Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

 

Lesson Info

Casting

[Instructor]- So the first thing I wanna talk about is casting. Who here knows what casting means? Or what do you think of when you hear casting? Basically, you're sourcing models for a particular theme, or people models people, and depending on what you're going for. So if you're going for like a retro high school theme you would look for people that would fit that bill. Perfect and exactly, yeah. I wanna stress again the importance of, there's no right or wrong way to do casting. Basically, what it boils down to is what is your vision? What is it that you wanna say and who best fits into that? Who makes that reality for you? Again, there's been times where I've been casting and I'm sitting with a producer and we're watching someone, and I feel like, that's the one. Like, that's the person. That's exactly how I envisioned it. And my producer will be like, really, that person? What about, you know, what about so and so, like four back? And it's like, they're not bad, but just for m...

e personally, like, this is the person I connect with. I like how they bring this and that. So, the producer's response wasn't wrong but if they were picking, they would've picked someone else, you know. Just keep that in mind as you're casting that this is, again, your vision. Who do you see bringing that to life? Casting, again, it really sets the tone of not only how you want it to come across but how people are gonna perceive it. There are times where, you know, you do wanna be open to other input. Maybe you have this vision. You see it one way but if no one else sees it that way, you know maybe you do have to kinda make some concessions or kinda reconsider how you were envisioning something. Another example was, you know, at a casting that I did recently, where this guy came in and read for this part and I just instantly was like, that's the guy. Part of it was it was the first person we had seen and he just jumped out at me. There's something about the first and the last. But, I was dead set and my producer really felt strongly, though, I think you really should consider someone else, and I said no, I didn't like them. We called the other person back in, and she was totally right. I was like, wow. I was fixating on one little thing that did it for me but I was blind to some other stuff that she did pick up on. And she's like, just ask this other guy to read it differently and give him different direction and I did. I was like, oh man, you're so right. That would've been a disaster if I, you know, had. So again, we talk a lot about your vision and it is really important that you guys are in control, but also remember, we're not perfect and we do make mistakes. So, it is really important to be open. That's one of the benefits of working with a team. Again, no matter how small or big the team is. It could be your significant other or a friend. It doesn't even have to be a paid crew member. Like, run ideas by people. See, how does this read to you? How does this feel? What do you think when you see this? You know, maybe you don't listen to them and maybe you do. But that's kind of like your gut reaction that you need to train. More and more now, I'm getting more comfortable with like, okay, I like that. I see your point. I see your point and I'm not gonna listen to it, but, you know, thanks. It's just however that is, it takes practice and time to kind of be able to process other people's ideas and thoughts. Especially if you're a people pleaser like me, 'cause early in my career I was like, oh, good idea, good idea, I'll do that. You've gotta figure out a balance of your own ideas versus others. Again, you've gotta feel, you've gotta feel excitement about whoever you cast. Make sure that there's something about who you're casting that's like, oh my gosh, this is so exciting. Now that's not to say there's not gonna be times where because of budget, or because of timing, or location, yeah, maybe it's not an ideal situation. It's like, no one here, is really making me, like really excited. You do the best you can. You try to look for whatever it is that's gonna bring that character idea that you have to life. So, here is a, I'm gonna show you the people that we picked for the shoots that we're gonna be doing here in this course. I think we saw about 20 people and we ended up picking four people. When everyone came in, it's different if you're directing like, for motion and there's dialogue and stuff, but let's just assume for now we're talking about photography. What I am looking for personally, and you can do this any different way you want, what I'm looking for when I do casting is I wanna just first of all, get a sense of someone's presence and confidence. You know, you say hi, and kinda talk to them. For this one we were pretty rushed on time so I just kinda said hi, and tried to give them like a quick little overview of the type of character I'm looking for. So, I wanna kinda look them in the eyes and see, do I feel like they understand what I'm saying? Then I also wanna see how they take direction. If someone comes up and they give me a certain pose and I'm like, okay now give me more sass, and they just do the same pose again. You're like, alright give me confusion, and it's the same pose, it's like okay there's maybe something that's not working here. I also wanna see a person's range. I wanna see, can they switch gears? Can they handle more than just one look? Because sometimes you'll get someone that's really good let's say at high fashion. They just have like, oh my gosh, you can just turn your body and pose for days for a fashion catalog, but for me, I'm not looking for that. I'm looking for character and I'm looking for more like, kind of weight and someone being tired or something as opposed to trying to look beautiful in a certain outfit or something. You wanna kinda see how do these people take to your vision? How do they interpret it? How would it be to work with them? I actually do like to take pictures. I just have a camera, no lights or anything. I just snap a few photos and it just gives me a quick chance to kind of see how they work. Again, just doing little things like we just talked about, that usually