Skip to main content

Directing Your Subject

Lesson 24 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

24. Directing Your Subject


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

Directing Your Subject

Directing, again, this is kind of one of those words I think still maybe in our industry it's like, oh my gosh, he's talking about video or motion but again, I think it's really important to think about yourself as a photographer as a director. And when you are working with a model or a subject, whoever it is, you really do need to direct. You need to be able to guide someone in the direction that you want them to go even if it's in a roundabout way which we'll talk about specifically. Here's a picture of me doing directing things. Pointing, right, that's what you do, you point and you look like you know what you're doing and all that kind of stuff. I had to go through the archives and try to find pictures. I have a bunch of behind the scenes pictures but when it came to this section directing it was like, oh my gosh, I don't have like me pointing heroically or anything like that. So, you'll have to bear with me on some of these. This is actually, I think a series of these coming up is...

a music video that I co-directed with Jason Koenig. It was a Macklemore Fences music video. So, that's where some of these pictures coming up are from. So, as I mentioned, the photographer needs to direct and take charge and that is not just when it comes to your model or your subject, that comes to the entire production. And I kind of like to think of it as imagine it's a party in your home, you need to take charge and that goes well before guest arrive. You need to have your house in order when the party starts, you don't want people to arrive and then you start cooking and doing all, I mean, maybe at some party but in general, you wanna have things ready so when people get there they feel welcome, they feel like you didn't forget about this and start doing it five minutes ago kind of thing. It instills confidence in people. This is another shot from that music video. Someone asked yesterday I think on directing for motion why do you need a DP, an AC and all these other roles. And again, you can't quite see it in this image but on this particular image the camera's mounted on a large slider and it's got like bucket seats on it and stuff. And so, you've got the DP sitting here and then I'm directing on this particular scene. And then you've got AC pulling focus and then you've got a guy in the background, he's actually like physically moving when we call action to shot. He's like moving the rig. So, when you think about things in this context, like you can't do it all yourself. Like I'm not gonna be like, you know, pushing the thing and like focusing and trying, it's just too much. Again, you don't do it because it seems fancy and complicated, you do it when it's necessary. And then there's some scenes in a video or when we're doing stills where I can't operate the camera and stuff. Again, there's real specific reasons for all of that. Again, so as I mentioned kind of thinking about a photo shoot as a party, you've got to set tone, you've got to show up feeling confident even if you are a wreck and you're like, oh my gosh, I'm not sure if this is gonna work like I feel right now, no. Even if you're, you have to be able to internalize that kind of stuff and communicate things. It doesn't mean that if there's a real problem that needs to be solved that you just ignore it. You deal with it but you've got to, you've got to instill confidence in everyone. I was talking with my producer last night as we were putting some final notes on this and she was telling me about a project that she worked on years ago where she showed up and it was a low-budget film, and everyone is really excited to work on the project. There wasn't a lot of money so there has to be excitement if you're gonna show up and work on something like that. And she said the first thing the director said to everyone was, "Wow, I can't believe you guys actually showed up." And she said it just like sucked the life out of the crew and I think that those kind of things are good for me to hear too because sometimes I'm not or I'm never really in that position where I'm thinking about it in reverse. But I think it's really great to try to understand from all people's perspectives that you work with what's helpful and what's not helpful. Like it's not helpful to show up and feel like the person you're working with or collaborating with isn't real sure about this or they don't even wanna be there themselves. Like that's not gonna feel great and it's not gonna be very motivating to you. So, you've really got to set the tone for your entire crew. Here's another shot from that same music video. Jason Koenig on the left who I co-directed with and Macklemore. And you know, this was an interesting situation because there's a bit of a history with everyone there. We've all worked together before. Typically though specially on a photo shoot you're not gonna be working with someone necessarily for days and days. Sometimes you're just getting in there and you have 10 minutes to shoot, and so, you may need to spend two minutes talking with your subject and then working. I've heard years ago from some photographers that a general rule for photographers who've been doing it for a while is if they had 10 minutes they like to spend five minutes talking. They'll spend half their time with the subject and half their time shooting. And you don't have to do it that way, I don't think that I do it that way, I think that I probably try to take as much time for shooting as possible. But you certainly want to try as best as possible to have some sort of connection. You wanna make it a personal thing. And I know for example like I was mentioning yesterday when I do castings, it's a very awkward situation for the