Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

 

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

(applause) Thank you guys for being here. I'm very excited to be here because this has been a long time coming and I've been getting more and more anxious, so I'm just glad we're finally doing the work. I also really appreciate you guys flying out. I know a lot of you came from some distances. We should do a trivia at some point of who came the furthest, I think someone came from Germany was it? Oh my goodness, yeah, thank you. To start out, I want this to be really conversational. I have a lot to talk about but it's gonna be way more interesting if you guys have questions and I want you to feel free to be open about that. There's no stupid questions, I wanna teach. I'm not trying to like, impress people with client lists or anything like that, so I want you guys to hear what you came here to hear, so. Also I wanna preface this big talk by saying I know production can be really scary. Production and set building, and all that kind of stuff. I've heard over the years that, myself incl...

uded, we make excuses, like, oh my gosh that sounds so expensive, or I can never do that, or maybe you don't even wanna do that, and that's fine too, but production is really, really important no matter what type of photography you do. And so, I just wanna put that out there right now. Even when we're talking about some big concepts or high level things, maybe you're not quite there yet. Just know that everything we're talking about I believe there's lessons to be learned, and also, you have to start where you are. Like, you can't do a big production until you've done a small production, and all the productions in between. We have this, at least I do, and I would assume a lot of us do. We tend to compare ourselves to our heroes at the peak of their career when we're starting out. I do this all the time, I'm looking at someone and I'm like, I get so upset that I'm not there, or like, how are they so brilliant? And then you look at, you know, a book of theirs. You look at it, their entire work over you know, 40, 50 years, and you realize, wow they started off too. Like, they had early work just like we all do, so keep that in mind. Again, going back, if you're scared about production, I'm terrified, like, I'm honestly, right now I'm terrified, because I've never done this before. I've never done a live photo shoot, let alone four, and right up until last night I was here 'til midnight. I'm seriously doubting like, is this gonna work? Does this even make sense, did I do this right? There's probably gonna be a lot of mistakes and I'm a perfectionist, and that's what I love about photography is I can put my best work on Instagram. You don't see all the little mistakes and things like that. But you're gonna see that this week in the shoots that we do, and that's really scary to me. So let's all just be scared together, let's ask questions, let's learn. I learn just as much as you guys do in these kind of things because it forces me to think, and to analyze, and to look back and kind of find themes and patterns. So with that being said, thank you again for being here, we'll jump into the slides. This is an example, this is of, one of the first conceptual images that I ever did and the reason this came about was, it was just for fun. Which I think is probably the best reason to create work. Often when I hear people say like, well usually it's an excuse, they'll be like, well I just did it for fun, it wasn't like serious or anything. That's usually the most interesting work when you make that excuse. But this is my family, that's my wife and our daughter. That was her first year and I'd done a portrait of some friends and it was this really fun, crazy portrait. It was their idea and I just thought, man why don't I do something like that? You know like, I have access to these tools, it would be a shame if, the end of my life I looked back and realized I only took pictures of other people and never like, did something for my family. So this was the first one we did and now it's eight years later, this tradition that, like it or not, that we probably will be doing forever. It's become a lot of pressure but anyway, this was the first one, and this is where I really started to kind of get my mind open to the possibilities of creating concepts and building stories through photography. So who is this class for? This class I think is for portrait photographers who might be stuck in a rut, maybe you feel like you're doing the same thing over and over again, and you feel like you need to do something different but you don't even know what it is. Maybe you feel like you need to figure out your style and you don't know what your style is, maybe you don't even know what that means. You hear people talking about style but what does that mean? I was there for a long time, this would be a great class for you. Photographers who are interested in production or conceptual photography. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn't matter if you are a lifestyle photographer, or a food photographer, or a wedding photographer, whatever it is, production is really, really important in photography. One of my first photography agents that I had years ago, I remember sitting down with them and they were looking through my work, and they said, you need to work on your production value. And I had absolutely no idea what that meant and I was probably too nervous to even ask, but it probably took me like five years to even figure out what he was talking about. And we'll talk about that in this course, but production value's very, very important. And finally, hobbyists who might be looking to grow your portfolio, to do something different, to challenge yourself in new ways. This would be a great course for you. And by the end of this class, my hope is that you will at the very least have confidence and know that whatever it is that you aspire to, or maybe you don't know what you wanna aspire to yet, but at least you'll have confidence to start taking some steps forward and challenging yourself, and trying new things. And also, when the time comes if it's not now already, once you have bigger ideas you'll have the tools to start taking steps towards making those ideas a reality. As in, the same with the first picture I showed of my family, and with this picture, this is a composite. So we're gonna be dealing with practical, meaning like in camera, physical sets, in the shoots we're doing this week, but a lot of times because of certain you know, situations, a bear, and you can't put a real human on a bear, I'll do something in camera and we'll do it in post. Or sorry, we'll do it in post, in retouching. So in this particular shot, the first thing I shot was the environment. If I'm doing an environmental landscape the first thing you always do is the environment because it's the least controllable. You can pick your time of day