is enough. Then sometimes you'll have a real strong feeling in camera, like, oh my gosh, it just felt right. You know, I'm a very emotional person, so I connect in kind of this emotional way. I just enjoyed them in front of the camera and I felt like we were dancing, you know, in some way. Then it's also really important, I think, if you're taking pictures, to go back and be able to look at them. Sometimes things will be revealed that you maybe didn't see or feel on set. Sometimes you're like, that felt really great but now that I'm looking at these pictures there's no range here, you know. I thought they were doing it but they weren't apparently. That's how we did the casting for this particular one. Here's Erin. I was just really drawn to, she's gonna be doing a close up portrait, the first shoot that we do, and I just loved her ability to kind of subtly communicate a range of emotions that I like to work in. She took direction really well and it just felt like she got it. It felt like she enjoyed kind of becoming a character. This is Jessica. Same thing with her. I just felt like she came in and at first I wasn't sure if she was gonna be able to fall in but she just had this really great personality and seemed to take direction really well. She also had a great range. This is Stephanie. She had a lot of energy and confidence. She just had this confidence that I felt like was perfect for one of the roles. She was also able to kind of really stretch her emotions and her range and still maintain that confidence. Some people will do what you ask but you can tell they don't fully buy into it or believe it themselves. She was just someone who I was like, oh man I love this. She's gonna be perfect for this one particular role. This is Trazy. She'll be our fourth model. She just, she had this like, also confidence, but I loved her range and also kind of like quiet confidence. She was kind of like a good balance to Stephanie who kind of was like a little more edgy. Again, they may hear this and be like, What? That doesn't describe me. But this is my perceptions of the characters I'm building and how I see them fitting into it. Confidence is a big thing for me. I need people, even if they're gonna act not confident in the pictures, I need them to do that with authority and make it believable, so that's something that I'm really looking for. I really can't stress enough the one thing I've seen time and time again is, especially as like, a lot of times, even today, some of our productions will be scrappy and we have to cut our casting budget or our talent budget, which just means, talent budget means what you pay to the models or the actors. Sometimes you get people that they look great or they're beautiful or whatever, but you give them direction and it's like, they just have this look, and you're like, I need more anger and they still have the same look. This is gonna be a terrible GIF if somebody does it. (audience laughing) But, you know, they just have this, like, this same look and it's like, are you hearing the direction? You just need that range from people, at least I do. We had another question re: casting that David Wooley had asked. I know you mentioned that it's different when it comes to motion versus stills, and he was wondering what you mean about reading for the part. You talked about some of the questions but, that you ask, what are, are there more questions or examples that you can give us about how you test people's ability for that particular project? Do you know at this point in the game exactly what you need out of them? Well, I mean, I think, you start with where you're at. You try to just trust your gut. I mean, you think first and foremost, is this the type of person that I feel inclined to take a portrait of? It could be, maybe you like really thin faces. Maybe you like boxy jaw, or maybe you like people with really short hair. I mean, we all have these things that we're drawn to that are more exciting to work with. I think first and foremost, it's just like, is this a person visually who is gonna make you excited about creating this image? That's just kind of a gut reaction. You've gotta be able to do that. Then I think also, and again, this comes with time, but for me, I need to explore and I need to explore emotion when I'm saying that. I need to go in with an idea. I always go in with an idea when I do a portrait but I always bracket. I always go off-script 'cause maybe something else would be better. Not to get sidetracked, but when I used to light when I first started out, I was schlepping gear myself, I was tired. I built these technical lighting sets and I had people locked down and they sat this way and this was beautiful light but if they turned their head even this much the light was ruined. I would just shoot that. I would come home sometimes and there'd be an accidental shot where I was setting the camera down and they had moved or whatever, and I was like, oh my gosh that was like the most interesting picture in the whole bunch. I didn't give myself any range in the edit. I just locked into that one thing. I plan for that. I want range and so I wanna see when I'm talking to people and especially when I'm shooting. Like, for example, when we're doing the casting, I'm doing head shots and then I'd come out a little bit and I do full body. I just wanna see how they carry themselves. I say, turn to the left. I'm not trying to create a beautiful image in that sense, I just wanna see what that means to them. And I say just give me a slight turn of your head back towards the camera. Some people, when you say slight, they go like this and some people when you say slight they go like this and I'm looking for that. I'm looking for people who hear me and who connect with what I'm trying to do. Then, I'll say-- So I just go through a range. It's not like I'm trying to create that image in that moment. It's just a test of seeing how well they listen, how well they take direction. 