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Masters of Photography

Lesson 6 of 54

Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot


Masters of Photography

Lesson 6 of 54

Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot


Lesson Info

Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

(rock music) There's many ways that you can photograph people. You can be more of a Cartier-Bresson, and nobody ever knew that their picture was being taken by him. So he was an invisible photographer. There's another way if you're a portrait photographer or want to be a portrait photographer. You have to be a people person if you want to do portrait photography. You need to be loving the person in some way or other that you're photographing, interested in the person. You have to research the person if possible. If you stop somebody in the street, you don't know anything about them. But in a lot of terms with other people, you can do research, especially if there's somewhat of a celebrity involved. You should certainly know all about the celebrity and do reading, make notes, so that you have a form of communication with the person, so you can talk to that person. And that, and a lot of time, everybody can be a little bit nervous about having their picture taken. So one of your best w...

eapons of choice is your own personality. I mean, how you make somebody feel relaxed, you've gotta be a little bit more than just look at them and say, "beautiful, beautiful, wonderful, wonderful." You've got to really go a little bit, you need a little bit, sometimes people need a little bit more direction than that. And sometimes you can make somebody laugh. It can be that. You can, and it's not that you want a laughing shot, but sometimes the whole geography of the face changes after they laugh, which you would be watching for. We've gone as far as, you know, making sure that the person has their favorite flowers in the dressing room. We once were photographing Al Pacino, and we called his PR people and asked if he, did he need anything special for food or anything? They said, "no, no, he'll never eat anything, "but he does like a good coffee." And so we found out from the PR people what his favorite coffee was. It turned out to be an espresso with a twist of lemon. And I actually rented an espresso machine, which I didn't have. I had a coffee machine, but not espresso. And I rented an espresso, rented this espresso machine, and I actually bought a pound of his favorite coffee. So when he came in in the morning, and I said, "is there anything you'd like?" He said, "oh, just a cup of coffee." So I was able to present him not only with his cup of coffee, but his favorite coffee and also a twist of lemon. So that's maybe a little bit extreme, but, boy, do these things help you when you come to take the picture, you know, these little details. So they don't have to be, perhaps, as complicated as renting an espresso machine, but it's just consideration of the person. How do you make that person more relaxed? How do you work with a person to get a powerful image, to get an intimate image, to get an image of them that they've never seen before? So of course it's hard work, but photography can be hard work. (rock music) Now let's simply keep everything the same, but take your right hand and slot it underneath. You're gonna take it away and slot it underneath your, underneath here, that's it. I've done in the past several projects with people where I've taken someone and told them who they're playing. So I'm saying to them, okay, you're an artist living on your own. You're, you're an artist trying to be successful. You're, at this point you just got a phone call that you've broken up with your boyfriend. Or perhaps the opposite to that, that your, someone that you maybe fancied, a boy that you maybe fancied just called you up and said, "do you want to go out for dinner?" So very often you're, you're controlling people, trying to control their emotions to put it towards what you want. A lot of things, one thing I've said, I have to have said it thousands of times, I often say to somebody, you know, look at the camera and think about smiling. So you're good there, the chin up just a little bit. And then, Luis, you can make this better. There you go. That's perfect. Your attitude right now is excellent. Think about a smile. You don't need to be smiling, just think a little bit about it. Think a little bit about Ireland. (laughs) Hmm. Where it's snowing probably now. Yeah, it's pretty. There we go. Just there is perfect. And just dream away. I think that's perfect. The control of the people is something that you're after, and other times you don't control them at all. You don't give them any roles to play. You bring the people on, and they sometimes just sit there. And you just think they look great. You know, the expression is great. The mood is great. The body language is great. And you just say fantastic, and you take the picture. So there's many different scenarios where all of these things come into play. (rock music) As for approaching people, you know, as I did in the Vegas project, how do you walk up to somebody and say, you know, can I take your picture? Well, there's no real easy way of doing that. So often I'm not really that shy a person, but I'm just super polite when I ask somebody. I say, excuse me. I'm not in any way abrupt. So you know, smile and "excuse me" works very, very well. In Vegas, a lot of the time I was looking, and the producer that I worked with was a fairly young girl, very good, and she often, I would point somebody out, and she would go as ask them and say, "I'm here doing a project with this photographer. "Could you possibly step in and be photographed? "It'll only take you five, 10 minutes," which was true. And that's the way. So in a way, I cheated a little bit by having this producer. And she came in very handy when I was, you know, approaching, especially women. The men usually I went straight up to, but sometimes she did that for me as well. But I was looking at the people and saying, over there, there's somebody, they're interesting, and see if you can get them. So sometimes she ended up, somebody would pass me, and she would run after them and tap them on the shoulder and get them. But you have to be wary. And sometimes people don't want to be photographed, so that's fine. But I find pretty much close to nine out of 10 people that were asked ended up being photographed. And usually we gave them a Polaroid, and they loved it. So for them it was a good experience. I'm sure they went back home to Utah and said, "oh, we were photographed by somebody in Vegas." So they were actually quite happy to be chosen. (rock music) For the 150th copy of the Face magazine, they approached me about doing a Malcolm X story. And it was to be a typical fashion story, but they wanted it to look like Malcolm X and the Malcolm X story. And they had some very good editors working on it. And I went down the road of researching Malcolm X, and I actually found the original FBI files that were available on Malcolm X. And I researched the look of it. I cast it with Elizabeth, and we really set the job up beautifully so that I had a lot of shots to do in one day. That was all that I had. But it was very well planned, this job. It was very well thought out. (rock music) I was planning a shot between the character who was playing Malcolm X and the character who was playing Farrakhan, who was kind of an opposite number to Malcolm X and was eventually, it was, people were suspicious that he had Malcolm X killed. But I wanted a shot of them kind of standing together, possibly looking at the camera, but basically doing it as a portrait. And I was in the location vehicle just before I was about to do the shot, leaving the shot, and on the television the location driver was playing an old film noir movie. And just, I looked up on the screen, and there were three people on the screen, and one person was shouting at another person. And the person in the middle was trying to prevent any violence happening, you know. And when I saw that on the screen, in a split second, I was very luck to see that, in a split second I immediately got my assistant, my black assistant, to put him in a suit and use him as the third person. And I created the shot that you see here. And my assistant on the right hand side shouting across at Malcolm X. Therefore my assistant takes on really the new Farrakhan, as it were. So he became Farrakhan, who was, had a shaved head at that time. And he became Farrakhan, and the person opposite is Malcolm X. And the guy in the middle is a bodyguard of Malcolm X, as it were. So therefore that shot was created by something that I had seen minutes before on an old film noir movie. So therefore I was able to, to nick compositionally from an old movie, something that I'd seen by chance on the location vehicle, and do an interpretation of that basically five minutes later. And of course, I was able to get a shot like that in one or two rolls of film. It was done. So therefore I'm using these actors, excuse me, models really, to reenact something that I had envisioned. And they're role-playing, and I'm using people that really can't act to do some acting. So sometimes that's not so easy. But that's, that's the way that that shot happened. (rock music)

