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Outdoor Location Shoot Goals

Lesson 35 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Outdoor Location Shoot Goals

Lesson 35 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

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.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Environmental Portrait Purpose


Personal Work


Find Your Process




Purpose For Action Editorial


Prepare for Shoot


Lesson Info

Outdoor Location Shoot Goals

We now have the outdoor location shoots. So, with outdoor locations it doesn't necessarily mean purely outdoors. This was kind of a mix. It was a garage where the garage door was wide open. You know, it's just a little bit... The art studio was obviously indoors, the stuff we did yesterday in the studio with the white seamless was obviously indoors. So, that's... When I'm referring to outdoor location shoots verse indoor, a lot of times it's mostly the lighting conditions. So, you'll see in the outdoor location shot... In the outdoor location shoot we did photograph Richie, the co-owner of the garage, in his space, but we also took him outside on the sidewalk where he was changing spark plugs on a motorcycle so that we have that mixed light situation. So, you'll see we did three lighting setups, three totally different shots, again, ending with a more graphic portrait for me, and there's a whole mix there. So, it's a little different thought process when it comes to that, but overall, ...

it's the general same checklist. So, just to quickly go over, because it's been a bit, we obviously covered the entire environmental portrait, our action editorial shoot, our portrait shoot in the studio, our post processing for all that. We moved on to our indoor location shoot, which you just watched all the videos and saw those results, and now we're gonna do the outdoor location shoot. We only have two segments left after that. One is the post shoot workflow for both the artist gallery and the motor garage. So, we'll have a little different feel with how we go through. You'll see me make the selects again. There's a lot more images to look through. So, we're gonna go through 400 images in about two minutes, and I'm gonna instantly just pick yes or no, and we're not gonna second guess it, we're not gonna overthink it, we're just gonna go with what initially hits us with that impact. And then lastly, we're gonna go over the portfolio and marketing, so again, what to do with all those images. So, with that said, let's move forward to the outdoor location shoot. We'll go over the goals of the outdoor location shoot. We're gonna through the process, everything from breaking down the lighting to coming up with a shot list. And then, of course, the results. And in there there's gonna be a number of videos from the motorcycle garage and you'll see kinda how we work through that, how we work with the subject. It was two totally different personalities from Alisha at the art studio to Richie at the garage. You'll see, and that's how it is in real life. You'll meet with people who some are have all these all ideas and wanna do everything, other people really just don't care so they kinda let you do your thing. So, you kinda have to... It's that whole psychological deal of dealing with different people and knowing how to get the results you want and how to steer them in that direction. So, let's talk about the goals first of our outdoor locations shoot. So, the first goal is similar to the indoor location. You've gotta let the setting help the story, help tell the story, and that's true in any portrait. You want there to be a connection. I know when I first started in photography I was really big into entering PPA type competitions, and for me, that was great; however, I felt like it was lacking, at the least the work I was creating, was lacking in telling a story. I was more concerned with this recipe of having perfect composition, having no blown out highlights or too dark of shadows, you know, all the things, the posing. It was a little bit stiff for me. It was a good lesson in learning technique and technical details, but when it got to a certain point, the photos were almost a little boring for what I wanted to create. And that's where the storytelling came in and being a little more loose. So, it's letting the location help tell that story and not being so concerned with, you know, exact poses or catch lights. Sometimes, you know, it might be seen as sloppy, but at the same time, emotion... If you can get emotion out of a viewer instead of... Well, let's rephrase that. With the technical details of a photo, most people who view a photo are not photographers. They're not knowing 'oh, well you didn't get to the catch light' or 'the white of the eye is showing too much' or 'that wrist angle is not proper.' Those things do not come up. Most people who view a photo have an instant impact or an instant opinion on it, whether it catches their eye or it doesn't. And I, a long time ago, maybe five, six years ago, I was lucky enough to have a portfolio review meeting with Cathy Ryan. She's the editor of The New York Times Magazine, photo editor, and she is amazing. And she looked through my entire portfolio as I sat there and listened to every word, and she told me... I had a photo in there that I wasn't crazy about, but she just kept pointing at it. She's like, 'that's the one that gets me,' and I was like, 'what do you mean by that?' and she said 'well, it.... You know, she didn't ever mention a technical detail once and she's the photo editor of The New York Times Magazine, but she was all about the emotion and she was like, 'Well, why don't... Why doesn't it have the same impact to you as the photographer?' And I know because I was there shooting it, I was like (groans) 'I had this idea and this didn't quite work out,' and she's like 'yeah, but this photo brings out... I wonder the backstory of the girl in this photo.' I should've brought the photo to make for a better story, but I just thought of it now. But she has so many questions about that photo because of the content and because of... The environment was telling the story and the funny thing was it was a forced narrative. This girl didn't live there, I had an idea for a photo. She was basically being a model. It obviously worked out pretty well, but then Cathy went on to tell me a story. She's like, 'Well, one of the covers we did of The New York Times Magazine wasn't even in focus,' and I knew exactly which shot she was talking about. The focus... But the photographer was capturing so many shots that things happen and you lose focus once in a while, but she's like, 'the