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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 2 of 48

Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 2 of 48

Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Lesson Info

Introduction to The Environmental Portrait

Introduction to the Environmental Portrait. Environmental Portraits, what we're gonna run down in this first little segment here is what is it? What is an Environmental Portrait? What's the purpose of an Environmental Portrait? Why should we do it? What do they do? How do they work? Creating personal work. So again, I said my love and passion within photography is Environmental Portrait. So that includes a lot of personal work. Not necessarily paid assignments but going out and figuring it out on my own, what I wanna shoot and what speaks to me. And then lastly, actually not lastly, we have two more points. The process of creating personal work. You know, how to get those ideas and make them come to fruition. And then lastly tethering. So that was an important thing for me is for years I just shot just straight to the camera, straight to card and it wasn't until recently with the software and my computer being fast enough to handle it and now with these large files and everything, want...

ing to see the potential of what is actually there. So I wanna explain how I tether the tools I use for tethering, kind of that whole process. As we will be shooting tethered the entire shoot so from the stuff we've already shot 'til the in studio stuff today, everything will be tethered so you'll be able to see live what's happening how I'm kinda treating those files as we go. So let's get in to it. The Environmental Portrait, what is it? So Environmental Portrait is just that it's a portrait shot on location that tells a story in a single frame. So whether you're at the grocery store photographing someone working there or out on a farm with a farmer or with a fisherman or a basketball player, it doesn't really matter. Every environment has potential to have an environmental portrait. So I wanna talk about how you can get everything wrapped up and tell that story within a single frame. Then we'll move on to the environment. It could be someone's home, it could be work. Anywhere that's relevant to that subject. Generally speaking I like to put people in environments that they're comfortable, that they're used to. So you might be photographing somebody in their own home and you can kind of ask them where would you normally sit, how would you treat this? I wanna make people feel comfortable and natural so when we look at that portrait, it feels real and authentic. And then lastly, standalone, or it can supplement an article or story and what I mean by that is this might just be an image you took for fun that you like how it looks or you might be hired by a client, a commercial client or magazine to supplement, you might be selling something and they want product placement within this environment. Or it could be to go along with a magazine article where you pre read the article or the story and you kinda have an idea what the portrait should help say to supplement that story and help tell that story that's been written. So, there's so many different uses and there's so many different little nuances that you can go with. This is just a sample photo here. This is for Outdoor Life Magazine. It was a story about a turkey call maker and again they hired me, we'll get into the actual email they sent for hiring me in the assignment in a little bit but basically, this is a guy who builds turkey calls. He has for the last 40 years in his basement in Nebraska. And he had this tiny little workshop and I was doing lighting setups and all that. So kind of just, there's always those forced portraits where you got the safe shot, it's like hold this, and look, you know, smile. But then there's these softer, quiet moments where I'm setting up lights and clearly he's thinking about something. He doesn't know that I'm shooting for real. But sometimes you just gotta let people be in their environment and see what happens so, this was just Mr. Turpen here and his turkey call workshop in his basement with his coveralls and camo. So, and just a nice quiet moment that was authentic and real and it kind of captures him in his space so. Just that's what I really like about Environmental Portrait Photography. Couple more examples here just to give everybody an idea of what I'm talking about. This is another one, my brother and I, this is not my brother but my brother and I used to go to go cart racing track in Council Bluffs, Iowa. And after going there a few times, we observed the staff working on the go carts, the mechanics. The whole place just felt like it needed to be photographed. So after going there several times, I went back during the day when they were closed. I shot 'em an email and said, I have an idea for a portrait, would you guys be game to do this and they were all about it. So I went over there, set up my lights before they were open one day and again, I just had him, he was doing something with the go cart wheels and tires and I set him up in his normal environment working and then we did some posed portraits like this as well. So this is fully lit, kind of embracing the environment but also making it fit my vision by using studio strobes to kind of adjust what, it probably didn't look exactly like this in real life, it was a lot brighter so he could get his work done. But by supplementing it with the Profotos, I can make it look however I want and kind of tell that story in my way with letting him be in his environment and be comfortable so. Again, so more examples of that. We have a basketball player up here. We have, these are all staged portraits. None of them are just caught moments or and even if they are caught moment, it was a setup to get to that moment. So whether it's a friend of mine in New York in a Chinese restaurant or my brother and his now wife in my dad's old snow plow blazer, acting like it's the 1980s. The shot down here's actually another mechanic of an old gas station I used to drive by all the time and we kind of just some of it's adding a false narrative where he was holding a wrench action like he's someone's trying to give him some trouble. So I put people in these scenarios because not everybody, these are all real people, they're not models so not everybody's comfortable being photographed that way so sometimes you have to get people comfortable by giving them something else to think about whether it's a story line or whether it's making them or allowing them to do something in their space that they're comfortable doing. Because otherwise the portraits might come across as stiff or contrived or you know, just not what they can be. You need to let people kind of get out of their own way and get comfortable in front of the camera. So these are different versions of Environmental Portraits with different lenses, different lighting, different scenarios but it's all work by me and work that I enjoy doing. One more example here. This is Kyle in Brooklyn, New York. And again, same thing, it's we did some regular type portraits and then just him throwing rocks out in the water and things like that and this is all lit. There's actually a Profoto beauty dish with a stand out in the water, camera outside of the frame to the left to kind of get the look I want. But then it's a matter of letting him work within that space to get different looks that and feel comfortable.

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!