Embrace Natural Movement Though Direction


Lighting and Posing for a Cinematic Portrait


Lesson Info

Embrace Natural Movement Though Direction

With direction, we have all different sorts of things. Direction is key when creating a cinematic portrait. As you saw there, had I just had her walk across and jump, we could've ended up with a lot of really unflattering photos. You could've ended up with a model who's confused. She's like, "Why are we even doing this?" But by shooting and giving her that direction, she probably wasn't concentrating on the camera, it was more of that task at hand. It's like, "Okay, I need to walk, and jump, "and land on this sweet spot." I've done the same thing. I actually made a football poster for a school, for a university, where we had to take all those moments. They sent me a comp of what they wanted for a poster. It was all these layouts of images pulled from, you know, newspapers and things like that, of people in action in real games, but they wanted to recreate it on the side, in a studio, in the off-season. So it was like, "Okay, we have a guy "who's actually in a game carrying a football. ...

"How can we recreate that?" So you have to break it down. It's like, "Okay, football in right arm. "When he's running, this leg's up. "When, you know, this arm's pumpin' back," or whatever it is, so we had to figure out the light. We put, we had turf on the ground, and these guys are running, and we just put a piece of neon green duct tape on the sweet spot where the light is, and their whole goal was when that foot hits that spot, and they're holding this ball, it looks exactly like the poster. So it's similar to what, you know, we just had her doing, running across here, but in a totally different situation that was relevant to an actual job. So it's taking all those pieces and creating, in that case, it was the cinematic moment was capturing a still in a football game when there wasn't a football game. And there was even a moment within the poster where the coach, there was a picture of him coming out onto the field clapping 'cause he was pumped up because his team had just got an interception. And so, I asked him, I said, "What is this picture from?" 'Cause we weren't allowed to use that photo in the poster. He told that moment, he's like, "Oh, we had just intercepted the ball, "and I was coming out to congratulate the defense, "and was real pumped," and so he got into that mindset, and he kept doing it, and he had his players in the background yelling. There was a bunch where they were laughing, but he would get into that mindset where he, you know, wearing the headset, the whole gear, as if he were in the game, but really, we're just, you know, on AstroTurf in a studio-type environment with lights. So it's still relevant to actual work, putting people in those moments, and that's why they hired me, because they knew that, you know, this type of work looks like a real game or a real moment, but it's clearly been crafted and made that way. So direction is key when making those portraits, because everybody needs to be on the same page, so it looks real. Work with your subject to get authentic movement. As you saw there, I explained to her what I wanted her to do, to the point where I actually did it myself. So you want the moment to be, you know, these are just in studio with a group of people, so it's a little different than when I'm, it's one-on-one and we're out on the street, but I want that moment and that movement and that emotion to be authentic. I don't want it to be too forced, so that's why we'll do things many times in a row, because you can kinda get to a place where it's believable or where you yourself can be in that moment, especially if you're a willing participant in the collaboration of the portrait. And natural movement with intentional direction. So I always like, you know, having her jump across there. That was a movement that was natural. She was doing it, but the direction was intentional in that we found out where she should look. "Oh, I'm looking at the third knuckle on that light stand, "because that's where the light looks the best." So there's intent and purpose behind every part of the direction, but then it's like once she had that goal or that task, to look over there and jump, then she's not thinking about that, she's thinking about, like, "Oh, I'm just gonna walk and jump." And if we had done it multiple times, and slowly you'll get to that point where the timing's right, everything's right, and you'll catch the moment exactly as it should be. And it doesn't have to be, like I said before, it doesn't have to be a full scenario. It can be small movements, and that's what we're gonna do next when we're doing some different exposures and things like that. Oh, let me go back one. This is a great example, because this guy, his name's Larry, he's an artist in Nebraska. He's a quirky dude, he looks like a villain from a movie, and every time I go into his gallery, I think that, but he couldn't be nicer. But I kinda liked that way I saw it when I first saw him. I'm like, "Ooh, who's this guy? "He looks like a villain from a movie." So I told him that, and he was all about it. So I asked him if I could take his portrait. So I went and got my, he said, "Yeah." I went and got my gear, and I just had him keep turning his head. He was just sitting there talking and looking off into a place where the light was good, and we used some different gels and things like that, and he was just standing in front of a blank canvas. He's a painter, so that was the background, and you know, we caught this moment where his eyes are perfectly placed above his glasses and all that. We probably did 50 frames of him doing the exact same thing, and being the artsy guy that he is, he was all in on the movement. He even went to put that pen in his pocket, 'cause he thought something was missing. So it's just little elements like that. I mean, he fully bought in to the whole project, and you know, it was just a little quirky shoot that was 30 minutes at his studio, but it was fun for me to kinda get that, you know, "What's going on? "Who's this guy looking at? "Who is this guy?" You know, he doesn't look like Larry the painter. He looks, I don't know, like he might be a little up to no good. Let me get past that. This is the opposite. This is a scenario with a model in an area where we were at, eh, some, this was outside of San Diego, somewhere in San Diego. It's, like, a mid-century modern-inspired motel. It actually was, everything there was legit old, and I was up on this balcony, she was down below, styled to kinda match the colors and all that. I put her in a flattering pose where you could see that reflection. It was actually coming off a car's windshield. It was giving that nice specular light to her, and it was casting her shadow on the wall. I went up above on the balcony, and then pulled in tree branches to kinda create that depth that you see in a lot of shots where there's that foreground depth, and then framed her up just with the light and the diagonal lines across the top, the curb on the bottom framing her in between all those lines, and then the left, you know, it's almost like you want to see what she's looking at, but the tree's blocking it. So it's kind of, that's bringing the story all together. So something as simple as that, or the opposite of, and that was all natural light versus the guy in his art studio. So, a little more on direction. You gotta plan for your lighting, because, like I said, like you saw me do here, I knew what I wanted the light to look like, what harsh light, I wanted shadows, so we turned on the fill and all that. I planned for that, because, and then even knowing where she's gonna jump and metering for that specific location, because when it comes down to it, if I didn't do that and it's blown out, what good is the shot if it's just not technically sound? I always want my images to be flattering. I don't care who they're of. I want whoever's in the shot to look at the image and be like, you know, even if it's an artist looking like a villain, I want it to be a shot where he looks at it and thinks, "I look cool," or, you know, it's flattering to the subject. Even her, fully posing her and having her look off. I want people to look at the photos I create of them and them think they're a cool shot, not think that they look bad in the photo, so I'm always conscious of that. Not everybody is, that's just personal preference. And again, obviously a lot of compositional elements. In this shot alone, the rafters across the top are giving diagonal lines. The tree, the reflection, the curb bottom right framing her in, just everything about it, even the colors of her clothes with the colors of the motel. So a lot of those elements all come into play, and are well, they're actually thought out. This is another one, this is the opposite. It's a different type of motel and a different type of subject. She was, I don't remember, just, like, a friend's friend, and I had this idea, this is, again, in my hometown at some seedy motel along the side of a highway, one of those places you drive by a lot. You'll never stay there, I mean, I don't know, I won't ever stay there, I don't know about you guys, and it just has a lot of character to it. It's one of those places where you drive by it and you think, "Ooh, I wonder what goes on there?" And I wonder what goes on there, too, but I wanted to make a fake story where you wonder what's going on here. This girl, I kinda told her the part. I said, "Here's where we're gonna shoot. "I want you to be, here's the character. "You can make up whatever your role is here, I don't care." She came and she even had a belly button ring that was brass knuckles, that was, like, yeah. So she went all out and wore, you know, like, she doesn't dress like this every day, but she wanted to fit that part of, like, "What's going on here?" And it was actually, the sun was totally set, so she had no light, so I threw a strobe just out of the camera frame left with a grid on it, and had it be like it was the late day sun, a little warm gel on it, so that's what's lighting her, and it really made her pop from the background. Just placed her, I didn't plan for those people to be standing outside down there. They were wondering what was going on, but it worked out. So just playing with, you know, the lines of the curb here, the roof line, all the vertical lines, and then placing her in that right third of the frame, and then lighting it and kinda letting a moment happen. I just said, you know, gave her some instruction about playing with, you know, you're waiting for a ride. It's been, like, an hour. You're still out here, you don't have a phone, things like that, so she just started doing, what she would do, she was, like, picking at her fingernails, a lot of those things that you subconsciously do or don't know you're doing. And then I was just capturing, just sitting on a bucket, taking a bunch of photos for 15 minutes while she sat there in silence and probably thought it was the weirdest thing. But it worked, and this was the shot that I picked where we had, a little, you know, you can see both of her eyes. It was a natural moment. It looks like she's actually, like, one of those things where if someone talked to her, she wouldn't respond, 'cause she's clearly, like, thinking about something else. So that, just another example of setting it all up, and then shooting it, and making it work.

