Skip to main content

Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 16 of 48

Shoot: Create Soft Light with Umbrella


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 16 of 48

Shoot: Create Soft Light with Umbrella


Lesson Info

Shoot: Create Soft Light with Umbrella

We're gonna go into one more shot here and then we're gonna kinda go through some of the images so what I want to do next is one more light setup that's a little less harsh and a little more soft so we'll have run the full range of lighting options as far as harsh light to soft light. So we're gonna use the soft lighter umbrella next and we're gonna put it pretty close just to do something different and to try it. I don't know why I took that all the way off of there. To do this. All right, we'll set this guy aside and we're gonna use the 46 inch soft lighter which is this one with a diffusion sock so this light's gonna be a lot softer and it's just gonna have a little different look. And, again, when I'm going into the shoot, this is not what I had in mind but because we have time, it's like, why not? You can always see, maybe it'll be a pleasant surprise. And we're gonna keep that background fairly dark 'cause I really want him to pop off of the background. So in order to put this th...

ing together, I am not seven feet tall, I need to lower it a little bit and these umbrellas are pretty slick. For those who haven't used 'em, it opens just like an umbrella because it is an umbrella. The light bounces into the umbrella and then reflects backwards and it becomes extra soft because you have this diffusion sock on there that just straps around your light. It's elastic, it literally feels like a sock. It can fit around pro photo lights, it can fit around an alien bee if you stretch it. It can fit around most lights that aren't too huge and it's pretty easy to use and if you break it, the good news is they're only like 80 dollars so it's not the end of the world and mine's old. I've had this thing for years and it's one of the ones that has a metal interior as far as the ribs of the umbrella go. The new ones are plastic, similar to the pro photo so they're a lot more flexible and they don't bend or when they bend, they don't stay bent, is what I should say. Okay now we have our umbrella set up so we're gonna bring that in here and I like shooting with these tilted pretty far downward, not quite this far, so the fall off goes low. We're gonna switch this battery out real quick with one of the lights we're not using. (camera equipment clicking) All right we're back to full speed and we're just gonna do one light to start and, again, it's gonna be pretty soft. I'm gonna keep the light fairly close to Brock. We're gonna feather in front so it doesn't hit the background. When I'm using these umbrellas from a side position like this, I usually start with the rear of the umbrella even with someone's ear and then let the rest of the light fall on front. If I started it right here, for one, a lot of this light's going nowhere. It's now less soft because we're only working with a light source that's this large and I don't want to light the background so I generally tend to start it up front and feather it forward, same thing with tilting it down. This is gonna have a completely different look and it's gonna be a lot softer light than what we were dealing with before. I'm gonna switch the lenses back. All right we should be good to go and then we're gonna meter 'cause we're still gonna shoot at F8. And our fill light's on but it's so far back, it's not doing anything. This light, however, we don't want that guy on. Perfect. So we're metering. We're at F11. We need to come down a whole stop. We're at F8, we're good. And if you don't know all the stops, like if you don't, a lot of people, I just memorize it because of lighting all the time but don't feel like you have to get it exact. If you don't know how many clicks it is, it's no big deal, just do it 'til the meter says it's right. I just have been doing this for a long time so I know but if you don't, that's what the meter's for, it's to tell you so I'm gonna actually have you start by turning this way completely and, again, this is gonna be really soft light. Hold that ball down, I'm gonna get a closer up image. So this is gonna be a softer lit portrait, the background's gonna be pretty dark but you're gonna see, there's not gonna be those specular highlights that there were before. Chin down. (camera shutter clicks) And you can see, just a totally different quality of light. It's up to you what you prefer. I am gonna throw a little bit of this kicker in there and this is gonna add a little bit of edge that we're missing 'cause I feel like with this current outfit, with Brock being a basketball player and all that, we need a little bit of edge. So I'm actually gonna move this so it might catch his face just a little bit. You're good right there. And it's gonna be pretty bright, which I'm fine with. So I'm gonna stay nice and close. And you'll see, there we go. So it's just a different quality of light than the other one and you can see what I mean when I said the light would hit his nose, that's annoying to me and some people might like it, I don't, so I need to move this back. All right, there are times when I wanna do that, maybe we'll do it on purpose here in a second. All right one more of those just so you guys can see. I'm gonna have you turn this way so body away from the light, shoulders more this way, feet too just so you're comfortable. Turn your whole body this way like this and now head straight at me. Nose this way more. Right there. Chin down a little bit. Perfect. (camera shutter clicks) So I don't mind that quite so much. Head this way even more. Don't even look at me. Move back so we get the ball. (camera shutter clicks) Yeah, that's pretty sweet so I'm gonna do one more, I like the background going dark like that. Eyes a little more forward. The reason why I did that, keep looking where you were. I don't know if you can see but his eyes, like his retinas are all the way to the edge of his eyes, I don't want them to be strained off this way so with that, I'm saying, yeah, look right there so now it looks like they're a little more in the center of his eye. And that's just a picky thing, you know, if you're moving and people are doing a lot of stuff, I wouldn't be too worried about that. I am gonna have you take a tiny step backwards and then turn your head more into that light and now look forward a little bit, right there, perfect. Nose that way even more, right there, one, two, three. (camera shutter clicks) Yeah, that's pretty good.

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!