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Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide

Lesson 135 of 138

Critiquing Your Own Portfolio


Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide

Lesson 135 of 138

Critiquing Your Own Portfolio


Lesson Info

Critiquing Your Own Portfolio

Overall cohesion. Color is one thing that goes into it. And it's funny because a lot of times people tell me, "You have such great color cohesion." But then in reality, I actually have about five different distinct colors running through my portfolio. I've got reds, I've got blues, I've got yellows, I've got purples. All different colors. So what makes color cohesive? And this actually hearkens back to when we talked about color theory, and I explained how I put a lot of blue in my shadows and yellow in my highlights. So even if there's a strong red color, purple color, green color, there's still that base color that I put into almost every single image, and that allows for my images to flow with color. Lighting. I also do a couple of different types of lighting, one being very diffused, overcast lighting, the other being window light. So it's still soft, still diffused, still natural. And that's me. And I think that one thing that really tears a portfolio apart is when you have really...

harsh lighting, really soft lighting, really drastic color shifts within the lighting. That can be something that can be a little bit jarring. But depending on how you order your portfolio, it might seem to flow, and maybe nobody would notice. Composition. From one image to the next, within individual pieces. And it's important to mention that composition, lighting, color; you're gonna wanna look at every single one of these things per image, as well as over the course of a portfolio. Character interaction. If there's a person in the image, how is that character interacting within the scene? That is one big thing that can make you feel like an image is out of place or like it's not quite working right. So that's important to remember. Location. Does the location work within your scene? Is that something that's enhancing the image or not? Wardrobe. Does the wardrobe of the character fit time period, location? Does that all work together? Time period and set design. Smooth technique. Now, like I said, technique is one of the easiest things to pick out from a portfolio review. If you're gonna sit down with somebody who is new to Photoshop, let's say, and they've got a few errors here and there. It's gonna be easiest to focus in on that rather than focusing on the concept, because concept is much more abstract. It might be very different from one person to another, based on how you see it. So technique is really easy to pick out, and that's why in a portfolio review you're very often going to be led straight to the technique first, and then you'll start to expand out from there. Depth of concept. So maybe you have great images, and they look beautiful. But is there enough to look at? Is there enough to think about within this image? The flow of the images from one to the next. The emotional response. You know, when I'm giving a critique of a portfolio, I'm often starting with my emotional response to something. Unless there's a glaring error or something that's just not quite right, I'm almost immediately going to tell you how I feel about that image. At the end of the day, you can fix the technique, but if you know, from a professional, how they feel about your work, that is what I go to portfolio reviews for. To see how people are connecting and why they feel emotionally tied to one piece over another. It's like we've been talking about. If your goal is to sell your work, you're going to sell it based on an emotional response from the person who's buying it, over anything else. So I wanna know, how am I doing with my emotional response? And clear artist intent. Is it obvious to the person reviewing your work that you are being clear and concise in the message that you're trying to send, and your intent. Okay. These are some of the words and phrases that have been used to critique my portfolio. And I've been writing them down for a few years, and I thought I'd share them. That it has no depth. That it's lacking story. That it's lacking detail. Not enough contrast in my images. That they need brighter colors. That they need a true black and white point. That I have great characterization. That I have boring characters. That they're too creepy. That they're not dark enough. That I have a fascinating imagination. That they're well done technically. That they need more interesting technique. To never do self-portraits. To do more self-portraits. And that I'm not a real artist. This is ridiculous. Can we agree? Ridiculous. Every single person makes a good point. Every single person. And I don't discount any of these, whether it's good or bad. I don't think that the bad comments have any less or more weight than the good comments, but they're conflicting. You see people are saying, "You're too creepy." "You're not creepy enough." Do more of this. Never do this. And that's what happens from one review to the next to the next. And that's why it's so important that we go into this process with some of our own opinions and knowing where we wanna go with our work. Critiques like this happen when you don't have any sense of direction or questions for the reviewer. So I would really recommend going into a review with a sense of what you wanna know from that reviewer. So if you're gonna have your pictures critiqued, it's really helpful for the reviewer to be able to know, okay, so maybe you've been doing the same technique for years. You've totally got that technique down, but maybe you want to know about the color flow from one to the other. Maybe you wanna know about if your images are ready for a gallery, for example. Maybe you wanna know