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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 13 of 48

Shoot: Athletic Studio Portrait


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 13 of 48

Shoot: Athletic Studio Portrait


Lesson Info

Shoot: Athletic Studio Portrait

What we're gonna do first, like I said, it's gonna be this hot white backdrop. So I'm gonna open up these V-flats a little bit, and we're actually gonna take two Profoto B1s, and the first thing we're gonna do is light the backdrop. So we're gonna be shooting at ISO 100, a 200th of a second, at F five, six. And what you want with a hot white backdrop, any of these magazine covers you see, is that the backdrop reads one stop brighter than your subject. So we're gonna be shooting at five, six. I'm gonna meter for the background, the middle of it, to read at F eight. So that's one stop above five, six. To get there, I'm going to have to put a Profoto B on each side of the backdrop and blast these into the V-flats. And then that reflected light is gonna evenly distribute over the background and hopefully give us out nice hot white background at F eight. So give me a second to set those up. I'll kind of explain how I'm angling those. Again, we're just gonna use the two B1s. And I'm gonna pu...

t seven-inch silver reflectors on the lights to control a little bit of that spill and actually help amplify the light into the V-flats so we can really maximize how much light's hitting the background without getting too crazy out of control. So we're gonna be shooting. We have a full-width white seamless, but we're not gonna be using the full-width, so I don't care if there's light stands hanging out or things like that. Especially with white, those are easy to get rid of later if you have to stretch the background out. I just don't want anything to be directly behind Brock, because that gets a little more tricky. So we're placing one, just to open this up, we're placing one light stand in here about medium height. And we are just gonna shoot the same power from each side. So we'll just start off with both lights at about power eight. And we're gonna close that down. So we don't want, the reason why we're using the V-flats is if we have Brock standing out in front of him or standing out in front of here, we don't want any of that background light spilling back onto him. So we use the V-flats, the white side, to direct the light into the background and the black side to cut off any spilling light from hitting him so we can control the light that's hitting Brock. So we got that one set up at power eight. Probably won't need, I'm not gonna put a light 20 feet into the air, so we won't necessarily need the sandbag this time, but you never know what I'll do for the next lighting setup. So we'll keep those handy. And we're gonna set this one up to a similar height. I'm gonna turn the power on now, put it also at eight because they're gonna be evenly-spaced, and we want the light across this background to be even. We'll open this V-flat up so it's very similar to the other one, and we'll use this light stand to help us keep it open. So we'll give you guys a sneak peek of that in a minute. And we should be pretty good. As far as how much light's hitting the background, that is yet to be determined. So we'll do a test meter here. See, we can always, the way we adjust the V-flats and how the light's hitting 'em will determine how much light we're actually getting out of this bounced light. So I'm gonna set up my meter to, turn it on first, set it up to a 200th of a second ISO 100 at five, six. And there's a couple cheats. One thing is we're limited. We're bouncing Profoto B1s, they're 500-watt lights, into V-flats, trying to get 'em back in the background. Let's say you wanna shoot at F eight, then your background, it would need to be F11. You might have to up your ISO to get there because these lights are only so powerful. You can max it out and you still might not reach F11. So we're gonna shoot at five, six, like I said, and we're going for F eight on the background. So I'm gonna meter. I have no idea what this is gonna read. That is probably the luckiest I've ever gotten. That's like directly on F eight. I mean I'd like to think somewhat of an idea of what I'm doing, but that has never happened ever. So we don't even need to do anything else. That was pretty good. Again, if we wanted to shoot at F eight, we need the background at F11. These lights still have two more stops apiece. So knowing that right now they're eight, the background's at eight, we would only go up one stop with both lights and we'd be there. So we wouldn't need to raise our ISO. So that's good to know. Again, that's one thing I just learned. If we wanna light a hot white background with B1s, we can easily get to F11 without upping the ISO. So that'll be stored somewhere up in here for the future. So, Brock, you're gonna be a silhouette right now. So you're gonna stand about right here on this spot, and I'm gonna shoot as if it's a three-quarter-length portrait. There's no light on him whatsoever. I'm just getting a read on the background, but