How to Create a Cinematic Portrait with Strobes


Lighting and Posing for a Cinematic Portrait


Lesson Info

How to Create a Cinematic Portrait with Strobes

So we're gonna start talking about studio light. This is actually shot with studio light outside, this was two lights. This was in my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa, there's this drive through fast food place called Tastee Inn&Out, interesting name. You can tell you're in Iowa when it says 2 tastees & 16 oz pop for $2.99. And that two tastees are like a loose meat sandwich, it's kinda like a hamburger that's been ground up even more. And for 2.99 you'd think it was like but this was probably 2011. I'd gone there as a kid, my parents would always drive through probably to shut us up, give us some milkshake, something like that. And I'd always wanted to do a photo of that place because the sign was so unique, because it's probably 60, 70 years old. It's just one of those places that you take for granted when you live in some place growing up and I had friends coming to town to visit. They're like, that is the coolest thing. And I thought, I haven't driven by that thing thousands o...

f times and never look twice. But they were right, you kind of take advantage of that stuff when you drive by it every day you just don't notice. They have this outdoor picnic area. This was just, you know he was another one of my former client's kids. And that he didn't smoke, but he did for this day. Because you just kinda felt the need. We had food, we had a milkshake, we had cigarettes, all sorts of stuff, and he's just sitting there talking to me and this was the moment, fully litted, none of it is natural light, there's a strobe off to the left with the grid, there's some fill and then, I just wanted to balance it out where you could see that overhead light without it being blown out and then the important thing was the neon light being, so you could easily read it and it wouldn't be blown out. Because if you just use ambient, the neon was actually pretty bright. Putting that all together, doing things like that, and that was with studio light outdoors. So again I just said the soft and hard light depending on the image. You gotta figure out what mood you want. Using light in unconventional ways that result in interesting images. I'm always all about looking at where the shadow's going, what's happening with the light. Yes, I preached that you wanna use your light in studio at about 35 degrees 'cause that's where the sun is during golden hour. Well, then I might actually put my lights in the ground and pretend that it's the headlights of an oncoming car, and that's what lighting is. So I'm not using light to create a flattering portrait in the sense of conventional studio methods but more of what's the scenario I'm trying to mimic using studio strobes, because they're more powerful and work with my camera better than actually parking a car there, or sometimes it can't 'cause it's inside. Studio light doesn't always need to be in the studio. I take light on location a lot because I like to manipulate the light that's already there. Any photo, I guess the best way to describe the moments that are captured here are that I took the moment that you can actually picture in your head but it's not possible to shoot normally so you almost have to polish up the existing scenario using studio lights to make it doable. So it's almost like a little more polished version of what you actually see when you're there. That translates better to film or in this case digital. A couple more stories, there's the guy in the bottom, middle, he's holding a wrench. He owns a mechanic garage in my hometown. Again, I've driven by there a million times, but I knew they were about to close, so it was one of those things where, I work while under a deadline, I've seen this place for 20 years, and now they're just gonna close I need to get a photo. It's like preserving this weird memory and telling this story that didn't happen. So I went in there and asked him if I could photograph him, and his response was "If you give me 20 bucks," I thought, okay. "If I give you 20 bucks, how long do I have?" And he said, "I'm not even working on anything." So I gave him 20 bucks, and then I made him go through all this dumb stories and he though it was kinda fun so in this case he's looking out, this is in the garage, I left that blue bottle up there just 'cause, I don't know, it was interesting graphic element. And then I have a strobe camera right with a, it's a gridded beauty dish. And then off to the left, I have a strip light with a orange gel on it, so that edges the rim light you're seeing on his ear and the side of his face and he was all sweaty 'cause he's been working all day. I said, there was some high school kids outside jackin' around at a gas pump, and I said, alright these kids are about to come and cause some trouble, what are you gonna do to stop them? And he got all into it. So he went and grab that wrench, and he stand there giving this look, and they're not even out there anymore but he's into the character. So he stand there looking outside and giving this buffed up hard look, holding a wrench and that was the moment. So that was the scenario that got him to that point and that I had planned it all out as far as the lines and all that stuff compositionally. So again, it's just coming up with some silly scenario that I didn't go there thinking I'm gonna have a guy hold a wrench like he's about to beat somebody with it, but that just happened when we were there. And he was all about it. And you can kinda gauge people's personalities. I mentioned earlier the basketball shot. That's the top left one. That was actually, like, two o'clock on a Friday or something, where it was bright and sunny, but I wanted to look like it was the park lights at night lighting him, so there's a strobe, a gridded beauty dish camera right just out of frame, a gridded beauty dish camera left just out of frame, lighting him as if they're this the lights of the basketball court. I'm actually standing up on type of a flip-over garbage can to get, 'cause in my head, I could see all these lines of the New York City park basketball court, but I can't capture those 'cause I'm not that tall, so I had to stand on a garbage can so it's a real graphic element. Plus, if we had any of the background, you would see that it was the middle of the day. So I needed to kind of take this photo out of context and light it and take over the frame with all the graphic elements. And we just put a piece of tape on the ground out so you just keep dribbling flying through here and doing layups or whatever you're gonna do and I'll keep shooting at that point till we have you on the right spot of the frame. So again, a different type, more of a sports aspect to it, but it's still a cinematic portrait.

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!