if they're conceptually deep enough. So go in with a few questions in mind, so that the reviewer isn't just throwing out random opinions when they really might not be at the heart of what you wanna know or what you need to know. Judge yourself against your own standards and not someone else's. And that's really what I'm trying to get at here, is if you're getting a critique, make sure that you know that you have a clear idea of where you wanna go with your work. Maybe visually, maybe conceptually, maybe in your business. And then, when people give you their advice, you know if it's in alignment with your goals or not. If their comments are in alignment with your goals, keep it. And if not, throw it away. And it's as simple as that. So when somebody tells me, "Never do a self-portrait," that's not in alignment with my goals. I don't work well with others. I'm very happy doing self-portraits and being alone all day, every day. Does that mean I'm not gonna photograph other people? No, I will, and I'll take that advice into consideration that maybe certain images would be better portrayed by somebody else. But I love self-portraiture. I'm not gonna stop it just 'cause that person tells me not to do that. Especially when I can take that portfolio to the very next table, set it down, and they say, "Do more self-portraits." It's a really good indication that I can go either way with that, and there will be an audience for that either way. Now some advice is a little bit more objective than others. There is no such thing as truly objective advice. At least I searched and searched, and I could not find it. But what I decided was that there is technical advice and sell-ability advice. And these pieces of advice, to me, are the most objective kinds of advice you can get. If somebody can point out something in an image and say, "You know what? "This thing was done poorly." "This was done in such a way that I can see the editing that you did." Or, "It doesn't really look real." They're probably right about that. If somebody sees a mistake, it can probably be fixed. Now you might not agree, and that's okay. You don't have to take the advice. But that's a little bit more objective than something that's more emotionally based or concept based. And then sell-ability. This is the reason why I do critiques, because I can get my work in front of professionals who can tell me if my work is sellable or not. And of course, depending on the person, depending on the situation, they might say it's not at all sellable, because they personally cannot sell it. But that's a really good distinction to make. If ever you give your portfolio over and ask them, "Is this sellable?" Instead of just asking it like that, "Is this sellable?" Say, "Is this sellable to you? "Do you think you can sell this work? "Do you think this is marketable?" And really weigh their answer against where they are in the industry. Are they somebody who has a gallery that you would love to get into? If so, figure out why it's not sellable for them. If it is, figure out why. What are they reacting to? What do they feel is the strongest part of that portfolio? I love getting advice about sell-ability. To me, that is the number one reason to do a review. To get your work in front of professionals and figure out a business plan from there. Super, super helpful. This is that one image where they said there was one too many butterflies. And this is another one where they had said that there was not enough contrast. That there was no black and white point and that that was wrong. And it was very interesting to hear somebody say the word wrong because I never went to school for photography, so I never had to go through some of those seemingly horrifying classes where you get critiqued and people tell you when you're doing something wrong. And so I never had that basis of, "Oh, I should have a black and white point in my pictures because that's technically correct." So I went into this image thinking, "This is supposed to look like a painting. It's supposed to look like a watercolor." My favorite paintings and watercolors don't have a true black and white point, so I intentionally took that out of this image. So to hand this image over and be told it's wrong because it has no black and white point was very interesting for me because I understood why they said it. It's very obvious why they would go to that as their critique. But I also recognize that maybe they weren't in alignment with my concept here, and that maybe this image wasn't for them. So should I change it or should I not? And there is no clear answer. Should I change it? Do you guys think I should? You might think so and that's okay. But, if not, I agree. And there are images that people have said, "You know what? This would look better a different way." And I've agreed with them, and I've changed some things. But I'm also very stubborn, and I have a really hard time listening to other people.

Class Description

Creating a great photo for a client is one thing - but turning your passion and ideas into a series that is shared, shown, and sold is a whole different business. If you do it right, you’ll be shooting what you love all the time. Learn how to choose which ideas to create, how to turn your concept into a production, and steps to getting your work seen and even sold in Fine Art Photography: A Complete Guide with Award-Winning Photographer, Brooke Shaden.

This is an all-inclusive workshop that provides the tools you need to run a successful and creative business as a fine art photographer. You’ll learn creative exercises to find and develop your ideas, how to create an original narrative, how to produce your own photo series, post production techniques and skills for compositing and retouching, how to write about your work, ways to pitch to galleries and agents, and how to print your pieces so they look like art.