I need something to focus on. So turn a little bit this way. I mean, sorry, rotate. Yup. And it doesn't matter where you're looking, you're literally gonna be a silhouette. So I'm just getting a general baseline for how bright this background is. And it'd probably help if I put a trigger on my camera, then the lights would fire. All right. There's our silhouette. And here's even more of a silhouette with a little bit of back lighting. And, again, we're automatically tethered. It's giving us the same settings as our previous tether situation. It's a totally different setup, so I'm gonna reset. There we go. And we're gonna adjust accordingly. So the background's pretty well white, as you can tell here. I upped the exposure just a little bit. One thing when you're shooting on white, I know a lot of times with the different environments I take this highlight slider and I bring back a lot of the highlights with white background. You don't wanna do that 'cause it starts to go gray. So we're gonna leave that. We're gonna control the highlights the old-fashioned way using our lights and our camera, and we're just gonna move forward from there. And you'll see he's getting a little bit of light spill on him just off that background. If you wanna get rid of that, have him scoot further away from the background. So take one giant step towards me. Yup. Maybe even a little bit more. And now you'll see less light. We'll take a very similar shot as far as composition goes, but you'll notice there's a little less light that'll hit his neck, and you can see that right there. A little less highlights. So if you like that look, which a lot of people do, move him closer to the background. If you want less light spill then move him further away from the background. I'm gonna have you actually go back a half a step, not out of preference of light, but mostly out of the space we have. So I'm gonna set my camera down. And now we're gonna move to our main light. Because we're in the studio now and I'm not lighting up a background, I'm not so concerned about this grid. I actually want more light. So for this instance we're gonna use this beauty dish again as our main light, and we are actually gonna take the grid off and hopefully leave it off this time. I'll set that right here. And we can move in our beauty dish. So I'm gonna set that right here. I want a three-quarter-length portrait, so knowing that, let me grab my sandbag. One tip, you always want the longer leg of your C-stand out underneath your light. Keeps it less likely to tip over, and even more less likely when you put a sandbag countering that. We're gonna turn this guy on. And we're just gonna start off with power six just to give us a nice number in the middle. Probably have to adjust it to get our F five, six that we want. So we're gonna get this up a little higher. And, again, I'm gonna do one quick lighting lesson for you guys. I'm gonna move this light nice and low and close to him, and I'm gonna show you what we don't want to happen and why. So we're gonna keep these camera settings the same. It's always gonna be F five, six. Let me grab my trigger here. So we'll meter, I can already tell you this is gonna be too bright. We'll meter, we're going for five, six. We're at six, three. We need to go down a third of a stop, so three clicks. We got five, six, so we're good. So I'm gonna have you hold that ball. Stay right there. Hold that ball down here on this hip and look straight at the camera. And what I'm wanting and what's not gonna happen are I'm wanting a nice, evenly-lit shot, but what people do when they think of a three-quarter-length shot and they think of a beauty dish is they put it way too close. So how the falloff works is the distance from his face to this light is about two feet. The distance from this light to this ball is closer to five feet. So that's two and a half times the distance. How the inverse square law works is every time you double the distance of light to subject, you only get a quarter of the light. So right now his face is getting all the light. This ball is more than twice as far away, so it's gonna get less than a quarter of the light that his face is getting, and it's gonna fall off into darkness. I'll explain how you fix that in a second. One test shot. One, two, three. Again, this is just a basic lit portrait. Let me get rid of that backdrop. One, two, three. Okay. So this is a good baseline. I'm not too concerned about light angles or all that, but you can see the ball's basically dark. So what we need to do to counteract that is we need to move, we need to get these two distances less. So the distance from this light to his face is actually further away, because that makes the relative distant of his face to the ball smaller. So you'll see. I'll explain it when we get it set up. So right now we saw this was two feet away and this was like five feet away. We're gonna maintain the same lighting angle, but we're gonna raise this up. With that, we also need to up the power. So let me do that real quick. And you go up about two stops. And, again, we can adjust it from the camera, the only problem is all