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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 16 of 48

Shoot: Create Soft Light with Umbrella

Dan Brouillette

Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

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.


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

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.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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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!