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Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 30 of 48

Test & Frame Your Shot


Environmental Portrait Photography

Lesson 30 of 48

Test & Frame Your Shot


Lesson Info

Test & Frame Your Shot

The next section is testing and framing your shot. So now that I've made my shot list in my notebook, we've gotten to know the subject and got a few ideas for what she'll be doing while we're photographing her, we wanna frame up the shot and really get the lighting set up. So that starts with analyzing the natural and ambient lighting. And this starts from the minute I walk in the room. I'm always looking, alright, where are the natural light sources? Are they fluorescent lights? Is it a giant window? Is it a computer screen? It can be any of these things, but when I'm using my lighting, I'm not really a natural light photographer. I'm more of a let's take the natural light and polish it up and make it look a little more perfect type of photographer. So I wanna analyze that light, because I wanna place my lights in similar places to where the actual light's coming from. And this is because I don't like my photos to necessarily look lit, in the sense that I just don't place a light some...

where for no reason. I like to, again, just supplement the natural lighting and make it a little more pretty and a little more flattering for the subject, and make it look a little different than what your eye will naturally see within that environment. So, I know afterwards when I showed her the photo, she was like, "Oh yeah, that actually" ... Everybody's always surprised that I know what I'm doing, but that's the goal is to show them something that they're proud of, that they think looks pretty cool, and at the same time, that I'm pretty glad I made. So, analyzing that lighting, whether it's natural, ambient, overhead lighting, whatever it is, is the first step. And then I set up my frame and my composition. And I do this by actually using my camera and the lens I'm gonna use to start for me. That's taking out my 24 to 70. It gives me some good range, especially in a tight space, like an art studio, and I walk around where -- I know, I got a feel for where she was gonna be working. I got an idea, she kept doing these motions, so I can see she looks down and paints. So, it's like, our lighting's gonna have to be a little more low to get light in her eyes if she does look up. She talked about viewing the work from this flat plane, but how it also looks different from above. So for me, that instantly thought, okay, I wanna get that angle so it's a similar view of the artist looking across the panels. But also, I didn't have the shot in my mind to start. I'm gonna need a stepladder, so I actually asked her if she had a stepladder. They did. And then I wanted to get a really graphic composition looking downward, where you can see how the art looks from this different angle, because that's a shot she just gave me that I hadn't thought of. So it's kind of setting up that. So I set up both of those frames. That way I can see, again, I don't like doing Photoshop work. So by setting up the frame with the light, I can see, okay, my frame needs to end here because my light needs to be here, and I don't wanna Photoshop it out later. So, setting up the framing, using your actual camera really helps, and that's also helps when you're shooting tethered, because you can see the pictures coming in live. And I also shoot some of the test frames tethered, and we'll show you some of those when we're goin' through the raws, because I like to see what it looks like with that natural ambient light, and then I can compare that later with the strobe. So, not only can I see what my light's doing, I can see what that location looks like if I hadn't brought any lighting. And that might help with mixing white balances and all those type of things as well. The next thing, planning the lighting to fit the mood and the subject. So you can see, she was very chatty, had a lot to say, was definitely enthused about her artwork. She's been doing it for years. Had a gallery show coming up in New Orleans. So all this information was volunteered by her and that kind of let me know, and she also had mentioned how much she loved her studio and it was her happy place, she said when we got there. So, the happy place to me, in this art studio, it just felt light and airy, and like, I wanted to recreate a nice, bright frame, especially with all the white walls and then the color that was coming from her artwork. So for me, I got to set up my lights. I set 'em up one at a time, just like, I like to work in those layers. And then doing test photos without the subject in the shot so I can see exactly what each light's doing along the way and how I need to make adjustments, how much ambient light I can let in by upping the ISO or slowing down the shutter speed. Or the opposite, you know, raising the aperture to get rid of more of that ambient light. So, I set all my settings, get it all set up, and then test all the lights before the subject arrives so I can stay present with her. Again, I always wanna have all that done so once she starts painting, I don't have to stop her. She was obviously working with molten wax, which, apparently, freezes up pretty quickly. So I don't need to have her going back and forth. She was making actual artwork while we're shooting and I'm not trying to screw up that process either. I just want natural action shots. So, let's go on to the next video, where we actually test out the lights and start setting everything up there. And you'll get an idea of what I'm looking for with the framing, with the lighting, before we bring in the subject. Okay, now that we've kind of selected our first frame by looking around the space, getting an idea of how Alicia works, I'm actually gonna literally make the frame. So I got my camera out, we're tethered up. I'm not gonna be shooting, you can see I've set up a couple strobes here, one to recreate that sunlight. It's just a Profoto with a magnum reflector with a half CTO gel on it and a diffusion sock to try and make nice, warm light that's also