Layering Inspiration


Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide


Lesson Info

Layering Inspiration

So if we're talking about originality, let's break it down a little bit. What are elements that many people identify with? Okay, so if you just had to start thinking okay, now, if I'm gonna create art, what is it that people identify with? Maybe people identify with clouds. Maybe people identify with pretty colors. Maybe people identify with a way of printing, whatever. It could be literally anything: technical, conceptual. What do people identify with? For me, I often think of themes. We'll just go back to the rebirth theme. Now, if I think about that, I think okay, this is good, right. People identify with this. So if I'm creating this, then that means people will feel connected. But then the other part of my brain is like but if people identify with this, then lots of people are creating from the theme of rebirth, so why should I create from that theme too. And this is where it becomes very tricky in the art world, because like I've mentioned, we're creating art for ourselves. But t...

hen we're taking that art and selling it to other people. And I'm not only, in this class, talking about making art for the sake of fun, even though that's a good chunk of the process. You know, I would love for everybody to get to a place where you can take that thing that you've made and then make money from that thing. Because I want everybody to be able to do what they want for a living, to spend all day in the forest and the mud doin' whatever you think is fun out there in the forest and the mud. Maybe nothing, I don't know. Whatever you think is fun. And it's really, really hard if you start letting that part of your brain take over and say but if a lot of people like it, then a lot of people make it. Because it's supply and demand, isn't it (chuckling) that's just what happens. So how do we deal with this? I deal with this in a couple of ways. One is to think about that thing that I believe many people will identify with. And when I created this series, the thing was a feather. I thought people will get that, people like feathers, right. They're nice and their soft, unless they're, like, dirty and in a swamp. But (chuckling) that's where I usually get my feathers. But this happened to be in this beautiful chateau in France on top of a hill, and it was all very idyllic, and I found this feather. And I loved it, I loved this feather! And I thought this is something that I could use. Let me start to build my idea out of this. This is something that we talked about yesterday, building an idea out of one specific thing. I had my feather, what am I gonna do with my feather. I had my feather, I went all the way up to the attic, I sat in a room, locked the door, literally for 30 minutes even though I had 20 people waiting for me. I just sat there. I was like I've gotta do something. We've all had this experience, have we not, where you're, like, staring at something and you're just like what could it be?! That was my experience. I was in the room with this feather, staring at it. And I was like I'm giving up, I have no idea what to make. Because everything that I thought of felt really cliche, like, oh, I've probably seen a lot of pictures with a feather like this, and with a feather like this, and it was just all not coming to me. And I had this great serendipitous moment where I opened the door to the room that I was in, and there was a dead bird laying on the floor. I was like it's a sign, if ever there was a sign. So I picked up the dead bird and went around this chateau. And what ended up happening was I created with both of those things. The bird gave me the realization that I'm always fascinated with death. And I used that bird in the photos. But the feather allowed me to connect something soft and something beautiful to the viewers that I also felt connected to. So this series became very much about death and softness, death and peace, as a feather and dead bird might indicate. And so that was how I created from this place of not being terribly sure, exactly, about how I was going to create an original narrative while also connecting that to other people in a way that might be perceived as cliche. Now, I showed you this list yesterday, and this is a very comprehensive list of things. This is how I layer inspiration. And there are a lot of things on this (chuckling) page. So if you can't read all of 'em, we're gonna go over it. It's a really big list. And this list is everything that I could think of regarding imagery. And if you have something to add, please add it, as I mentioned. Just, if you have somethin', pop it in the Facebook group if you think I'm missing something big. But I started to think about how do we layer our inspiration. Well, the first way that we do that is to remember every single part that goes into an image. If we don't think about that, then where will the layers come from? They have to literally physically be in there. Nobody can just guess at what you're trying to mean by a certain image. So we've got lighting, composition, wardrobe, posing, time, emotion, editing. All these things, and there may be a couple that I should explain, such as interactivity. Are you sharing this in such a way that you want people to interact with your art in some capacity. Ephemeral qualities, meaning is this something that will go away after a certain time? Is this meant to disintegrate, for example? Is this meant to be torn apart? Is this gonna be taken down one day? So all of these layers can go into our perception of our art and how other people perceive our art. Now, specifically, I wanna talk about