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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 32 of 48

Natural Light & Alternate Light


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 32 of 48

Natural Light & Alternate Light


Lesson Info

Natural Light & Alternate Light

Now that we've kind of seen a little bit about the process of what goes into making this indoor location shoot happen as far as all the thoughts that I go through, the checklist, the working with the subject, the initial framing and lighting, even seeing a little bit about the first shot and how that works, once you feel comfortable like you've nailed that first shot, you have a good feel for how the shoot's going, there's always room, or hopefully, there's room to be able to experiment and try something that's not, not exactly what you planned but to push it a little bit further. And like I said, I'm always shooting with lights, whether it's the Profoto strobes or whatever it may be, but occasionally it's fun to get back to where we all started which was with natural light for the most part. And I like to try and build room for that within the shoot to see just kind of what happens. It lets you shoot a little, a little more quickly. Sometimes I will unplug from being tethered. And jus...

t kind of see what happens. And, that's what we did here. So we were able to move Alisha from, you know, her area at her workspace of staging all the, the work she does with the wax and everything. And then moving her over towards that big window because it just was asking to be used for the natural light, especially on a nice cloudy day with that big warehouse style window. So you know, don't be afraid to use what the location gives you. You might have that plan in your head. You might have that shot list. But again, things happen for a reason. And a lot of times when you get to the location there might be something that's so obvious that you can't ignore it. And in this case it was, she had a workbench set up right along the window. I'm sure she loves to work there just because of that bright light. And it being an overcast day, it was just like this giant soft box right in front of her. So, I thought why make this more complicated than it is? We already have the shot that we had planned. Now let's move forward and try something like that. So trying alternate lighting methods when the location allows is definitely something you should do because who knows what will happen. In this case, I've already looked through all the images obviously and one of those portraits turned out great and it looks exactly like the lighting which is why I light the way I do too. It's kind of a more polished version. Her sitting this close to the window there was no need for even a reflector at all. It was, it was that easy. And this also let me change up the frame a little bit as far as working, focusing on her hands, focusing on her face. Pulling back and getting some wider shots and letting the, the studio kind of fall off into darkness and keeping that focus on her. So you'll see how we do that. And this might also let you expand your shot list. Again, adding those detail shots of her hands. You'll probably notice that she has these panels and they have blue painters tape on the side. Well that's for all the wax that falls over the edge as she's working. Before she puts them on the wall, or sends them to a gallery or a client she has to remove that wax. And I thought, well that's part of the process. You know, it kind of just looked like a fun time to get those detail shots of her stripping the wax off the sides and removing that blue tape. And that's exactly what we did. So, the next video focuses more on using the natural light. It's not so much about the lighting. It's more about the content and getting those additional shots. And those details. So we'll take a look at what goes into that. There isn't a lot of technical info there. It's more just shooting by feel. And seeing what happens. So let's take a look at how we move from our strobe lights to our natural light. So what I'm doing for this shot, we obviously used strobes to recreate sunlight for the first one. Well now I've moved Alisha much closer to the window. I'm gonna be physically closer to get a tighter frame. And we're also using only natural light for the first part. So I'm gonna do two shots here, both, one of them just natural light. And then one where she's back lit with natural light. And we're gonna counter that with the strobe as the fill. So, we're just gonna start off. She's gonna be scraping the wax from the paint, edges of the panels, using the torch and the other tool there. And I'm just gonna be letting her do her thing in this nice pretty window light. And I'm just gonna shoot. The only difference is I'm not shooting with a strobe. So I went down from five six to two eight. But I'm leaving all my other settings the same so that way when I go back to strobe I don't confuse myself and it's an easy transition. So, all right. (camera clicking) I could scrape more but I don't know that I want to do that. Okay. Yeah. Just kind of inspect it as if you're, seeing if there's any other work that needs to be done. Maybe, yeah, there we go. Okay. So now just some with you looking straight to camera. At the lens. And then I'll just keep moving around. Keep your head, nose just this way a little bit towards the windows. Yep. Right in there. And expression. I'll give you a three count. So you know when I'm gonna take it. That's kind of the difference between action shots and you know, eye contact portrait so, one, two, three. And I'll be taking a bunch so. Yeah, that's perfect. Do you want me to move? No. I like how you're sitting right like that. Yeah. And I might even have a couple where you're holding that. Like you had just finished, like you were just doing this and then you just glanced up to the camera. So maybe holding the tool in the one hand. And, I'll give you a three count. So one, two, three. Perfect. Let me do some verticals of that same thing. Looking down to start. All right, eyes right up here. Perfect. And then maybe one with the, a kind of a smile. All right, one, two, three. Perfect. I'm good with that. Now we'll switch to the back lit one. Okay, so you just continue on. Although you will be holding it. So I can do one like this? Yeah. That's perfect. I do have to soften that up really quick. Okay. So maybe turn just a little bit more towards me. Yeah. Right in there. Yep. And now you can do your thing. Okay. (camera clicking) When you're done with that row I'm gonna have you glance up to camera once. Perfect. I'm awkward when I don't actually normally work in this position. Yeah. We can. Before you do that, I'm actually gonna have you move your chair this way like six inches. Just so you're not, there's a weird. There you go. That's perfect. There was a bar going right through your head. And I wasn't really loving it. That's good. Yep. So I'll let you do that and then I'll have you face this way again just for the lighting. And then we will call it good. (camera clicking) I'm sure to get the verticals. More kind of looking as if someone came into the studio and was down by that hallway. Yep. Like you just glanced up there. There we go. Perfect. Um, last shot right here is the same thing. I just gotta have you face that way again. Um, no you can just sit there. Tool. Torch. Whatever. Maybe like you're adjusting the torch intensity of something with that little dial. There we go. Looking over this way real quick. Perfect. (audience member speaking faintly) Arr. All right, so you kind of saw a little bit about how we did some alternate looks. The first one was all natural light. And then obviously I went in to using the strobe. That wasn't working out exactly how I wanted. But sometimes that'll happen. That's why at some point I thought, ah, we'll just move on because I had that safe shot. These were some alternate looks. The natural light version was working great. The last version of this back lit, I couldn't quite balance it out. And I didn't want to totally reframe because we still had another shot on our list to get this portrait. So sometimes when things aren't working and they're not going to work, I thought, ah, we'll just, we'll get rid of it. We'll move on to the next thing. And you probably saw when I was shooting natural light I looked over my left shoulder towards the ground. I don't know if you noticed it but I did that about 10 times. It's because right next to me was a pot of that molten wax. And I could literally feel the heat on the side of my face so I didn't wanna dip my elbow into that. But I remember that. And then when we were watching this video that's the first time I've really paid attention to that part of the video and I noticed myself looking over there. So, some of those elements like that can get a little tricky too especially around hot wax. But I loved how the images with the natural light turned out. Again, the detail shots of her hands. I wasn't planning on doing that when we started. But when we got over to that light, and all the sudden her hands were the focus, it just seemed too obvious not to capture.

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!