soft. That'll be our main light. And then we also have a Softlighter 46-inch umbrella, which'll be the fill. And when I'm first setting up a scene, I figure out which angle I want, and the only way to do that is to actually look through the frame so I have that depth of field and that look. A lot of times for shoots that happen in these type of spaces, I use a 24 to 70, so I have a Nikon D810 with a 24 to 70 28 lens, and I'm basically just going to figure out where I need to stand, let me move the tether table here. You'll see I'm tethered up. I'm not actually shooting yet. I don't have the trigger for the lights or anything. I'm just making a frame so I can see if I need to move my light at all, if I need to zoom in or out, where ... There's overhead lighting; I don't want that in the shot. So I'm basically just testing. And the reason I do this beforehand is because once I have my subject in there, whether it's Alicia or a model or whomever, I like to focus on them and not all the technical details. Because as soon as I start fussing with the light or messing with the camera, they ... It won't be so bad today because she's actually doing an activity, she has a task, and it's what she naturally does. But if were just a portrait shoot, as soon as I start messing with technical stuff, people start to think it's them. And I don't want the subject to start to get awkward or uncomfortable. So I like to get all these details out the way beforehand, so that way when everything's live and the subject's in the frame, we're just one on one, working and interacting with each other, not me messing with all the equipment. So, that's what I'm doing now. I'm just getting my frame set up so I know exactly where it's gonna end. I'm looking for any distracting elements, anything I want included and anything I want discluded, or just knowing I can crop it later. So I always err on the side of having too much in the frame, knowing that we can crop it out later. So I can already see I need to move that light a little bit, and, but I am really enjoying how the frame looks overall. And I see that I'm gonna be shooting at around 28 millimeters with this 24 to 70. The next thing I'm doing when I'm shooting a test shot is I'm seeing what my settings are gonna be. So we're shooting with strobes. I always start off with ISO 100, a 200th of a second at F8. That's just kind of my general baseline. From there, I actually wanna go down from F8 to around F4, because I wanna get a little more, a little shallower depth of field. I also, with including things that are outside the window, I wanna blow it out a little more. That way I can really bring the focus on Alicia. But I do wanna keep my shutter speed high enough to drown out the ambient lights. So, while she can still work in her normal environment with the bright lights, I don't want those affecting the photo so much. So I'm gonna let those kind of drown out. And that's one of the unique things about photography using strobe lights is you can manipulate the way the scene looks. Everybody in the room and you guys watching can see how it looks on camera. But using strobes, I can really make it fit my vision, and then that way, when you see the photos, it's kind of a more polished version of the reality we're in, but it fits the vision that I have of the space or one of the actual photo. So that's kinda how I work. And then the last variable I'm gonna change is the ISO. I always start with that 100 because we're adding light, but dealing with ambient light outside, I can't control how much light's coming through that window right now, especially, we're on the second floor of a building and I don't have tall enough light stands or any of that type of stuff. So I'm gonna up the ISO slowly just to let enough of that window light bleed in, and then we'll start to mess with the strobes and balance everything out. So again, I always shoot tethered because I wanna see the instant feedback. I wanna know what's happening in real time and how it looks on the screen. And I can make little adjustments to shadows and highlights and everything to kinda polish it up on set. So we're just gonna go through that a little bit, continue with the frames, and then we'll start messing with the lights. Alright, so now that you've kind of seen a little bit of how I do the framing, the thoughts that I'm going through as far as mixing the ambient light with the strobe lighting, you notice Alicia's not in that video anywhere because she's off prepping some panels to get going for the shoot, and that way I can get through all these technical aspects without boring her or wasting her time. And, a lot of times, with environmental portraits, whether it's the first one I ever did with the old guy and his cafe, or Alicia in her art studios, these people are generally volunteering their time to me to kinda get my little creative side out there and create these photos. And whether they enjoy the photos on the backend of this deal or not, that's up to them, but either way, I need to respect the fact that they're letting me in to their space, showing me around, and letting me kind of create my vision of them. So I always like to waste as little of their time as possible, and that's why I do all this technical stuff before I call them in. And whether I have an assistant with me who could be a stand-in, whether I do it myself and put my camera on a timer, or whether I just visualize where they're going to be and get it close enough, that all depends on the shoot. But again, I like to do all that stuff beforehand so that way she doesn't have to deal with that. And, as I'm thinking, most of the time on a photo shoot, I'm not this talkative; I'm usually pretty quiet. You're getting the version of me that's helping you guys understand what I'm thinking, so it's literally just spewing out of my mouth in form of thought. But a lot of times, when I'm not talking that much, it could be a little awkward, 'cause she could be sitting there wondering, what's he do, why's he keep messing with that stuff? And so, I get rid of all that and do it by myself and figure out how I want it to look.

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!