Class Description


  • Albert’s tips and tricks on landscape, fashion, portraiture and still life photography.
  • Simple lighting techniques using natural light and studio light
  • Simple tips on preparing for portrait shoots
  • How to create incredible portraits using just two $10 bulbs
  • Albert’s tips and tricks on landscape, fashion, portraiture and still life photography.
  • Simple lighting techniques using natural light and studio light
  • Simple tips on preparing for portrait shoots
  • How to create incredible portraits using just two $10 bulbs


Learn how Albert creates his amazing photographs on location and in the studio using simple explanations.

Albert reveals his shoot secrets on how he photographs Presidents, Hollywood stars, music’s greatest artists, landscapes, nudes, chimpanzees and still life. We follow him on location in Morocco, Paris and in his studio in New York. You will find out where he suggests you look to get inspiration, how to approach a portrait session, see how to light like Albert.

We show you exactly how Albert works on these images after the shoot, it’s all about Albert giving you his ideas and advice and helping you see and create better images for yourself.

It’s not about what camera to use, it’s about how to see and develop ideas, concepts and narrative to make stunning photographs.

As Albert says..."You have to stay switched on"


  1. Meet your Master

    Albert welcomes you to his course.

  2. Learn from the journey

    You will learn how to use your passion and dedication to get to where you want in photography. Albert explains to us how his own journey developed from early days in Scotland to creating the biggest photography studio in LA, and then establishing his studio in New York.

  3. Using inspirations

    Albert teaches you how to use inspiration from your past and present to form you work. Learn his tips on the relationship between technique and creativity, and how to create work that shows your own personality.

  4. Photography is stopping time

    Learn from Albert how he discovered his passion for photography and how to apply his "stopping time" ethos to your own work.

  5. Albert's library of ideas

    Join Albert in his own library where he shows you which books and artists he suggests you look at and study for inspiration and motivation. He also reveals his tip for buying inexpensive photography references.

  6. Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

    Albert teaches you how to work with your subjects to get a great portrait shot. Learn his tips for putting people at ease when they are in front of your camera.

  7. Setting up the studio

    Learn to control the shooting environment. Learn how Albert begins to set up a studio session. Albert shows you how he begins to approach a portrait session in the studio.