moment was so genuine and authentic and powerful that I knew that if that was on the cover of the magazine, 99% of the people who view that will have an emotional reaction to it.' The 1% of photographers might say 'yeah, but it's not in focus.' She's like, 'but that doesn't really matter. It's the emotion that I want from the viewer, not so much the technical details.' So, I always have to remember that when I'm shooting. It's like, you know, there's little things that happen where maybe a light pole is showing through someone's head, and whether or not you wanna Photoshop is out later, that's only gonna matter to the photographers. Most people are never gonna view that. They're looking at the more raw elements that bring out emotion. And so, that's why I let the photo kinda tell the story. And yes, I'm in control of the composition and I am very much aware of those elements and I try and make as clean of a photo as possible, but at the same time, if the emotion's there, if that moment's there... That's why I shoot a lot of frames, too, to try and capture that moment. So, it's definitely a delicate balance of technicalities along with emotion, and you just gotta get to a point where you're happy with the whole works, and that's how you can tell that story. Push beyond the safe, obvious shot. I think it might be William Eggleston who's known for the quote of 'I am constantly at war with the obvious,' and as a photographer, he shot all sorts of these still life scenes and things like that out on location. That's definitely inspired some of the stuff I do when I take road trips and am photographing at random rest stops and who knows what. It's these looks that, you know, there's always that obvious shot when you enter a room. It's like oh yeah, here's the shot that's gonna be easy. But how can you push yourself to get beyond that obvious shot, and that might be using different lighting, different lenses, different composition. So, I'm always letting that kind of inspire me when I'm shooting. The obvious shot is the first one that comes to mind. The not so obvious one is the one that makes you get out of your comfort zone and push a little bit. And let the light help steer the narrative. So, that's, again, embracing that ambient light. In the art studio, we had the big window. In the garage, as you're gonna see, it was dark and dimly lit with some work lights, some fluorescence, that was about it. But there's some clear areas where the light... I knew what I wanted to go for after seeing it. And working with Richie to kind have him show me what he does within the space then told me where I need to put the lights to kinda fit that whole feel. And so, just to see a couple examples of more outdoor environmental portraits... I'll tell you a couple of the backstories on these and we'll take a look. So, this is actually my brother and his now wife. This is several years old. This is in my dad's old Blazer. My dad owned an auto body shop in Iowa and he had this Blazer he used to plow the snow in the wintertime. That's literally its only job was to hook a snow plow up to it and get the snow off the lot. But I always had this idea that it looks like its the 1980s, and I have some sort of affinity to shoot things that look like they happened in the past but they're actually more recent. So, I threw my brother in some vintage flannel shirt from a thrift store, his wife was just in a basic white tank top, that's his girlfriend then, now married, and I wanted to create this moment where it looks like I'm almost spying on this couple. So, it's definitely a forced narrative. This was all set up, but at the same time, you'll see there's a little bit of depth. There's these weird shadows you can see. I'm shooting through a chain link fence to kinda give it this added layer of depth, which you don't really notice, but you just notice there's something going on. And everything in this shot from the lighting, it's a gridded seven inch reflector off to the left to make it look like it's just a street light shining on the car, but I need to control that light because the car's white. I didn't wanna blow it out. To the red back here. I wanted it to look like his foot's on the brake, but it wasn't bright enough. So, that's actually another strobe in the back of the car with a red gel on it to kinda give it that whole feel. And then, compositionally, I said I liked shooting either totally square... So, this car is totally square to me, but we're also using the corner of the frame of this lot and I'm up on a retaining wall. So, everything about this shot was set up, but then, once they were there, I kinda put a few scenarios in their head, almost like they were actors. Maybe they were in a fight, maybe they were contemplating running away, maybe they're gonna get married. I don't know, but it's all these little thought where she'd end up scooting over and sitting with him and they're talking, I don't even know. I probably shot for a half an hour and just let them chat to the point where they forgot I was probably taking photos, and at the same time, I was able to get this frame exactly how I wanted. So, this shot's several years old, but it definitely tells the full story of an environmental portrait shot on location. And the other thing was this was not shot at pitch black. It looks like it was at night. This was just using the camera to overpower the ambient light then using the strobes to kind of... This might've been shot at f11 or something at a 200th of a second at ISO 100, so it really drowned out all the ambient light and the strobes took over, and the ambience is just providing a little bit of fill to the background. So, it's kinda controlling all those elements yet still capturing a moment of... It's almost this cinematic thing of I wonder what they're looking at, what's going on, what are they thinking? So, those are the moments I like. Here's another one. This was photographed in Brooklyn. I put out a model call on Craigslist, which can be a little dangerous sometimes. I just needed people to shoot because I had some new equipment I was working with. So, this guy, his name's Adam, he reached out to me and wanted to do the shoot. So, he came to my studio, the shared studio that I actually lived in in Brooklyn, and again, this was going out, kinda telling a story as if this was his home and we were working and he's actually wearing my coat because I didn't like the clothes he was wearing. So it's, again, it's set up and staged. It's not totally authentic, but at the same time, we came up with this narrative and he was all about it. He was like, 'alright, I sit here, I'm sitting here waiting for my mom to come home' and