself and you can't evolve without going out and creating the work.

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!