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Personal Projects

Lesson 3 from: Fine Art Conceptual Photography from Shoot through Post-Processing

Bella Kotak, Pratik Naik

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Lesson Info

3. Personal Projects


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Artistic Vision and Inspiration


Personal Projects


Creative Motivation and Defining Your Story


Organizing Your Inspiration


Building A Character


Creating Wardrobe and Props


Location Scouting


Lesson Info

Personal Projects

That was my first official mini project and I think what it did was it taught me a lot of lessons. It gave me a lot of confidence. And because it was a little mini project when I started sharing that online, I started to get a following. I had started to get a following when I was doing my Flickr. Because when you are doing a Flickr, or any project where you have to upload daily you'll build up a following very quickly. Cause people will like start to check in on you and see what you're doing. And then between Flickr and this I was doing a lot of commercial work and all kind of other stuff you know, weddings and stuff like that which I wasn't really sharing and that following growth had stopped. And then, I did this where I started to upload consis... Create and upload consistently, and my following began to grown again. And then I came to england, and holiday mode was over. There was no palm trees or ... none of that was there It was just me in an office, wondering what I was doing wi...

th my life. Yeah, I stopped taking jobs at that point because I realized they weren't making me happy. Plus it was winter. And then spring happened And that's when my little project In Bloom started. In Bloom started just with one photo. And I liked that photo so much, that I thought "Oh my God, I wanna make it a series," that's all it was. And I thik that's all it really needs to be, if you like something so much, you're like "Oh my God, I feel so inspired. I feel so energetic. I came out of this feeling alive." Keep doing it. That's the feeling I had from this first photo shoot. My office happened to have a florist next to us. Literally the building next to us belonged to a florist. And they had changed how they were getting rid of their flowers. I didn't notice it before but suddenly I began to notice these big cardboard boxes outside their door. And they were just full of these discarded flowers. Obviously, I like go up and take a few and then walk away. But one day there were loads. And I was like "Okay, I'm taking a picture. I'm gonna take a photo of these." I asked them of it was okay, and they were like "yeah, it's fine." It just started it off. For weeks, they would get rid of their flowers on Mondays which is when they collected wedding flowers from all the weddings they did that weekend. And Mondays would be like lush wedding holes. Thursdays it'd just be like the foliage, that they were just discarding midweek. And I would be there bin raiding like a pro in front of all these people who were waiting in traffic. I didn't care. Yeah, free flowers. So, I was grabbing flowers and my office thought I was absolutely crazy. And this first photo was created in a park. It was really just a park ... a park with overgrown grass on the side. And it's my friend Camille, who you saw the before and after of. Because your first models, I suppose if you don't have access to models and if you're just shooting for fun, you use all your friends, or maybe somebody you find off Model Mayhem. I happen to have Camille and I was like "You free?" She said "yeah." So we walked up to a park and I had her in a simple dress. I put a wig on her. At that time I had one wig. Now I have 500. (laugter) I put a wig on her and had her lie down on the tall grass and I shot from all the angles. Everything I learned in Bali, I was kind of bringing that on board. "Okay, let me shoot from below, shoot from the side, shoot from here..." And then, I remembered "Oh I really liked that bird's eye view". I was standing over her and shooting. And that's when I was like "This is really cool, when she's curled up" I brought her legs in a bit more, tightened it up with her arms out and I tossed the flowers over her. Cause I only had that one bunch, like literally the bunch you saw me with there ... I literally just had that I took some photos of her from above and then I took that bunch, and I wanted to make it more. I moved it around her and made her lift herself up. And I shoved it under her head. And made her lift her legs up, shoved it under her legs. And then I held some of them up, I just tried to stay in the same position. I held it and just shot around her. And once I was sure that I got like, way too many photos. We were done. And the whole process took about 20 minutes. I came home. And I though, "Let me just bring all these little bits and pieces together." And started twisting and adding and compositing that picture together. And this is the final result. I sent this photo to Pratik, and I was like "Hey, what do you think? Is it good? Is it crap? I don't even know anymore, I've been staring at this for 15 hours." And he was like, "Yeah, no. It's great." Pratik did the final polish and I shared it online. And I got an amazing response. That kind of inspired me to keep going. As well as all this. (laughter) I think, that's it. Let's do this. Every week, I was bin raiding like an absolute champ and coming home with a carful of ... good thing I have like a giant jeep. Just literally filling it to the brim sometimes, and just driving home with flowers. I don't know how people put up with me, cause that room got filled. Like this study, these flowers end up going down here, down there. I actually had more to shoot and more than I could shoot. I never ended up creating with these hydrangeas, which makes me sad even to this day. Cause they died, and I had to compost them. Basically that's pretty much what I started to do. Coming home with discarded flowers, and creating photos with them. I didn't have access to models. Not really, cause I live in the countryside in England. It's an hour outside of London. But traveling between Oxford and London, sometimes isn't cheap. If a model's coming from London, you have to pay for her to get on the train. And at that time, I didn't have the