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Test & Frame Your Shot

Lesson 30 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Test & Frame Your Shot

Lesson 30 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

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.


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

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.

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