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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 27 of 48

Indoor Location Shoot


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 27 of 48

Indoor Location Shoot


Lesson Info

Indoor Location Shoot

The first thing we wanna talk about is this indoor location shoot. With the indoor location shoot I always have different goals; it depends on the location, it depends on the subject matter. We're gonna go over the goals as a overall generality for indoor location shoots. We're gonna go over the process of how we go from viewing the location for the first time during the scout to selecting the lighting to working with the subject to get natural shots and then getting the results. So those'll be the actual edited images that I've selected and pre-edited from this indoor location shoot. And then we'll start fresh with those images so you can kind of see how we got from A to B as far as the editing goes. So with the goals, our goals for the location shoot are this The overall goal of photographing indoors on location is to allow the location to help you tell the story. So I want a great photo of the subject, but with any environmental portrait, I want the location to be a major part of th...

at. Again, it doesn't matter the location. It can be your kitchen or it can be, you know, anything that's just way more intense than that and way more-- I don't know, just any location at all is an environment and any portrait taken of those kind of fits that whole story and you want that location, as simple as it might be or as complex, to help tell that story. And to get there, there's a few tricks that I have and a few suggestions I have to help us along the way. So the location will set the overall tone and it'll suggest the narrative, meaning that'll help tell that story. You want the location to speak to the people so it's not confusing, everything is in place for a reason, and it looks really understandable and believable and authentic. This could be from the light, the texture, the depth that you create within. For me, creating these portraits that have a little bit of a cinematic feel comes from some of the depth, whether it's foreground elements, background elements, the lighting, everything that goes into it is included in that depth, texture, and light. And use your resources; you know, when you get to a location it can be overwhelming and there might be a lot going on. In the case of this artist's studio, we're talking about a three-dimensional environment with all these different possible backgrounds. A lot of things to shoot but also a lot of things that I didn't want in the shot. So it's almost kind of breaking it down into which part of this location actually tells the story? What's gonna make a good frame technically as a photograph? What's gonna be solid with the composition, the light and all that? And then knowing, just picking a few, you don't have to cover the entire space; you just need that one good location within the spot that helps tell that story. And again, using your resources for analyzing that ambient light and how can you supplement and polish up the ambient light? How can the location give you ideas? For instance, with this artist's studio you'll see in the video that I kind of ask her to walk me through the entire place and show me what's your process. I let her kind of bring the photos to me so then I can visualize, here's how she works in this space. And as she's working through her process, I am just mentally picturing these photos in my head and knowing, okay, if she's gonna be here painting, the light needs to be here, I need to be over here, and this is how the frame will look. So kind of putting it all together and letting your subject help you along the way. A lot of times you'll have a subject who, they're not models; it's just a lot of real people doing things in their environment and I'll say, "What would you do in this space right now?" And I've gotten some great suggestions from people that I didn't even know would happen. I remember shooting in a place where it looked like there was really nothing to do. And I asked the guy, I was like, "What would you do in this space?" And he was like, "Well, when I was in here as a kid--" It was kind of going back to a childhood era. He was like, "I was really into exercise "so I would pull these two things together "and I would start working out." Well, that was not something that I was thinking, so it's like he helped me. And I was like, "Great, then let's do that." So he took this kind of boring location where I could not think of anything other than having him sit and stare at the camera, and he brought that action to me. So don't be afraid to ask your subjects what they do in the space or if they have any ideas. And don't have them think of it in terms of, "What would you do for the camera in this space?" It's just, "If you were in this space "for 30 minutes by yourself, or with a crowd, "what would you be doing naturally? "What would come to mind?" Other than, you know, get on your phone, cause that's not necessarily the best photo. And that's where a lot of us go now, so it's kind of a-- Using all the resources from the location, the lighting, and the subject to help you make that photo complete, you don't have to really stress yourself out over figuring it out. There's things that can help you along the way. So again, allowing the subject to work within that location to capture natural portraits. That's what we just went over; that's what you're gonna see happen in the videos. And that's what I do on all these shoots, no matter whom it's with. Photograph the location as a whole and in parts. So I like to work from wide and then slowly work my way in. And for those of you who watched the shoot earlier, see, I used my 24 to 70 and I got wide shots of Brock with his basketball with the windows and all that. And then slowly I worked my way into 3/4 length portraits. And then I switched to the 7200 to get close-ups. I want that full coverage because you never know what-- if it's for a client, you never know what they're gonna use. If it's for myself, you never know what's gonna read and tell the story the right way. Sometimes throwing on a 7200 is gonna compress the background and make certain elements that were distracting before less distracting. Or maybe you do need to capture the entire scene to help tell that story. So rather than wish I had done it later, I always do it upfront. And that's what's in my notebook all the time is, "Remember to switch lenses. "Did you get the wide? "Did you get the medium length shot? "Did you get the close-up?" And even detail shots you'll see as we work through some of the videos today, not only did I photograph portraits of the artist, I also went through and did detail shots of her hands working because that was an important part of the process. And you'll see how all that worked out and we'll have the results to show you those photos as well. Just to give you a couple samples of other indoor location portraits and how I worked through these, whether they're challenges or gifts. I wanna show a couple of sample images. So this is actually one of the first environmental portraits I've ever taken. So this is probably an 11 year old photo. There was a little cafe and motel along Highway 20 in Northwest Iowa. And it was along a route I'd always take to college; I lived about three hours from where I went to school. And it was called the Hillside