blah, blah, blah. He had all these stories that were even more complex than I cared about, but it just showed that he was into it and willing to make an authentic portrait. And, to me, this could be a shot that could end up in a magazine like GQ if it was of a musician on his front porch of his home. Something like that, which would be authentic, but I was more concerned about using my new lights and getting these moments. So, again, this is just another shot that was an environmental portrait, but not necessarily the subject in his environment. It's more about creating that narrative and giving direction. The next photo is people in their environment. One day, I was driving home and I saw these kids out playing. I'm along my normal drive and I stopped and I was chatting with their mom for a little and they were... They had this white Camaro outside and they were all playing around with that, and then I saw this four wheeler and I said 'hold on, let me go get my camera, I wanna do a photo' just because I saw this fence line, the sunlight coming in, the perspective, and the way the four wheelers aimed down that fence line. And I said 'alright, so do you guys drive this?' And they said, 'no, it has flat tires, but we always play on it.' So, I said 'what do you do?' And he said, the older brother was like 'well, I drive it and he sits on the back' and they were bouncing around. So, this was authentic. I asked them what they would do, they kinda showed me a little bit about it, the sun... This was all sunlight, it was perfect, and it was all about building that composition and letting this kinda story tell itself and having them look at each other, having them sit different ways, having them jump off. So, again, just a different version, but something that wasn't forced. This actually happened and I let them kinda steer the way. I just made a frame that looked visually pleasing for me as a photographer. And then we got a couple more of these. This was assigned work. This was for Men's Health. This is a triathlete from Nebraska. He was training to do a couple triathlons. He'd actually just undergone a real physical transformation as far as he had let himself go over the course of his career and he's a professor at University of Nebraska and he was just getting into triathlons and now he's killing it. He's winning all these races and all this, but Men's Health was actually doing a feature on him onto how he made this transformation and how he's now doing all these triathlons. So, they asked for request of shooting him on white seamless so they could use that for certain aspects, and then they wanted something with a pool. So, we just went to the YMCA. We went there as soon as they closed, they let us use the pool when everybody was out, and this was more about figuring out where the natural light was coming from. There were a couple of these really weird tungsteny type lights on the walls, and it was getting dark outside because this was in the winter. So, there was no natural light in there, it was just this overhead light. So, again, for me, from a technical aspect, it was, again, that same Magnum reflector but with a grid on it to... because otherwise it was a ton of glare on the water. It was watching how these lines were parallel with these lines. We have a top of the framing. You can see here a little bit of a reflection, so he's kind of in here twice. Playing with all those aspects, but bringing them all together and then adding some color grading afterwards to make it have that blue pool feel, and then having him look at the camera. So, it's all the things that go with that. We did action shots of him swimming, but as far as a portrait goes, this was my favorite. It kinda brought... It brought all those things together, similar to the last portrait we did of the artist of bringing everything together compositionally, graphically, and showing it all off. And the last one I have is another authentic moment, but there was some forced narrative here. It's kinda funny. So, this was a garage I had driven by a ton of times. I'd never really been in there, but I always thought, 'oh, man, that would make a great place for a photo.' So, I photographed this guy in his office. He had some ideas, I used... This is actually a two light setup. There is a kicker... The main light is a gridded 24 inch soft box. It's silver, it's actually a video light soft box. I wanted something more specular. That's just out of frame camera right, and that's what's lighting up the side of his face. You can see there's a little bit of highlights over here and on his arm. I had a gridded seven inch reflector back in the corner to kinda light up the back of the room and give that little bit of separation. It's almost as if it were a shock light or something. And then the garage door's wide open. That's what he's looking out, so that's what's providing the entire fill and lighting up all the rest of the room. So, it was balancing those three light sources, and he was just kinda standing there. He wasn't giving me much, he literally didn't talk. So, I said, 'alright, we need to kinda do something,' and there was some high school kids outside messing around, like doing burnouts with their car, and I was like 'alright, so these kids, they're about to give you some trouble. They're gonna come in here. What are you gonna do to defend yourself or whatever?' So, he picks up this big wrench and he's like, 'oh, I'm just gonna stare at them like this and they're not gonna mess with me.' So, it was kind of... I had to get him to a place where he would give me something and this is the look, but again, it has all the technical aspects of me shooting this perspective into the corner, little touches of color, the lighting is exactly what I want it to look like, and there's a little bit of a storyline there. But it makes you look at the photo and think what's the story with this guy, what's he doing? He's definitely carrying a wrench, is he about to fix a car, is he about to crack some skulls, what's going on? So, that was just another example of using the environment to kinda help tell the story. You know what he does. He definitely works in a garage, looks like he's got a pack of cigarettes about to pop the bottom of his shirt pocket, and little details like that that I love and kinda help tell the story. Some subtle dark humor, but at the same time it's more of a... Just one portrait that can tell the entire story. And I'll show you how I fit things like this into my portfolio later to even tell a bigger story paired with other images that have nothing to do with it.

Ratings and Reviews

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!

Student Work