this for a series, because this class is going to challenge you to go from concept to creation to selling a series of work. And there are many, many reasons for that, one being that a series is something that a lot of people want to see. Whether it's a gallery, whether it's a portfolio review, whether it's an agency, a lot of people love to see a series, a cohesive small series of work. Now, on the more business side of things, people like to sell series. So if you ask a gallery, they're going to say that they would really prefer to sell art that looks the same so that they can sell multiple pieces to one person. If you have one image that looks totally different from another hanging, it's really unlikely that that person who likes one piece is going to also like the other piece. So thinking in terms of a series can be really good in terms of business and trying to get into galleries and things like that. So how do we layer inspiration for a series? Now, I have these four images here. And these images are part of a series. Now, they were not meant to be part of a series originally. I created one. I really enjoyed it. I created another, I created another, and then I thought wow, these go together really, really well, don't they, compositionally, conceptually. and so I decided this would be a series. And once I realized that I had created two and I was going to do more of them, I started to ask myself how can I create consistency and depth over multiple images for a series. So this image here, with the stuffing coming out of my back, that was the first image that I did. I really enjoyed it. I felt a little bit like it was my perfect expression of my emotional state that day, and I had never done that before. So I was creating from a place of emotion, first and foremost, for that image. And then I went through this whole list, as I do very, very frequently. I went through this list and I asked myself how can I maximize the impact of the emotion that I'm trying to convey, and then how can I peel back the layers, which is, that was a good phrase (chuckling) for this series I think. How can I peel back the layers of these images to add more and more details? Now, these are really simple images: clean background, easy to understand foreground, one single subject, just one window lighting each person. So where do the layers come from if it's meant to be simple? And that's a question that I think is very confusing to answer, because isn't the point of simplicity to be simple so then you don't have to look at lots and lots of things in the picture? Well, in my opinion, and this is just me personally, I believe that some of the greatest images are the simplest images. I love simplicity in photography. I just think it's beautiful, and I love to create simple images. So I do this in a way that I hope is multi-faceted. And what I've done with this series is I decided how can I blend in with my surroundings. Okay, I'll just wear a bed sheet. And then I decided how can I keep the background really simple. So then you just totally focus in on the back. Okay, I'll hang a sheet back there and just make it really clean, like nothing is there. Okay. So because my scene is so simple, there's nothing to look at but me, I had to make small little choices for the viewer to just be a bit of a pixel peeper and get in really close to look at. So I decided, for the image with the stuffing, that I would rip a pillowcase open to create that rip, and that I would keep every little curl of the fabric in there, and so that if you got in really close, you could even see the fibers of the pillowcase in that shot. Now, that's just one little detail. But when you zoom in really far and you really look at that image, you start to notice that the pillowcase looks so delicate, and thin, and fragile. And that really helps accentuate the fact that this image is about being thin, and delicate, and fragile. So even though the details of these images are not abundant, they're not really in your face, they're still very thoughtful in the small little details that are being put in, things like lighting. You know, I could've, for example, just turned my camera a little bit so that the lighting was flat onto my back. But by shooting it with the window light coming from the side, you get this very moody atmosphere, lots of shadows, and that is immediately sinking you into this image in a certain way. If this were brighter, if this were flat light, all really, really bright, would you have the same visceral reaction to these images? Probably not. Because they all have this dark blue tone, or at least most of them do, you start to feel blue, in terms of blue being an emotion of sadness or whatever you feel. And I'd be really curious to hear your initial reactions to these images. My goal is to make you feel uncomfortable, to make you feel like maybe you need to, like, straighten your back up a little bit after you see them! You know, I want you to have a physical reaction, and the only way to do that is to make an image believable and detailed. And that's what I'm trying to do here. And again, I wanna make very clear, if ever I speak about my work and I say something definitive like "You will feel this way," know that I don't really know. I'm just trying like everybody else. I don't know if this is effective or not, I just really hope it is. So there's that series again just as a whole. Now, I created this image in 2009, I believe, maybe 2010 at this point. And I used an Ikea paper lantern, big ball, and I put a light bulb inside of it to make soft, diffused light. I thought I was being very fancy! (chuckling) And I lit myself, in my apartment. It was dark outside. And