  8. Understanding studio collaboration

    Albert teaches you about his different types of work ranging from test shoots to editorial shoots and advertising shoots. He explains his thoughts and techniques to help you understand how to make each a success.

  9. The importance of casting and hair & make-up

    Albert teaches you the importance of communication between yourself and a team. Albert also explains his tips on working with hair and make up to create a look.

  10. Foreground studio set up

    You will learn how Albert moves out from behind the camera while setting up for a shoot. He shows you how to look at your light from a variety of perspectives.

  11. Studio session with a model - set up 1

    Learn how to work with your subject. A unique insight, Watch and learn Albert working in the studio, explaining his thoughts and showing us exactly how he shoots.

  12. Studio session with a model - set up 2

    Learn how Albert creates his iconic beauty shots. See and listen to Albert as he explains his thought processes when creating this type of shot.

  13. Studio session with a model - set up 3

    Albert teaches you another of his lighting techniques. Watch and learn as Albert explains exactly how he creates a beautiful portrait.

  14. Picking the best shot

    Albert discusses and shows you his techniques for selecting the best shot from a shoot.

  15. Working with photoshop

    In this lesson you will learn how Albert uses post production to further refine his images.

  16. Creating a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock

    Discover the idea and thought process behind Albert's iconic image of Alfred Hitchcock and what it was like to photograph one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.

  17. The gigantic question... Colour or black and white?

    Which should you use? Albert explains his own ideas to you on how and why you might use one or the other.

  18. One day with Kate Moss

    Albert explains his ideas and how he created his iconic images during a day photographing Kate Moss.

  19. Learn to have your ideas ready

    Albert encourages you to have faith in your own creative instincts and how to always think creativity to persuade a client toward agreeing to your photographic ideas.

  20. Using Polariods

    Discover ways to go back and create projects and new images from your older work. Albert shows us the technique he used to create his iconic Running Man image.

  21. Creating beautiful photographs of hands

    Learn to appreciate the expressive nature of photographing hands. Albert explains some his most defining hand shots.

  22. Controlling natural light

    Discover Albert's tips on how to make the most of natural light and how Albert controls it in his images.

  23. Shooting a monkey with a gun

    Albert teaches you to always be on the look-out for new projects, and to recognise the power of conceptual thinking. Learn how monkey and a gun came to be created.

  24. Choosing your format

    In this lesson you will learn about formats. Albert describes different examples from various formats he has used as guidance, discover tips on how to use each type of format and his camera of choice.

  25. Composition and lens

    Get tips and suggestions on which lens to use and when. Albert gives you his thoughts on using the compositional elements available to you in order to produce a better photograph.

  26. Shooting landscapes. The Isle of Skye

    Albert teaches us how for him, its essential to raise landscape photography above the "picture postcard" shot and give the images more meaning. Albert explains the approach to his Scottish landscape series of images, one of his most unique, personal projects.

  27. Planning and ideas for a landscape shoot

    Albert details for you how he carefully prepared for his Isle of Skye project: taking care to be as organised as possible, whilst also remaining open to taking advantage of the unexpected.

  28. Creating still life images

    From shooting bed pans in L.A., to photographing Tutankhamen’s possessions, Elvis Presley’s iconic gold ensemble, and Neil Armstrong's space suit. Albert teaches you to persevere in the face of difficulty, and to always inject your still lifes with meaning.

  29. Photographing the Lost Diary

    Albert shows you how one simple idea can blossom into the creation of true art. An entire advertising campaign was based on his magical concept: that of an intergalactic anthropologist’s photographic diary, depicting tribes on earth 30,000 years ago. Discover how he brought this unique vision to life.

  30. Shooting album covers

    This lesson we go behind the scenes of a shoot with musician Sade. Albert reveals how he produced her beautiful Love Deluxe album cover, and how important it is to make your subject feel comfortable on set.

  31. The Strip Search Project

    Albert tells you how he prepared and created this immense project. He suggests ways for you to create projects and images that document your own corner of the world in images.

  32. Shooting Las Vegas landscapes

    Albert tells you how he prepared for the Las Vegas project, how he approached and shot his landscapes there. He passes on to you how the difficulties he faced helped him, and will help you, to develop as a photographer.

  33. Photographing Breaunna

    Albert tells you how to always be alert to chance encounters. He tells you how he met and was inspired by Breaunna. He explains how some of his most recognisable Strip Search photographs of her were created .

  34. Balancing daylight, God bless America

    Find out why Albert stopped to shoot a bill board. His serendipitous discovery reaffirms his main piece of advice: always remain “switched on”.

  35. Creating the Maroc Project

    Learn how Albert put together his exquisite Maroc book. You will be inspired to create your own projects and to look for potential in every aspect of a project, giving added meaning to your photographs.