budget. Also, I didn't have the confidence. I couldn't be, "Yeah, come all this way. Give me all your time" And what if, I didn't get the photo. I've wasted her time and money. I was kind of at that point just trying to keep things as light and as playful as possible. Because I was so tired of all the rules that I had to ... Like all these fictations that I had given myself if I was shooting for a client. Like I was shooting for a family, or I was shooting for a wedding. I'm not fulfilling me, I'm really fulfilling them. So that they're happy. I just wanted to be super duper selfish. Basically, I think that's what personal projects are. If you are gonna be anything doing for a personal project, be absolutely selfish. Because when are you ever really selfish. Like you're always helping somebody out. You've got to do something else. Your time is always for other people all the time. When do we ever give ourselves a moment of pure selfishness. I don't think it's a bad thing. I really don't. Cause we should look after ourselves as well. This is my way of looking after myself... creatively. This model, Hannah. I actually saw her on the street. I do do this. And I think it does help that I am a girl, but if I was a guy, "Hey, would you wanna pose for me?" No. But it does help that I am a girl. I would just walk up to her and say "Hey, I really love your look I'm a photographer, here's my card. Just let me know if you would be interested in shooting together? It would be a really chilled-down shoot." And she was like "Oookay". And then she called me and said, "I'm down." And I'll say "Okay, great. Cool. Let's meet up here." And I had a wheelbarrow full of flowers ... I really wish I had that photo of me with a wheelbarrow. But yeah, a wheel barrow full of flowers. Came up here to a friend's garden, and just put them around this tree stump. The initial photo was me using this tree stump, because it's so beautiful. But I wasn't happy, something was weird about it. The composition was just not working. In the end what I realized was, I liked the symmetry of it. I liked the fullness of it. I wanted her to be just surrounded by flowers. What I did was, I set up all the flowers on one side of her stayed on one spot took a photo. And then I went and moved those flowers to the other side. And tried to lighten back them around and then went back and took another photo. And then at some point, I set off a smoke bomb behind her. That was quite a ... a smoke bomb. If anybody's worked with smoke, you'll know the moment you set a smoke bomb off, the wind just changes and the smoke goes the other way. You're like "Why?! No! Come back!" The smoke was orange, no, yellow. it was yellow smoke. I was like running around the garden trying to catch the smoke before it went. Trying to keep her in frame. It was just not working. But then I learned how far I can push myself in composite agan. So this was another lesson for me, in terms of composite photography. I came back home, in Photoshop, I did the thing I do. Which is, I took pieces from one photo, took pieces from another photo. Built them together, spent hours, I'm like, cleaning up around the leaves, trying to make it look seamless. I liked the smoke, so I grabbed that and put that in. Yellow didn't work for me, and I though "I'm gonna change the color." So I changed it to pink. And yeah, that's pretty much what I learned from this photograph. Hannah isn't a model. And she didn't really know how to pose. That was fine as well cause I've worked with that. And I said "Okay, in that case, let's have you looking as if you're sleeping." She just looked beautiful anyway. And I though, in the end that worked. It was a challenge that I faced and actually, the final photo I think turned out really great. There is always room for improvement however. If I had to do this again, there's a few things I would change. The first thing would be the hands. I don't think the hands are strong at all. Like this hand is just laying flat on her. And that's something that I'm very conscious of now, like hand placement. Because I think that, if you had a little more thought into how hands are phrased, it just adds a little bit extra. Like an extra level of storytelling. I wasn't really thinking about hands at that stage. But that's something that I would change now. Another thing I would change, is probably clean up this piece of hair over here. Cause to me that seems very distracting. I would probably also get rid of this piece of leaf over here. Cause it's interrupting with the eye as well. Those are just little things that I can notice now with again, shooting consistently and constantly shooting looking for improvement. When you're looking at it over you can dissect it and be like "Oh, what could I have done different". So, this is In Bloom, more or less. And it's still going, it's still continuing. I'm actually now spending most of my time shooting in nature. It started off with discarded flowers, the florist don't think were too happy with me bin raiding for like months on end. They actually changed their system and now, they get rid of their flowers a different way. That was fine, cause it just pushed me to find beautiful spots outdoors. And I'm gonna show you something later on as we go, which is .. beautiful spots hide in everyday situations. They are not like, there's not like a spot where it's really for a photo shoot. That hardly ever happens unless, I dunno, you live in Scotland, where every moment is a photo shoot. But yeah, my beautiful spots hide in everyday situations. I'll show you something over here, which is, as we go you'll see this as well. Which is this, a dress which has been used three times. And that's just because I was learning and growing. My lace dress, started out here with a shoot with Camille. This is my second shot with her after that first one. Third shoot is this one and fourth shoot is that. The same dress, but I am learning and growing with each photo. And then I started to experiment with everything else that's up. You know, evolving. This project has been about growing and evolving myself, artistically. And the character as well, I'm not sure I've personally seen myself in this character because my pictures started out really simple, really organic. And then it's getting to a point where she's becoming powerful. That's where I want to be, so I'm like