but you can't just like, ask your first assistant to move the sun. So whatever you get, is what you've gotta work with. So then once you have your light pattern, and this is kind of, I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'll just break it down quickly. So once you have the light set for the environment, then I went to a, I went to a preserve where they have bears, and I photographed some bears. Thankfully there was a small fence between us. And then once you have those two and you've got the bear at the right angle, you photograph your person, and you match the person to the environment so that it looks believable, hopefully, as best as possible. So I'm gonna just go through real quick and talk about some, just kind of high level ideas that we're gonna cover throughout this entire course. So I just want you to kind of keep these things in mind and kind of look through all of the content we cover, through this lens, or these lenses. The reason I teach and, one of the reasons that I teach is I'm a huge believer that sometimes the difference between you actually doing something great or just doing what you wanna do, and not doing it, is just information. There's been many, many times in my career where I wanted to do something and I had belief in myself, but I had absolutely no idea how to even go about it. Like, you know, I was maybe scared, what if I do it the wrong way, what if I embarrass myself, or I just literally don't even know. And there's been many people who have been kind enough to take the time to give me that information. Whether it's been, how do you bid on a really large commercial job, there was a friend of mine now who sat down with me for hours and kind of gave me a lesson that I will use for the rest of my career, that was huge. There's been people who've helped me with production and taught me how to manage a crew on the set, and realizing that like, my crew was a circus, and I was not really reflecting that great on me or my brand. So anyway, there's all kinds of things, and again, it's not that you aren't capable, it's just we need information. So that's what we're here to do, is to give you that information. Another idea that I think, that I tell myself constantly and we all need to remind ourselves, is that you will get hired, this is if you're interested in doing commercial photography or you're doing photography for a client, you will get hired to shoot what you show. So to break that down, if you have a portfolio full of wedding pictures and you really wanna do celebrity portraits, it's never gonna happen. Like, you have to do something to get to that point. And another, an easier way to think about it and I find myself in this position all the time and I'm like, oh my gosh. If your car breaks down and you need to get it fixed, you're gonna look for a mechanic. I mean maybe some of you would do it yourselves, but you're gonna look for a mechanic, and I'm gonna look for someone who's trustworthy, who people have good things to say about. Someone who's done this every day of their life. I'm not gonna go looking for someone who's really good at repairing dishwashers. It doesn't matter that they're still working with their hands. I'm not gonna say, oh man, you know they're so good at repairing dishwashers, I bet they could do something really special with a car. It's the same thing with photographers. We expect it to be the other way around but people wanna see that you do exactly what they want, over and over, and over again. And so it's really, really important to specialize, and to show, and reinforce what it is that you want people to think about you. And there's lots of other little branches that we'll talk about on that as we go on, but keep that in mind not just today but forever. And also it's really important in that same sense, to create what you love. Don't create something that's gonna reinforce an idea about you that you don't enjoy. That's just gonna be miserable. Don't say hey, well I'm gonna shoot whatever it is, architecture let's say, nothing wrong with it. For me I wouldn't enjoy it, I love people, I need to have people, but if I photographed architecture because I was like, man you could make a ton of money shooting architecture. Well, I probably would get some architecture jobs, but I'm gonna be miserable and I don't think I'd be very good because I wouldn't be excited about it. I think you can't create work that's interesting or great, unless you're like, really driven by that particular work. You've gotta take control, again along these same lines, you've gotta take control of your own path. And this takes time, I'm not saying you have to leave this weekend and figure that out, but in this job especially, there will be all kinds of situations where people will come to you with a job. And you know, maybe it is outside of what you typically do, or maybe they'll say, hey this would be really great for your portfolio, or maybe they just need someone real cheap and they think you're young and you'll do it, whatever it is. You have to decide what's important for you and what's gonna help you get to the next step. Don't let other people do that. There's been several times in my career where I was doing assignments that came to me, and I looked back one day and realized like, I'm not enjoying this at all. And it's because I was doing exactly what was in my portfolio, I was letting my jobs dictate my path. I had no control in that situation. The other thing is there's no magic bullet. There's no easy solution or secrets, it just takes hard work and it takes time. And that's really hard to hear, and I never liked hearing that, and I still don't like hearing that, but I will tell you it takes hard work no matter how long you've been doing it. I used to think when I started doing celebrity portraits, I had very little experience, and I had all these ideas, and nobody wanted to do those ideas. They're like, just take a quick picture and get it over with, you know? And I was grateful to have those opportunities but I wanted to do something more with 'em and people wouldn't, you know, work with me, and it was so frustrating. And I had this idea, man when I can be big time, whatever that means, or if I can you know, once I'm established or something, it's gonna be so much easier, I won't have to deal with all this stress. That is so ridiculous, it never gets easy. It gets harder, if anything, because budgets get bigger, pressure gets bigger. You know, hopefully in your career, you're always doing something that scares you. And if you think I'm being dramatic like, about being terrified right now, like ask my producer or my wife. So it only gets harder if anything, don't make excuses. Again, production is super important. I obviously do one very specific type of photography but production value is something that you can take with you in all different types of photography. This was an assignment that I did for a German magazine and it was on a Swedish