I hung butterflies very meticulously from a C-stand, which was very silly. I just felt professional doing it, but really, I coulda just held them up (laughing) and the frame would've been way faster. But instead, I hung them, and I created this image. And there were a lot of things that I did not like about this years later when I looked back on it. At the time, I was like (breathy exhale) this is great! And then I looked back, and I was like oh, (humming) there are some things that I probably would've fixed, like the saturation, the way that the texture is just smeared all over the place, the face that I hadn't washed my hair in a long time and it's in this weird ponytail, lots and lots of things that I probably would've fixed about this image. And so I did a few years later. I did this image the way that I felt that it should be done at this point in my life. And that's the thing, is that this image that I showed you a second ago, that's how it should've been done then, because that's how I did it. And I really wanna hone in on that point, because however you're working right now is how you're meant to work, and however you choose to work tomorrow, that's how you're meant to continue that journey that you're on. So this was what I was meant to create then, and I loved it, and I was proud of it, and this was what I was meant to create a little bit later. And I have this funny story from one of the critique sessions that I had, where I was showing this image, and the person who was critiquing me didn't know what to say, and she was kinda like (groaning) "I only do black and white photography. "I don't really know why we're here." (chuckling) You know, and it was very weird and awkward. And I said "Okay, I understand. "If you just have any critique, though, for me, "like anything, what would it be?" And she thought about it, and she was very nodding her head like. (humming) And then she goes "Okay, I got it." And I was like "What is it?" And she goes "There is just one "too many butterflies in this picture." And I was like "Oh, just one?" (laughing) And I was so confused, you know, so confused! And I wanted to say "Could you point out which one?" Because I was very confused, but I didn't wanna be mean to her, 'cause obviously I think she didn't really mean just one, but it was such a weird critique. And it's funny, because if we think about our work in terms of other people liking it, other people not liking it, it's so easy to just crack into pieces and fall apart, and to wonder if what you're creating now is really your best work. The fact is that you will improve. This work that you're creating now will probably not remain your best work. You know, maybe in two years I'll look back at this image and be like there was one too many butterfly. You know, that one, that shoulda gone. And the thing is, it's funny to me, because what a silly review. But also, maybe she's right. Like, who's to say that that woman was wrong in her critique? I don't think anybody's wrong in their critique. If that's what they think, that's what they think. So my point in saying this is that I'm trying to improve my work. If I go back, I'm trying to make this better than it was before. And this is what I encourage everyone to do: without thinking about what other people are gonna think about it, without thinking about any of that, how can you improve on your past work? And this is one really good way to start layering inspiration in your work now, is to choose one image that didn't work out, choose something from your past work that you feel now, now that you've had some time to reflect on it, that you could've done better, and write down every single part that did not work out. Really use that list that we talked about, our layering inspiration list, and analyze your images. If you don't do it, somebody else will do it if you ask, and it's gonna hurt a lot more than if you just do it yourself. So we're learning how to critique ourselves. We're learning how to dissect our own images to create something more meaningful, more polished, and more authentic to who we are now in this moment. After you have dissected and written down every part that might not be working about that image, write down new ideas. So if I decide, if I just go back here and I decide that that image, originally maybe the lighting was bad. K, it's, like, a little bit weird. It looks very, it's not very soft like how I actually like my lighting to be. So if I decide the lighting isn't very good on this one, then that's one category that I'll fix. But I'm not just gonna say the lighting was bad. I'm gonna say why was the lighting bad. The lighting was bad because it was too harsh. The lighting was bad 'cause the color temperature wasn't right. How am I going to fix that? Well, maybe I'll move myself outside instead of doing this indoors. And this is exactly what I did for these images here, where I looked at it and I said well, what's wrong. Oh, it's the lighting. What's wrong? Oh, it's the texture being over top of the subject. So I erased it off of my subject when I redid this. What else is wrong? Oh, well the butterflies look too flat. They're all just facing the camera instead of being angled. Okay, well I'm gonna angle the butterflies next time. Now, what else is the problem? Well, they're not really interacting with me, they're just around me. So I thought wouldn't it be neat to have them touching my body and moving out from there. And that was how this image came to be, by looking at the original, asking myself every single detail of what's wrong, and then fixing it, making new choices and seeing where that takes you. And that's what I would recommend as an