This workshop will take you on location with Brooke as she creates a photo series from scratch. She’ll walk through every step for her photo shoots including set design and location scouting, she’ll cover techniques in the field for capturing your artistic vision, post-production and compositing techniques, as well as printing and framing essentials.

She’ll round out this experience by discussing all of the details that will help make your career a success like licensing, commissions, artists statements, social media plans, gallery prep, and pricing your work.

This comprehensive course is a powerful look into the world of fine art photography led by one of the world’s most talented photographers, Brooke Shaden. Included with purchase is exclusive access to bonus material that gives exercises and downloads for all of the lessons.


  1. Class Introduction
  2. Storytelling & Ideas
  3. Universal Symbols in Stories
  4. Create Interactive Characters
  5. The Story is in The Details
  6. Giving Your Audience Feelings
  7. Guided Daydream Exercise
  8. Elements of Imagery
  9. The Death Scenario
  10. Associations with Objects
  11. Three Writing Exercises
  12. Connection Through Art
  13. Break Through Imposter Syndrome
  14. Layering Inspiration
  15. Creating an Original Narrative
  16. Analyze an Image
  17. Translate Emotion into Images
  18. Finding Parts in Images
  19. Finding Your Target Audience
  20. Where Do You Want Your Images to Live?
  21. Create a Series That Targets Your Audience
  22. Formatting Your Work
  23. Additional Materials to Attract Clients
  24. Which Social Media Platforms Will be Useful?
  25. How to Make Money from Your Target Audience
  26. Circle of Focus
  27. The Pillars of Branding
  28. Planning Your Photoshoot
  29. Choose Every Element for The Series
  30. Write a Descriptive Paragraph
  31. Sketch Your Ideas
  32. Choose Your Gear
  33. How to Utilize Costumes, Props & Locations
  34. What Tells a Story in a Series?
  35. Set Design Overview
  36. Color Theory
  37. Lighting for the Scene
  38. Props, Wardrobe & Time Period for Set Design
  39. Locations
  40. Subject Within the Scene
  41. Set Design Arrangement
  42. Fine Art Compositing
  43. Plan The Composite Before Shooting
  44. Checklist for Composite Shooting
  45. Analyze Composite Mistakes
  46. Shoot: Black Backdrop for White Clothing
  47. Shoot: Black Backdrop for Color Clothing
  48. Shoot: Black Backdrop for Accessories
  49. Shoot: Miniature Scene
  50. Editing Workflow Overview
  51. Add Fabric to Make a Big Dress
  52. Edit Details of Images
  53. Add Smoke & Texture
  54. Blend Multiple Images Into One Composite
  55. Put Subject Into a Miniature Scenario
  56. Location Scouting & Test Photoshoot
  57. Self Portrait Test Shoots
  58. Shoot for Edit
  59. Shoot Extra Stock Images
  60. Practice the Shoot
  61. Introduction to Shooting Photo Series
  62. Shoot: Vine Image
  63. Shoot: Sand Image
  64. Shoot: End Table Image
  65. Shoot: Bed Image
  66. Shoot: Wall Paper Image
  67. Shoot: Chair Image
  68. Shoot: Mirror Image
  69. Shoot: Moss Image
  70. Shoot: Tree Image
  71. Shoot: Fish Tank Image
  72. Shoot: Feather Image
  73. View Photo Series for Cohesion & Advanced Compositing
  74. Edit Multiple Images to Show Cohesion
  75. Edit Images with Advanced Compositing
  76. Decide How to Start the Composite
  77. Organize Final Images
  78. Choosing Images for Your Portfolio
  79. Order the Images in Your Portfolio
  80. Why do Some Images Sell More Than Others?
  81. Analyze Student Portfolio Image Order
  82. Framing, Sizing, Editioning & Pricing
  83. Determine Sizes for Prints
  84. How to Choose Paper
  85. How to Choose Editions
  86. Pricing Strategies
  87. How to Present Your Images
  88. Example Pricing Exercise
  89. Print Examples
  90. Licensing, Commissions & Contracts
  91. How to Keep Licensing Organized
  92. How to Prepare Files for Licensing
  93. Pricing Your Licensed Images
  94. Contract Terms for Licensing
  95. Where to Sell Images
  96. Commission Pricing Structure
  97. Contract for Commissions
  98. Questions for a Commission Shoot
  99. Working with Galleries
  100. Benefits of Galleries
  101. Contracts for Galleries
  102. How to Find Galleries
  103. Choose Images to Show
  104. Hanging the Images
  105. Importance of Proofing Prints
  106. Interview with Soren Christensen Gallery
  107. Press Package Overview
  108. Artist Statement for Your Series
  109. Write Your 'About Me' Page
  110. Importance of Your Headshot
  111. Create a Leave Behind & Elevator Pitch
  112. Writing For Fine Art
  113. Define Your Writing Style
  114. Find Your Genre
  115. What Sets You Apart?
  116. Write to Different Audiences
  117. Write for Blogging
  118. Speak About Your Work
  119. Branding for Video
  120. Clearly Define Video Talking Points
  121. Types of Video Content
  122. Interview Practice
  123. Diversifying Social Media Content
  124. Create an Intentional Social Media Persona
  125. Monetize Your Social Media Presence
  126. Social Media Posting Plan
  127. Choose Networks to Use & Invest
  128. Presentation of Final Images
  129. Printing Your Series
  130. How to Work With a Print Lab
  131. Proofing Your Prints
  132. Bad Vs. Good Prints
  133. Find Confidence to Print
  134. Why Critique?
  135. Critiquing Your Own Portfolio
  136. Critique of Brooke's Series
  137. Critique of Student Series
  138. Yours is a Story Worth Telling