these lights are on the same channel. So if I adjust one, it's going to adjust them all. So we'll just have to do it manually a little bit. Now, with that said, we have the light basically at the same angle, but it's just a lot taller. So now the light is much further away from Brock's face, but the distance from his face to the ball is still the same, but the distance from the light to his face is a lot farther. So now the light will have a lot less falloff quickly because you're still exposing for his forehead. So we still need to get F five, six in front of his face, but you'll see that falloff will be a lot less quick, will be happening a lot less quickly with the light. So we're at six, three. We need to go down three clicks, but then I also need to take these back up. So I'll do that manually. And we should be good. So now you'll see the ball will be catching quite a bit more light. It still won't be super bright, but it'll be brighter than this. And the further you move, that's where fill light comes in. It'll help us deal with that. But if you only have one light and you have to do it this way. One, two, three. So you're getting a little more light there. It's a little bit hard to see on there. I need to move the light just slightly. But just so you can see, and we changed position a little bit, but the light's just more even. So what I'm actually gonna do is add a fill light. So this is a good time where we can add this silver light. And I'm gonna do the same thing as I said before. I wanna keep it between the original light and my camera, so I'm just gonna put this directly over my head. He's wearing all black. It's not exactly the most reflective material. In fact, it's probably the least reflective material. So we're gonna put this light about here. And I'm pretty happy with how it's all lined up. We'll turn this on. We're gonna start with it fairly low-power, maybe a little more, and this will be our fill. So now we don't have to worry so much about how this is positioned. In fact, I'm gonna bring it back down closer to him to really sculpt that light and get it how we want. All right. So, again, we're going to meter for five, six. We're at five, six. Right on the dot, so we're good there. And now we can shoot. The only thing we're gonna change is the power of our fill if we want less shadow or we want more shadow. So you're gonna be looking right to camera. That's perfect. And this is kind of our basic shot on white, hot white background. So what we have here is a good baseline. Now we can add a little bit of coloration to it. If we wanted to match the color we did before, we could do this purple punch. I don't wanna do that. I'm just gonna go with a cool look. You can see it's barely doing anything to this frame. We're gonna add just a little bit of blue to the shadows and a little bit more warmth to the mid tones. I'm gonna really go into exposure of that contrast. We're gonna up the shadows a little bit. I'm leaving the highlights well enough alone because I like the background to stay white. And the only other thing I'm gonna do is, I mean really that's about it. So it's just a clean shot on white. The only thing we could really do is if you want more fill, if you want it to be even more flat-lit, we can turn this up another stop. And now you'll see it's gonna be a lot more evenly-lit. One, two, three. So now there's gonna be even less shadow on his face. That's actually looking pretty good. It kinda does have this like Men's Health magazine cover look if you can imagine a giant logo and a bunch of text. I'm gonna move this over just a tiny bit so I can get in the right spot. One, two, three. Yeah, so that looks pretty good. Hold that ball just off to the side a little bit more. There you go. One, two, three. All right. So as far as a basic shot goes on a hot white background with a nice, neutral light, that's about all I would do. We didn't do too much, you saw. It's a total of four lights, two in the background. The background's one full stop over the lighting on our subject. He's metered at F six. We have the beauty dish on him. I don't care about spill because the background's already white. In fact, I actually like the spill. And then our fill light is just right over camera on axis. So four-light setup. Pretty simple. Not a whole lot to it. And, you know, if you wanna get in there and do something a little closer, I'm gonna have you turn completely this way. With your body, sorry. And now looking back over that shoulder almost towards the screen. Yeah. Turn even more with your shoulders towards me. Sorry, this way. Keep going. Right there. Head even more that way. All right, and then eyes almost to this pillar. Yup. So now we can kinda get chin down a little bit. So this will be a little closer up version of the same shot, but you can see it's pretty clean. It gives us a little bit more dynamic shot with the body turned. The lighting's still the exact same. As I moved closer, I'll turn the exposure down just a little bit, but nothing is blown out. We've metered, so we know all the technicalities are there.

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!