exercise, to recreate that image, to recreate it and see what comes of it. And I would love for you guys to do this, really. So if you can find an image that you can recreate, do it! Post it in our Facebook group! I would love to see what comes of this exercise! Because to me, the way that we find our voice, our natural voice, is by looking at what we've done and actively moving forward and away from that place that we were at. Now, this is my newest series that came from that portfolio review that I told you about, where I was told that I wasn't a real artist and that I had to add depth to my work. And I'll be bringing this up a few more times throughout the class, because this is the direct result of attempting to be more original and more layered in my process. And that was a very important shift for me. Because while I didn't take nearly every piece of advice that that reviewer had to give me, I did take really key parts of it. And the biggest part was how many layers can I put into an image, just to challenge myself, to see how layered I could make it. So I created this image, I mean these images. It's a series, a nine-part series, and it's called Fourth Wall. I started creating these, and I decided you know what? I'm gonna change so many parts of my process. I'm gonna make this a physical series, where I have to physically build the sets, which is not something that I do very frequently. So I went to Home Depot, I purchased the walls, I hammered them all together, and painted them, and added crown molding, and I created this room. I then decided that I would add physical elements into the space: so laying yarn down on the floor for 60 hours, adding 50 pounds of hot wax to the floor, not to mention this massively heavy bathtub, deconstructing our walls and putting them in a pool outside to create a flooded room, where I would normally just Photoshop this stuff. And distinction here, I am very cool with Photoshop. I love Photoshop. I'm not necessarily moving away from that in my process. But for this series, it was good to try something different. So I built the room, it was physical. That's the first piece of inspiration that goes into this, something that. And when I say inspiration and layering inspiration, think of it like your work is hanging on a gallery wall. Somebody comes in. What are all of the different details that you can tell them about your image to show them that you've put all this depth into it? So, one thing is that it's a very physical series. The next thing is the concept. So, the concept being that we all have certain things, certain emotions or experiences that we feel that we can't tell other people about, that we keep locked inside. So I thought, if I'm gonna build a room, it's not gonna have any windows or doors, representing our minds, being trapped inside of ourselves. So we're looking in from above, sort of this bird's eye view, getting a sneak peek into somebody's imagination, or their mental state, or whatever it may be. So we've got the physical part, we've got the conceptual part. And then I decided you know what, what's really interesting to me about this concept is that all over the world I meet people, and we sort of have therapy sessions, and I always hear from people the same few things, which is I feel like I can't share myself with people, I feel like I'm trapped in my life right now, all of these horrible things. And I thought you know, those feelings are very universal, but our experience of them is so personal. So I ended up buying Kodak Dualflex film cameras. And they're often used for TTV work through the viewfinder, where you photograph looking down through a viewfinder and you can see an image out through the other side, sort of an L-shaped setup. So I ended up photographing through a different film camera for each of these images so that the texture on each one was different and each film camera could represent a different person's lens, literally, a different person's point of view. So there are many, many layers of inspiration that went into the details of this series, moreso than what I've ever done. And that was really gratifying to me, because it was the first time that I had a gallery show where I felt like I could honestly and with depth speak about my work and feel really proud of the work that I put into it. Instead of trying to fluff up, like "Oh yeah, that took me two hours of Photoshops," which is, again, fine. I was able to say "No, this one took me 60 hours. "This one took me 40 hours to do." And it was just a different experience. So, now, I'm not saying go out and build a room, go out and build something. But what I am saying is layer that inspiration. And the other thing to note, just from a totally business standpoint, from the way of how we're creating to sell our work, I ended up submitting this series to different contests, and it ended up winning a lot of different awards just for this series. And that's never happened to me before, so, like, please know that I'm not saying "Oh, and I won a bunch of awards!" It's not like that! I just wanna show how I've submitted to a lot of awards in the past, but I had never won those awards. But I submitted this series, and I fully believe it's because of how detailed and layered it was that the judges were able to grasp onto all those different elements and then judge it higher because of the effort that went into the concept. So that's all I'm trying to say. I feel very uncomfortable talking about awards and things like that, but it's an important thing to note just in the course of this class.

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.


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