'Cause if someone's, now, a great actor or model, they will completely open themselves up and become vulnerable in that moment. They become someone else. Someone who's just going through the motions, if they're just listening to you and just doing what you say, they're not gonna add any life to that, to that character. So, I'm testing that, I'm seeing. It's not an ideal situation all the times. You don't have a ton of time. There's pressure and stuff like that and maybe you read somebody wrong sometimes but it's basically just making sure that you get what you need. So for me, again, you can translate it however you want, for me, I need someone who just feels like, a person that I feel compelled to photograph. I need someone who I feel like is gonna add life and bring to life a certain character idea that I have in my head and I need someone who's gonna work with me and someone who's gonna bring range and I'm not gonna feel like I'm fighting. I don't wanna be taking pictures and be frustrated. I wanna be taking pictures and feel like I'm dancing and we're not stepping on each other's feet. I can't really do that if I'm dancing but that's probably the best way to dance is to just, you know, lose yourself and not be worried about stepping on people's feet. That's kind of, hopefully a better analogy for casting. What about if you have a job for a agent, for a, creative job from your client, and mostly they want to be on the set and to have also a word with a, to choose the model? And if he wants a model that you don't want or you say this model doesn't fit for my idea but the client wants it hundred percent because he wants it, so what are you going to, what? Welcome to productions. I mean, that's, that is exactly the kind of stuff that happens. You have to be able to communicate, again, why you want this person and you don't always get what you want. You have to approach every project in a way where you're kind of trying to set yourself up to create what's gonna be best for you and there's a client, also what's best for the client. Sometimes, especially if we're talking about client work, I think photographers have this misconception that we're getting hired to just create beautiful images or we're getting hired, you know. The thing that I don't think enough photographers realize is we're not getting hired to create beautiful images, you're getting hired to achieve a goal for a client. That goal might be driving foot traffic through a new store, or that goal might be increasing online sales. It might be just simply increasing brand awareness. Whatever that is, I try, whenever I have a job or a potential job, I like to have a conversation about that and understand what are your goals? Because, I don't, I wanna find that balance of like, we have to, I'm getting paid by you, so I need to make sure that we're doing the best we can for you. Then within that, I'm gonna do the best to bring my vision and style to that, you know. Sometimes there are compromises. You don't have to make those compromises if you're doing personal work. That's, again, why it's so important to do personal work. That was a lesson that took me awhile to learn because I would get so frustrated on commercial sets. I didn't have personal work in my life. I didn't have that outlet so I was trying to make commercial work my personal work and it's not. It's not meant to be that. You're just doing a disservice to yourself and to the client if you try to do that. They're the ones that are paying you. They're the ones that are expecting something in return. You've gotta be willing to listen. But again, sometimes you feel like, yeah, you know, this person that I really wanted to cast is my favorite and they still achieve the client's goal. Sometimes there's just that case where a client would like to have a say in it. You do the best you can. If the client's not at the casting then that's an opportunity for you to, you still have to give them options. You can't necessarily force through who you want. Maybe you can, and that's all stuff that the producer can communicate. Maybe you just pick your favorite people and you say, this is who we would like to go with. Do you have any concerns? I mean, usually, maybe they'll say yeah, that's great. Sometimes they'll say I'm curious about, you know, skier number two. I'm not sure about that. Do you have other options for that? And then you go, okay, well, we'll show them other options, or you try to pitch why this is the person. Maybe you show your other options to reinforce why that person is the one you wanna do. It just all goes back to communicating. Again, that's, I think that's why personal work needs to be your thing, 'cause you'll get so frustrated with all those little decisions if you live and die on the client. [Female Audience Member] Declined a job. Have what? Have you ever declined a job because of the ideas from the client wasn't, you were sure that you can't place this for a hundred percent satisfaction? Yeah, I mean, I'll turn down jobs occasionally if the budget's not there or if it's like, for example, this month we're doing this and a couple of other projects already, and a project came in. It was a smaller budget, and it wasn't something that I was super excited about, the way that they wanted to do it, and so I just. The more you do it, you can. There's a part of me that always wants to take everything, but then the more you do it, you realize, okay, what is my life really gonna look like? This might kill me if I take this. What's the reward? It's not the pay. The creative isn't exactly something that I'm excited about, so you have to kinda be realistic. That's maybe down the road depending on where your career is at. I think there's a long period of time where you just, you do take everything 'cause you need the money. I mean, you need to provide and so I don't wanna advocate turning down jobs. That maybe, might feel empowering for a moment but I don't want you wondering at the end of the month, like, oh now I can't pay rent. Should I have done that? So, again, that's just, it depends on where you're at in your career. Usually, turning down a job comes more from budget, you know, it's not where it needs to be. Then sometimes there are jobs where it's like, I would not enjoy this. If I'm not gonna enjoy it I'm not gonna do a good job and if I'm not gonna do a good job, the client's not gonna be happy. We've turned down some bigger jobs too because we don't wanna put ourselves in a position where we're doing bad work. There's no benefit in that situation.

