Skip to main content

Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 5 of 52

Choosing Your Environment


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 5 of 52

Choosing Your Environment


Lesson Info

Choosing Your Environment

So once you have your idea, where does this idea take place? How do you decide what it's going to look like? What's the environment that you're gonna shoot in? And there's many different ways to approach this. First, you have to decide what do you want, what do you want this image to feel like. Now, you could do a nautical-themed portrait. The first thing that make come to mind is water. It doesn't mean you have to shoot it in water. You don't have to be in the ocean. It could be somewhere else. So what's the feeling that you want these images to have. And then you have to decide, is this something that I can find or is this something that I need to create. And that's gonna depend on your time, your budget, a number of things. But you have to kinda decide, and also if it's budget, you have to decide, okay, would it be cheaper to create it, should I photograph pieces and put it together in post. Or do I want to find something and shoot it in camera. Excuse me. This is an example of what...

I'm talking about. So this is another one of my family pictures. I had done a video, one of the first videos that I'd worked on that year, and I was in the video and I was kind of this like lumberjack character, and so had lumberjacks on the brain. And so we decided to do this kind of like lumberjack-themed portrait, and we thought it would be fun to do it in a tree, and having a dog and a small child and even two adults who don't particularly want to climb up in a tree, that's an obvious kind of problem to solve. Look, how do we do this? Do we actually get up in a tree, and do we find a tree that's like low enough that looks high or do we get a ladder, how do we do this? The answer for me became, okay, I think we need to do this in post. I need to find a tree, and yes I do need to find one that's low enough for me to get an angle on but it looks high, but then I think we'll shoot us in post because obvious safety reasons. So that was how we decided to go about this one. We shot the tree first as I talked about earlier in the segment. I went, you location scout, you go and look at the tree, you figure out when the sun rises and sets and how it looks at different times of the day. I knew I wanted it to feel more dramatic so in this particular case, this angle is facing west, so I knew I had to shoot it more towards the evening when the sun would be coming back through. The cool thing about this tree was this was on the side of a path by a park near our house, and the path just falls off pretty steep on the side, so the tree was growing quite a bit down, so I was able to see the tall, the high part of the tree from an accessible angle. So we shot the tree, I did have an assistant climb up in the tree just to give me perspective, so I did get one shot of him in the tree. And then I shot all of us, so you have perspective in that shot and you also see how the light's hitting him so then I'm able to kind of mimic that light in studio so that when I put us in there, hopefully as best as possible it does feel real, it doesn't feel like the sun's coming from behind them but it's like also coming from in front of them too, you know you had to think about all of that. This is another example, this is a personal image that I wanted to create. This one is called "Diver in the Desert" and this was at the beginning of my conceptual phase of very much exploring ideas and what's possible and this sort of thing. And so I knew I wanted to create something in this big epic landscape, and I wanted to have a diver in this vintage diving suit. I love things that are kind of loosely based in the 60s, and especially sometimes things that feel like the 60s, but not exactly. But this diving suit's obviously earlier than the 60s, but I do love vintage wardrobe. So, for me, I spent a ton of time just Google Image searching and trying to find epic landscapes, and then it becomes, what's your favorite and which one's most accessible. Maybe there's one you like on the east coast, if you're on the west coast, but it's too far and too expensive to get there. Maybe there's something a little closer to home. So I went down to Death Valley and spent a week there and just shot landscapes. And then I had an assistant with me who, again stood in so I can see what the light looks like. And that doesn't mean you have to match that all the time, but you want to have it as a reference. So, we came back and then I shot the diver in studio. And I could've taken someone with me, but the hard part was I couldn't get the diving, it took me forever to find the diving costume, and it was like antique and there were rules around it and I couldn't have taken it to the desert and had someone actually wear it in the dirt and stuff. So that was another reason. You kind of just have to consider what it is that you want, what are the options in terms of actually making it happen, and then just kind of go from there, like every little decision branches out and then you just make another decision and then you follow that and you make another decision.

Class Description

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

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.


a Creativelive Student

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.

Doppio 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.

Vitamin Dee

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!