Class Description

Creating a cinematic look to your portraits will add another dimension by incorporating depth, emotion, and movement. Award-winning editorial and advertising photographer Dan Brouillette breaks down the components of lighting for a strong portrait. He will show you how he uses different lenses and lighting setups to make your portraits stand out and take on new life. He'll also explain how to direct the subject so they are involved to help bring all of the elements together for an amazing and cinematic photograph.



I was interested in this course firstly because I am interested in this type of image and secondly because of the negative reviews. I seldom watch instructional videos these days because I want to be instructed on all the details but I do watch lots of them because of the inspiration they can be for new work. This video is a walk through of some great shots taken by the photographer but that is fine by me and certainly gives some ideas for new material. The little bit of studio work on a white seamless is also fine and gives some insight into capturing the image, which is easily transferred to a hosed-down, back lit, cobbled alley or anywhere else you can imagine. I use this type of image in pre-wedding shoots and my only criticism is that the video could have given better examples of a really cinematic look. e.g. there is a scene in the movie 'Unbreakable' where Bruce Willis falls onto a pool cover in the pouring rain. The shot is made low to the ground with a long lens and it makes a terrific inspiration for a photoshoot. Or, there is the airport scene in 'Casablanca' or pulling the boat up-river in 'The African Queen', which I recently saw a Hong Kong photographer reproduce for a pre-wedding shoot in Iceland. There are millions of examples like this so finding more challenging scenes to motivate a cinematic look is not really hard. Google 'movie posters' and you will see what I mean. Nevertheless, there are good examples and some great ideas available here, making the videos value for money.


This course provided a practical application of some the basic creative tools and techniques that I learned years ago in an entry-level photography course in college. The beauty of Dan Brouillette's creative strategy and teaching style lies in his ability to make dynamic and interesting portraiture simplistically attainable. Brouillette breaks down his own work, walking you through the creative and technical process that he used. He is an interesting speaker--well-informed, technically proficient & relatable. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for this course. I found the content incredibly useful and easy to learn. Thank you for an awesome course!


I like Dan's easy going nature when presenting this information. Loved watching him demo this live!