Motel. It's no longer there; they have expanded the highway and it's gone, which is why I'm glad I have these photos. And this guy here owned the motel. You can see, he was probably in his 80s. Like I said, I had driven by this place at least 30 times over the course of my life. And one day I decided, you know what? I wanna photograph this because I had heard they were expanding the highway. I'm like, "This isn't gonna be here much longer." So I went in; I talked to him. He was out riding around a tractor and I flagged him down, stopped him, and I said, "You know, I'd love to photograph this." At that point, I didn't really have much of a portfolio to show him. There was no reason why he needed to say yes, but at the same time he just didn't care, so he said, "Well I have some work to do, "but you go ahead and do whatever you want." And that was that; so I just photographed him out mowing this big field, I photographed-- This was quite the-- It was your stereotypical roadside motel, probably built in the 50s. And there was an old Volkswagen van parked out front, probably 15 cats roaming around the property, and the whole works. So near the end of the day, he got off the tractor and he told me, he said, "Well, at 5:00 I go into the cafe." They had a small cafe with about five tables. "And I read the newspaper and turn on the TV." And I said, "Well, can I photograph you doing that?" And he said, "I don't know why you want to, "but you can do whatever." So this is the shot of him, around 5:15 that afternoon, sitting in his cafe, reading a stack of newspapers. And for me this was like my first foray into environmental portraiture. And I really enjoy every bit, from, you know-- Some people might think it's distracting, but shooting from a-- It's almost like I'm kind of spying on this guy. We have the out of focus salt and pepper shakers in the foreground. You know, you get a sense that this place has not been remodeled; it's kind of back to its original glory. And the fact that-- I like subtle humor in a lot of my photos; I don't like it to be really obvious, like hey, why don't you laugh at this? It's kind of like, if you notice it and think it's funny, that's great. If you don't notice it, that's fine too. I want the photo to stand on its own. But we have this prancing white horse poster that's slightly wrinkled. You can see it's catching light because it wasn't framed properly and who knows why that's even on the wall. Next to a fried chicken crisp and tender poster, that's-- They used scotch tape to put that on the wall. And it's like, at this point, this was in 2007, alright, that I took this photo. Those things had probably been on the wall for another 20 years. So to me it's just kind of a funny element that adds a little bit of humor to the space and also makes it where people question it, like was this photo taken in in 1978 or 2008? So it's one of those kinds of blasts from the past, where it's out of context. And then of course, just having this genuine moment, where I had some photos of him looking at he camera, leaning, but they didn't quite feel right, cause he felt forced. And then I just let him do his thing, so it's almost like this photo-jouralistic type moment, but it's all staged and set up as far as, you know, how I propped up the table, where I put-- He had the newspapers a little bit different, but I wanted to make it clear what he was doing. And even the set itself, so that's kind of my first venture into environmental portraits. And when I went to that porfolio review later and I'd mentioned earlier that I had all these different shots from sports to models to all that and people were giving me feedback of, "We don't know what you do." Which, you know, one of the questions she asked me was which photos did I enjoy making the most, then I went back to this one. And I also asked her the question, I said, "Well you've looked through "this whole book, what do you think "I'm the best at from all these different styles "I've represented in the book?" And she also went back to this photo and one other photo, which was the other environmental portrait. So that kind of steered me in that direction. It'll be different for everybody, but this is kind of the first photo that took me that direction and I still leave it in my portfolio today because a lot of people, we'll get into this later as well, but a lot of people with portfolios think they always need the latest and greatest in their portfolio, but for a lot of people who I'm meeting with, they've never seen my work before, so as far as they know this might've been photographed yesterday. So I always just keep the strongest work in there, not necessarily the latest and greatest. It is great to update and show people that you're working, but at the same time, strong work stands the test of time. So be smart enough to know which work should stay and which work should be phased out over time. Another great example of a indoor environmental portrait. So this is Ward and this is his chicken farm. So he actually was a farmer in Northern Iowa and what he had was his wife liked selling these farm fresh eggs. He was not a huge fan of it because he didn't enjoy the chickens, but I thought that was funny, to put him in this chicken coup, because it was his farm. And so I asked him, I said, "What would you do in here?" And he said, "Well, I'd scrape the corn off the ear and let "the chickens eat it out of the trough or off the ground." And he didn't have a love of these chickens so he was like, "They can eat it off the ground "for all I care; I'm the one feeding them." So he showed me into the chicken coup. You know, I loved all the colors, for one. He definitely wanted to wear his red hat, because if you're a farmer in the Midwest, there's green and there's red. And he was a red guy, so that's a certain brand of the tractor, so he needed the hat. And I loved his every-day uniform here; it's just tan on tan on tan. And he just had a great smile and this is one where the action he was doing, looking down, moving the corn, wasn't so much making the photo, it was when he glanced up at the camera with that smile on his face. And the chickens were terrified of my light. That's one thing people don't know. They're always like, "Why are all the chickens on the left?" Well, my strobe is over here on the right and it wasn't that they didn't like the light, they didn't like the structure of the light. So they were thinking, "No way." But it's just a fun story, compositionally, for me, having all the lines and the colors and the placement of Ward within the photo. And then all the chickens on the ground. It's just another great environmental portrait as far as I'm concerned, that tells the full story in one frame. And there was when I got the location, the first thing I always do is look at the ambient lighting. There was one single light bulb on the ceiling directly above him. So no light in the room whatsoever. The chickens sleep in there, they go out and wander around. So this was a big 48-inch Octobank off to the right, with no grid cause I needed to light up the entire space, cause it was just pitch black in there. And you can definitely see where the light source is coming from. So I just totally ignored the ambient light, because there really wasn't any. So that's an easier way to kind of control the light. And in this case it worked out just fine because there could be a window over there or who knows, but it's a light.

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!