  36. Creating the Maroc shoot

    Albert describes his own, personal methods and ethos in creating the Maroc project. Find out what equipment he used, how he documented his journey, and what he shot to create this iconic book.

  37. Photographing sand dunes

    How did Albert capture the breathtaking, rippling sand dunes of Laayoune, Morocco? Find out as Albert encourages you to be innovative; to always strive to add something new and different to scenes photographed by others before you.

  38. Photographing Moroccan children

    Preparation is not the death of spontaneity. Albert explains some his most breathtaking, impromptu shots of children in Morocco, Albert shows you how he suggests you intertwine careful planning and impulsivity to ensure you never miss your shot.

  39. Advice on making portraits

    Learn from Albert that the way you communicate with those you’re photographing is always visible in a shot. In this lesson Albert suggests tips to capture your perception of a subject into a single picture.

  40. How to be alert to finding photographs

    Learn to take advantage of chance situations and moments. Listen to Albert reveal how some of his most famous photographs were created by remaining flexible and alert to what you are seeing around you.

  41. Making a portrait of Mike Tyson

    Albert delves into the inspiration behind his famous Mike Tyson photograph, reaffirming that preparation before a shoot is often key to transforming your vision into a reality.

  42. Creating intense colour in a photograph

    Albert creates intense colour in an image. Listen to Albert as he takes you through his preparation process, and the techniques he used to construct one of his most well known images, Red Devil.

  43. Portraits of rap stars and a Golden Boy

    Discover the relationship between a subject and the camera itself. Legendary Rap stars and Albert’s Golden Boy photograph feature in this lesson. Albert discusses facial geography.

  44. Photographing Jack Nicholson

    A Jack Nicholson photoshoot for Rolling Stone. Albert explains how the legendary snowy shot came to be, and gives you an insight into how he photographed the iconic actor and filmmaker.

  45. Creating a portrait of David Cronenberg

    Be inspired to get creative. Ingenuity and inventiveness take centerstage in this lesson as Albert describes how he produced his unique photograph of David Cronenberg for Rolling Stone — the old-fashioned way.

  46. How to light only using two $10 bulbs

    This is a incredible lesson where Albert demonstrates to you that expensive lighting equipment is by no means a necessity! Discover how to use two $10 bulbs to create a dramatic, high contrast shot. Simply genius.

  47. Studio fashion set up 4

    See the fashion photography master in action as we watch each step of this shoot. Watch and hear how Albert manages the body language of the model and the simple set up and lighting to create a fashion shot.

  48. Studio session with a model. The geography of a face

    See how Albert creates art with the profile of a face. Learn how to work the geography of a face with Albert's simple lighting techniques.

  49. Look inside the picture

    Albert gives suggestions on how to progress and review your photography. Find out his tips on how to look "inside" the picture.

  50. Creating memorability in an image

    Learn Alberts tips on the skill of quick thinking and analysing your surroundings. Albert uses an example where he used his surroundings to create a unique and surreal shot for Italian Vogue.

  51. Combining nudes and landscapes

    In this lesson we reveal one of Albert's very latest projects. Learn as Albert teaches you how he created a stunning series of images by combining nudes with different landscape textures.

  52. A perfect print

    Albert explains where the passion began for printing his own work and how it has developed. Listen to his overview on how critical it is to print an image on the right type of paper in order to create the perfect print.

  53. The business side of things

    Learn how Albert runs each aspect of his business. We travel with Albert to one of his exhibitions in Italy where he explains the why and how of the prints on show.

  54. Conclusion and farewell

    Albert summarises some fundamental learning points he has acquired over his 40 year career. He leaves you with some poignant tips and bids his farewell, "onwards and upwards".


Richard A. Heckler

"Unless you're Mozart"...this course is an invaluable asset. I'm a pro, humanitarian/documentary photographer, & wilderness...and I've learned much from the 40+ sessions here. This is truly a Master best thing to being with Albert. And although I could watch studio sessions forever, this course offered a very balanced curriculum of technical information, artistic encouragement and guidance, and a open, generous window into the thinking of a gifted artist and photographer, sifted from decades of first class experience. Kudos to all involved. Excellent!

a Creativelive Student

I purchased my first CreativeLive class in 2011 and have continued to purchase many classes over the years. I have learned so much from the many great instructors. This one is not a technical class that will tell you to set your camera at f4, 1/60, ISO 400 and you can get this shot. If you are looking for that, there are many other options. If you have a solid working knowledge of photography, this class is so much more. The way it was filmed is like you are there with him in conversation or in the room with him watching him shoot. To see and understand the how and why he does what he does. Not to take anything away from other classes that have helped to give me a strong understanding of photography, this is my favorite CreativeLive class so far.