trying to channel that now. My personal project is incredibly selfish to me and my vision. I honestly say that any personal project that you take on board, be super selfish about it. If you love cats, shoot cats. And make sure you shoot them in your way. In a way that's very true to yourself. Or cupcakes, like a friend of mine he loved these donuts from a donut shop. And he was like "These are great." And he just shot literally the donuts. And in really cool ways. He just went over, bought a bunch, came home, and started buying stuff from Anthropologie... Plates and bowls. Then then he started going outside and getting some dirt, because the donut looked chocolatey. And he was doing all kinds of stuff. He made a series on donuts and it looks amazing. Yeah, so it's possible. If he can do a series on donuts, you can do a series on anything. That's the kind of motivation that I want to leave with you guys today. If you're not sure what you wanna do, in terms of your photography journey that's Okay, cause you know, we're growing. You can't have the same interest forever. We're all growing and changing as we get older. And as we learn more, consider doing a personal project. Even if something a little bit cheeky for yourself on the side. And you can make time for it. Like those pictures, I was still working. My schedule was crazy. I would work Monday through Friday, til 5:36, and then, it would have to be in summer. And shooting in the summer, luckily that's when it all kicked off anyway, summer nights in England are long. So they ended at 9:00. I'd meet the model ... I would go to my family's grocery store until 7:00; leave there at 7:30, and then I was free. I hadn't even had dinner yet. I would meet with my model at 8:00. We would shoot and we would only had until 9:00, cause that's when the light was getting a bit too dark. So I had to learn to shoot quickly. I only had 15 minutes to set up the shot and maybe 15 minutes to 20 minutes to capture it. Shooting quickly, that's something I learned from personal projects as well. Holding yourself accountable, when you're working. I guess, yeah, hold yourself accountable. Don't make excuses. I guess, that's all I was trying to say. Don't make excuses, I probably would hav been like "you know what, I'm tired today, I'm just gonna go home, I'll do this on the weekend." But no, I wanted to make it happen for myself. And if I can do it, I swear to God, anybody can do it. Seriously, I'm like the laziest person I know. Really! Where do you want to go from here? We're gonna talk about setting goals. The first thing you want to do is start planning. What steps are you going to need to take? Set deadlines for yourself. And then start taking jobs that bring you closer to your goals. The reason why I bring this up is because if you know where you want to go for example, you want to be a fashion photographer and you wanna be in a magazine. You might take jobs that lead you there. And that might mean, assisting for somebody. And that might mean, saying no to some jobs so you can do others. That might mean working for free for a little while. That might mean undercutting your wage or pay for a little while so that you are closer to that goal. And I think that's okay as well. So passion before money. Just because everything you do should be so that it takes you one step closer to where you want to be. And the moment you start veering away from that, it feels unattainable, it feels far away. And then you feel like you can't do it. And then I'll go "why can't I do it?" I think that's when you just have to learn to start saying no to some things, so you can say yes to others. I knew I wasn't happy, and I still carried on for a bit too long. Saying yes to things, even though I should have said no. Just because I'm really nice and if somebody asks me and they're like "I really want you." And I'm like "Oh, okay. Yeah, sure. We got this." Inside I'm like "Aah, I don't wanna do it but I don't known how say no. Uuuh." Cause I need a secretary. Cause I need somebody in between who's like, "Actually Bella can't do this." You know? Well usually, I'm a yes person which is really annoying sometimes. But the moment I started saying no and started saying yes to finding my heart path things really began to change. So, feeding your creative vision. I'm gonna talk now about what inspired me, and how I get inspired, and how I get motivated. My love comes from fairy tales, from fantasy. And that started a long time ago. Like when I was a child. And when I was reading books. My favorite books were of characters and strong women off on journeys, and like fighting and learning how to fight. And I dunno, dragons ... It was just all very exciting. I thought the world could be a magical place, if I wanted it so bad. I would wait for the first star to come out every night. And like, wish for a mermaid tail. So that I could be Ariel. That's where my love comes from. It comes from love of fantasy and other world and magic. I can see us doing some magic. And that's what I try to channel in my photographs, that magic.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Practice PSD File - Sleeping Beauty
Pratik Naik Retouching Actions
The Royal Collection - Fine Art Actions
Practice PSD File - Location Shoot (~700mb)
Practice PSD File - In Studio Shoot (~1.3gb)

Ratings and Reviews


Great class and great instructors. Genuine and informative. Practical tips to create stunning images. Seeing them work through the process from shoot to finished image was great and I loved that they shared the thought processes behind the creative decisions. Definitely recommended!


Truly a remarkable duo. Bella is so down-to-earth and humble for a photographer with such a strong beautiful and ethereal voice. Her explanations of her process really inspired me--I was sketching concepts throughout the class. Pratik's process really opened my eyes to "smart" retouching--understanding what can be done in fewer brush strokes and slimmer PS files. All in all a really unique and inspiring class that makes me excited to realize my next conceptual shoot. They're also adorable together!

Mai Her

I've gained sooooo much from this I can't even contain my appreciation and excitement! So much inspiration and so much generous advice and tips to help me! Thank you so much Bella and Pratik and Creative Live!

Student Work