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Concepts and Inspiration

Lesson 4 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

4. Concepts and Inspiration


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Creative Photography Path


Importance of Personal Work


Concepts and Inspiration


Choosing Your Environment


Research and Mood Boards


Finding Your Style


Establishing a Team


Jobs on Set


Production Hurdles


Working with an Art Director


Pooling Resources






Set Design and Props: Interview with John Lavin






Technical vs. Flexible Lighting


Creating Environment


Gear Essentials vs. DIY Solutions


Lighting for Your Subject


Lighting for Your Environment




Directing Your Subject


Tips for Directing Talent


Pre-Lighting and Test Shoots


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 1


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 2


Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 3


Set Tour and Lighting Set Up


Shoot: Building Environment & Lighting Adjustments


Shoot: Building Environment Part 1


Shoot: Building Environment Part 2


Photo Critique


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Set Tour


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 1


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 2


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 3


Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 4


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 1


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 2


Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 3


Image Selection: Stylized Portrait


Image Selection: Building Environment


Image Selection: Row Boat in Fog


Image Selection: Scuba in the Hull


Next Steps: Create New Work


Next Steps: Share Your Work


Next Steps: Marketing and Branding Consistency


Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting


Final Image Reveal - Retouching: Communication and Direction


Final Image Reveal - Final Q&A


Lesson Info

Concepts and Inspiration

Alright so we're gonna talk about concepts and inspiration. So where do you start? Where do these ideas come from, you have to have a starting point. One thing that I like to do is I will write down all my ideas, even if they seem stupid. I have a notebook by my bed, I have a little to-do list, which gets a bit outta control at times on my phone, but I am constantly writing things, and I'm always trying to tell people, I'm not texting and being rude right now, I'm writing an idea down, I promise. I'm always writing stuff down and then I'll come back to it, and I have a master document that I just paste everything into, and I think now it's like up to 30 pages long. I went through it actually the other day and pared out a lot of stuff, but it's getting quite long. Collect your ideas in a notebook, and refer back to it frequently. You may not always be able to create an idea, but it's good to just kinda keep 'em through your mind. I do think, for me at least, again everyone's different, ...