fat study that they did, where they had people eat only muffins for 30 days. I don't remember like, the results, I could guess, (audience laughing) but basically they wanted a photo illustration of this study. And so again, there's not a ton going on here. You've got a couple models sitting at a counter, but the idea was, show muffins and then it's a Swedish study so we tried to find people who look Swedish, and it's like a scientific study, so this is a very simple image in that sense. You've got muffins, scientific wardrobe, and people who fit the origin of where the study is taking place. But it's those little things, like if you had them dress in, and obviously like, if you see it out of context I have to explain it a little bit, but if you read it in the magazine it makes a lot of sense. If you have the guys holding muffins just wearing every day clothes, it gets a little harder to read. So again, production value, it can be like, the smallest little things but it really matters. It's all those little details that you put into it that allow the image to kind of take this life and take on this vision that you have, that are really important. Again, as far as going back to production, and going back to how it often sounds really expensive and scary, you can do production yourself. Like, it can be really resourceful and creative. There's obviously expensive ways of doing it and as productions get bigger, you kind of need to rely on more people, but essentially what it boils down to is, depending on when I did this in my career, I could have gone out and found some lab coats at a supply store myself and those are probably just yellow kitchen gloves, you know, and bought some muffins. Like, don't let the fact that you can't afford a producer, or an art director, or something get in your way. Like, if you need these things to make this work, figure it out, be creative, be resourceful. Again, it takes hard work, so if you get scared of hard work this is probably not the job for you. So we'll go through here just quickly and give you a little run down of all the things that we're gonna be covering in this course. We're gonna talk about finding your style. You know, what is it that people think of when they think of you? What is it that they see, what is your voice? And there's so many different things that we'll get down into in that, but creating that distinct style that reflects who you are. We'll talk about team building, working with a crew, whether it's an assistant or whether it's six or seven people. Who are these people, how do you find them, how do you work with them? We're gonna talk about bringing concepts to life. So we all have ideas, how do you manage these ideas? How do you actually take them from writing something down on a piece of paper to actually creating an image, or images about these ideas? We're also gonna be talking about lighting. I'm not going to talk about like, technical aspects of lighting. There's a million different courses and resources where you can learn about that these days. I'm also not a huge gear nerd, I tend to have a very, kind of emotional response to lighting. I know the technical aspects of it but I'm gonna talk to you about how I approach lighting and hopefully some ways that you can think about, that maybe if you are averse to technical things, hopefully this will maybe be a newer, kind of exciting way to think about lighting for you. We're gonna talk about directing and I know that sounds like, oh making videos or movies, which obviously that is directing. But I am a huge advocate of taking more of a director's mindset for photographers and I think that that is something where our industry is going. Put aside whether or not you have to actually create videos or not, I'm talking about the way a photographer needs to operate, and how clients are looking to photographers to be more directors even at still shoots these days. We're also gonna be doing four photo shoots, which I'm still like, why did I want to do that? They actually wanted to do three and I was like, no it's gotta be four. That was the dumbest thing I've ever done, but it's gonna be good, it's gonna be good. So we're gonna be doing four photo shoots, which I am really excited about. They scale up basically, the first shoot is very simple. It's kind of, we tried to think about how can we do something DIY, like how can we create something that has a production to it, but anyone should be able to do something like this. And then we scale up from there and then show you how we add elements to make a production. It is bigger but maybe sometimes just feel bigger than it actually is. And then we will do an image critique. I know some of you guys in the audience submitted images of yours, so at some point I will do a critique of those, and then we also have images from our online audience. And finally, we're gonna go through image selection and portfolio building. So shooting is obviously really important but one thing that I'm even learning, especially in the last year, as I've kind of started getting more into like, projects, and series, and things is just how much a project can change simply through the editing process, depending on how you shoot. I tend to shoot a little more widely than I used to now so I have a lot of options when I get to the edit, and there's been projects where I edited and it was kind of like this quirky, goofy direction and then I left it for a couple months and came back and felt like it needs to be more serious. And I was able to do that simply through the edit. It could have been a completely different project just from that aspect alone. And then we're gonna finish it up with just, kind of a quick intro on how do you get your work seen. Like, once you start creating this work, how do you show it to people? How do you start getting in the game of getting hired to create whatever it is that you wanna create? And that is not something that I think you should wait for. There's so many reasons and again, I do this myself especially when I started, like, oh I should wait a couple years until my portfolio is better and then I'll start marketing. There's no good time to start other than right now because your portfolio will never be ready. It's my, I'm like, hate my portfolio right now, you know? I mean I like it, but I could always find things that I'm you know, embarrassed by or dissatisfied with, or whatever. Like, it's always growing, and so you've gotta start right now. And also, another side note is, I think that people really like to be a part of watching your career progress. I think that they may not hire you right away, you may be where they need you to be, but I think it builds relationships and allows people to feel a connection with you and your work. Kind of like, you know, watching a kid grow up. Like, you're gonna feel like, the sense of pride in being a part of that, so we'll finish up with that.

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!