April S.

I tuned in for most of Brooke's lessons in this course and watched some of them more than once as they were rebroadcast. First I want to say that Brooke is a very good instructor. Her easy-going, friendly, down-to-earth, somewhat quirky manner cannot be mistaken for unprofessional. She is very prepared, she speaks well (not a bunch of hemming and hawing), she is thoughtful, she is thorough, she is very relatable and at ease, and she is definitely professional in her presentation. I really thought when I first tuned in that it would mostly be background noise while I was at work, sound to keep me company. Not because I didn't like Brooke but I really didn't think I was into fine art photography nor did I think I cared about the business side of things much. Not now anyhow. I was really wrong. Brooke sparked a deep interest in me to delve into fine art photography, to consider creating images for myself, from my imagination. In fact, I realized that this was something I'd been thinking about for a couple of years though I hadn't put a name to it (the idea of creating pre-conceived images based on my own creative goals). I gleaned many little treasures from her about image sizes, working with printers, different types of paper, selling, interacting with galleries, and so much more. I may not need all of what she taught right now because I'm definitely headed in another direction at the moment, but she planted ideas and information in my head that I know will be useful at some point. Things I may not have thought of on my own, but that seed is in my head now so when the time comes, I'll know. I'd really like to buy her course but at the moment, with the holidays right around the corner, it's not in my personal budget. I'm grateful to have caught the live and rebroadcast lessons though, and her course is on my list to own. I think it's a great reference to be consulted over and over again, not watched once and forgotten. Kudos Brooke for really putting together an excellent course.

Ron Landis

I'm retired now, but spent decades in the people and training business. Brooke is extraordinary! Even though this course is extremely well organized and she's left nothing unattended, she moves through it with friendly conversational manners and without a sense of it being stilted. It's as though we are all her friends, not students, as she shares her heart and passion with us. What a joy it is to listen to her. And what a clear, unambiguous command of her subject. Wow! She explains it with such ease using explanations and techniques that won't overwhelm artists just starting their portfolio or the Photoshop-squeamish among us; but despite its simplicity her resulting art is breathtaking and beyond original. I wish more of my professors at school were as engaging. This was by far my best buy at Creative Live yet.

Angel Ricci

When the title says comprehensive, it means comprehensive! I loved every part of this course. It's inspirational, motivating, and insightful towards creating art work. Even if you are not necessarily considering a fine art specialty, the concepts discussed in this course are applicable to many areas! I find this super useful as a videographer and photographer and look to apply all of these exercises and concepts for my personal and business work moving forward. It is lengthy, but you will not regret a single minute. Brooke Shaden is an amazing artist and educator. I recommend keeping up with her work, presentations, and any future courses that may come in the future.