Connect to your photos
Don’t capture another picture that says nothing of your own style. Grow your confidence in creating or styling a portrait that pops and, more importantly, resonates. Recognize that you’re tired of feeling disconnected to your photography.

Tap into your artistic vision
Establishing your creative voice and finding the inspiration and support to stay with it are essential skills for a career in photography. Commit to mastering the technical elements so you can save time in production, focus on creating images with emotion, and start making the pictures that express your creative vision and ultimately resemble what you want to get paid to take.

Learn from the authority: John Keatley
John’s photos have filled the pages of Rolling Stone, Wired, and the New York Times Magazine. He’s covered celebrities from Anthony Hopkins to Macklemore, and even had the rare opportunity to photograph Annie Leibovitz. He’s also passionate about education and supporting artists to find their personal style.

In this one-of-a-kind class, John breaks down how to conceptualize, produce, style, light and fine tune your ideas. He leads you through the creation of an environmental portrait series, showing you how to make a vision come to life with any budget.

What you get out of this exclusive shoot:

  • Find inspiration and execute your vision
  • Research and create desired environments for set design or location scouting
  • Cast for portrait and direct subjects on set
  • Build a team of support around your project
  • Lighting and styles to make the background and subject work together
  • Creative ways to build your vision, regardless of budgetary limitations

What our students are saying:
“The amount of information John gives is mind blowing. To see the process from beginning to end, the road map to creativity...you cannot help but to be on the right road to success. He gives you steps to take and shows you how it's done.”
- Lorenzo Hill

Commit to your creativity
Are you ready to push the boundaries and find your unique voice? Get the hands-on tools to flex your creativity, collaborate for results, and carry out your vision.

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • What an amazing show. I'm so happy that I could be a part of it. It was so great to see John at work and in his element. I learned so much from watching his process from beginning to ending. So many questions have been answered. I feel more confident, to get myself out there and create and make work that comes out from my imagination. I will definitely be keeping a journal/notebook with me at all times. I would also like to suggest that we have another course for John Cornicello, home studio. I'm curious to see what John is working on in his studio.
  • It's amazing to watch and understand how this great creative professional work. There's a lot to learn about with his production process. For me, that lives in Brazil, is a major opportunity to enjoy this class.
  • Wow! There's just so much great information in this class. If you've ever wondered what it takes to produce an environmental portrait, this is the class for you! John did a superb job of taking us step-by-step through his process. From model casting to set building, lighting setups to culling; it's all here. He even wraps up the class with next steps and how to put it all together. He gives the knowledge so you can take it to a place you can create your own magic!