rarely do I create an idea instantly. I like to give it at least a few months to sit, because sometimes in excitement, and idea feels a little better than maybe it really is. And I would say, even preparing for this class actually, so the shoots that we're gonna be doing, they're ideas that I've wanted to do, it's not just like, how do we do some quick little shoot to teach, these are ideas that I would've done on my own anyway. CreativeLive was like what do you wanna do? So I went through that list, and probably out of the 30 pages there was like, 30 pages and who knows how many hundreds of ideas that is, but there's probably only six where today I was like, I would still wanna do that. Some of them were years old, some of them are months old. So for me, an idea that I can come back to months or years later and still feels exciting, that's an idea worth creating. All the other ones, maybe you keep them for reference, maybe there's a part of it that still is interesting, but a lot of 'em, it's okay to just say, oh that was a good idea at the time and it doesn't make sense anymore, and let go of it. Unless you have a photographic memory, which I don't, I think it's really important to write all those things down. This is one of my many notebooks, but again this is just a quick little sketch. In all honesty I kind of created this for the slide. Typically in my notes and stuff, I'll be referencing other artists, other pieces of art that I'm drawing from and things like that. I couldn't show names and other things in this particular thing. My notebook tends to be more written, I'm not a great sketch artist or anything, but typically my ideas are more in words. I like to describe 'em out, this is what it would feel like, this would be the color, this particular image by this photographer is something I'm kind of referencing, I like how they did that. The more description you can surround with these ideas and what frame of mind you're in when you wrote it down, the better. Also considering things like color, if there's specific colors, write it down. Whatever it is that helps you come back to it later and remember exactly what it was you were excited about, and also those are the things that will be important if you do go ahead with it, to communicate with your team. Where do ideas come from? I know that that's something that I've asked at times, and I hear frequently, how do you come up with these ideas? When I started getting into advertising and I was doing personal work, my personal work, it can be a little tricky what I mean by that. For me, right now, personal work means work that you wanna do for no other reason than it's interesting to you. It's not with some strategic idea of impressing a client or getting a job. That's what I mean by personal work, but strategic work is important. So when I got into advertising, it was personal in the sense that I was self-producing it, but it was more strategic, it was like I'm trying to create a fake ad. I would sit there and think okay, what would look like an ad that I could create? And there was this one particular, I wanted to create an environment and people doing something and that's as far as I got for six months. I was like beating my head, I couldn't come up with a concept or anything, it was driving me crazy. I really told myself, I just can't do this, I'm not good at it. I think what I've learned in hindsight is, just like anything else, it takes practice, but also maybe I'm not a copywriter, maybe I actually need to find someone who can help me come up with ideas, and there's nothing wrong with that. I also had this false idea in my head that everything had to come from me. That's not the case, you should collaborate. I think also I wasn't relaxed enough, I didn't have an open mind to ideas, and I think, again, ideas can just come from everyday life. And I find now, as I look back, my best ideas typically come when I'm out of town and when I'm relaxed. The ideas that I'm most proud of, at least, those have all come when I'm on vacation and out of my routine. So try to just be open to what's around you, be open to a funny conversation that you had at dinner with a friend, or look at movies and stories and things like that and take themes and colors and ideas from those. I mentioned this about breaking out of your familiar routine is really, really important. Stress can really suppress our imagination or our creativity. Steal an idea and make it your own. Take a story that you love from a book or a novel or an old fairy tale and create images about that story. Reimagine it, or do it however you see it in your mind when you read that story. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, there's nothing that says everything has to be completely original. If anyone's being honest, whoever wrote that story that you're referencing, they were probably referencing something else when they wrote it, you know? So we're all influenced by others in our lives, so I think tapping into that is really important. I love this quote. "Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal, "bad poets deface what they take, "and good poets make it into something better, "or at least something different" by T.S. Elliot, and I think that's really true for any artist. Stealing and making it your own, that's where great work comes from. and I think that word stealing gets us a little scared, but again, we're acknowledging this is something great and it sparks something in me and it allowed me to bring my own ideas to life. Again, ideas are like anything we're going to be talking about, it takes time and practice. It sounds funny to say that coming up with ideas takes practice, but it really does. I don't know that I could break it down scientifically how that works, but I do find now that when I get into this space, or even just in my everyday life, ideas are something that I'm much more open to than I ever used to be. I think part of it was I just put too much pressure on myself, like I have to come up with an idea right now. Probably not, when you have that mindset. Let's see here. This is also another great quote that I just came across, I think it was in a documentary, I wish I could remember where it was. "Inspiration is for amateurs, "the rest of us just show up and get to work," Chuck Close. That's so true. Again, we talked about ideas and a lot of times we say, where do you get your inspiration from? It's showing up and making decisions, making little tiny decisions, and this is kind of getting into the talk that I'm gonna give about finding your style, but basically what it boils down to is understanding who you are, making decisions that are reflective of who you are and what you like, and just making a whole bunch of them, and when they all come together, it makes something really big. It's never really this big thing that just happens or is orchestrated from above, it's like this course and these shoots, it's probably three months of endless phone calls and meetings and crying and sketching and writing and all that kind of stuff. Show up, and just take baby steps, and start where you're at. Forget that big thing that you'd like to do 20 years from now, don't let that be an excuse, just figure out what can I do right now, and start moving from there. Again, these photo shoots that we're gonna be doing I keep referencing, I thought I'd give you guys a little bit of an idea of what that's gonna look like and where the ideas came from. These are pictures I've done in the last year or so, and I've been really interested and intrigued by nautical life, water and sailors and anything at sea. I grew up in Santa Barbara, in a small town up north in California on a lake, and now being in Seattle, water just gives me a sense of placement and grounding. It's hard to explain, but I need to be around water, there's something deep-seated in me in connection to that. Themes around water have been very interesting to me. Doing these portraits, this was just for fun, just kind of exploring what would portraits of some of these characters look like and I think hopefully, ultimately, these will inform other works that I do, it's just a starting point. When this opportunity for CreativeLive came up, I started looking through my list and one of the things was sailors and nautical themes. I thought okay, what can we do with that. The other thing that informs our work is current events and sometimes I'll look at an idea I had that I wrote years ago, and then it's kind of reshaped by where I'm at now and what I've learned recently. Certainly right now in our country and all over the world, there's a whole lot of social and political themes going on and my wife and I have had our eyes open to a lot recently as I think a lot of people have. One thing that we've been talking a lot more about is women's rights, and how men are viewed in society and how women are viewed in society. Recently there was a play here in Seattle of The Little Mermaid and Ariel was cast as an Asian woman. I read an interview, it said some people were upset about it and I just remember thinking why is that so upsetting? Why do we have these roles and ideas that we think, like Ariel can only be a Caucasian redhead girl. So I started thinking about sailors again, and realizing I'm doing that too, why are sailors only old white men? Why can't that be something else? Also, in all honesty, the original idea that we were doing for CreativeLive was something completely different and we put in three or more solid weeks on that idea and got to the point just a couple weeks ago where it was too big and too expensive and it wasn't gonna work, so we had to completely pivot and go in a different direction. One of the themes about that was, again, casting women in historical context outside of how life actually was at the time. I took that theme over and started thinking about sailors and thought okay, what if we cast women as sailors? What if we create this all-female ship crew and create portraits that we're not accustomed. I know there have been female sailors and females working in nautical life, but what's interesting is when you start to do research on this and try to find ideas and wardrobe and stuff like that, it doesn't really exist. You do just mostly find old dudes. That makes it kind of difficult, but also exciting to kind of reimagine on your own, what would this look like? If women were sailors in the 60s, what would their outfits look like and that sort of thing. That's where we're going with these four shoots, it's gonna be this female ship crew and we're creating this ship and we're gonna see four different parts of the ship and four different members of the crew and what they do on there. And this is part of where that started from, this personal kind of process for me.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Keatley Keynote Presentation
Casting for Nautical Shoot Video

Ratings and Reviews

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!

Student Work