actors at least who are coming in. I was talking to my producer on that job and she used to act, that was how she got into the industry was she was an actress. And something she said I thought like puts it in really great perspective. She said, it's wonderful to act, it's terrible to be an actor. And I think that again gives you that perspective like when you have a job or a role and you can actually do the work and create, that's what we all wanna do, right? That's why we're doing this but it's showing up to the casting calls and it's all of that dirty work and marketing, and showing up and when you don't get it and stuff that it's just like it's such a grind and it wears people down, and it's hard to get past. So, even in those situations if you're doing casting and you're seeing a hundred people in a day or something, at the very least, I mean you can't sit and have conversations to everyone. Like time is really important but you can at least say hello and thank you so much for coming, and try to give them something. Try to make it as much of a human experience as possible because it's really easy to forget that again when you have 10 minutes, someone is showing up and you're like, I just need to get this job done. Have seat, take pictures and stuff. Remember that it's human, human beings and try to as best you can make someone feel really comfortable. Building rapport with the talent, again, as I just mentioned, that can be a phone call before a shoot. It can be an email. It doesn't have to just take place on set. Again, there's so many different and I'll walk you through like some off the top of my head. For example, if I'm doing editorial especially if it's someone that I've never worked with before or maybe they haven't even had their picture taken before. And again, editorial would be you get called by a magazine usually and they'll say, "Hey, we want you to photograph this person." It could be a celebrity, it could be an athlete, it could be a small business owner or a lawyer, whoever it is. You can usually by doing a Google search or doing some research on them or asking your editor at the magazine about the story or the person, you can kind of get a sense really quickly, have they done this before? Is this someone that's in photo shoots all the time, you know? And that may affect your approach. If it's someone who's never done it before and they're not someone high profile or something like that, you might be able to reach out and have a conversation with them. And you might be able to kind of give them some expectations upfront of what to expect. Again, this is where it gets real difficult and it depends on again what your style is. For me, it was a fine line between over preparing and kind of surprising people with certain things because some of the things I like to do in some people's perspectives are a little weird and it might scare them off. Like if I ask someone on the phone a week in advance, are you willing to wear this polar bear costume? It's just real easy to say no. I don't wanna wear a polar bear costume. Like, I don't wanna be seen like that or something like that. But if I bring the polar bear costume and I can talk about it and show it to him and get really excited and be like, this is gonna be really awesome, you know? And maybe even we do another shoot, it's not the first thing we do. It's easier to project that excitement and maybe it's something that they'll be willing to do. So, you have to really figure out early on when you want to play all your cards upfront and when you don't. If you ask upfront on the phone like a week in advance and like I'm not doing that, and then you bring it, you look like a total jerk. It's like we already talked about this and I said no. I feel like you're not listening to me, that's not a great way to start a relationship. And then the water gets really muddy when it's like celebrities or something and you're dealing with publicists and PR people, and you don't even really get to talk to your subject. And so, there's a lot of relationships like that. I'm getting a little carried away but. The other thing that I, oh sorry, jumping ahead. Here's another shot. Once the subject's on set and again, it depends on the type of work that you're doing, how much time you have. This is a video set again, so, it's acting. A big difference with acting and doing photo shoots is I was talking to Erin, our first model earlier today and I always like to kind of get a sense of how people respond. Oftentimes with models like for photography you can say give me surprise or you're more posing models for stills. It's movement and holding things. With actors if you're doing motion you need to give them motivation. You can't just say look surprised. Like an actor needs to be able to fit into a character and an idea and an emotion. And this is something I'm still very much learning about myself because I've been doing photography more than directing. It's incredible the difference when working with an actor when you say look surprised versus all right, you're on a boat and you're in a rush and you just dropped your keys in the lake. That gives you like a very real idea and action to put your mind into and you can start to kind of live that out. And that's what you, you may want that in a still shoot too it just depends again on what you're after. But those are things to think about again when working with your subject. Another thing to keep in mind that I've learned over the years is especially if it's someone that you haven't, it hasn't been photographed before is be aware of your subject's needs too. It doesn't matter that this is how I always do things and it always works. Like if someone for example, if someone's really uncomfortable there was a shoot I did once where it was a performer but I don't know that she had a ton of experience on camera. And even if she did it doesn't really matter. She was feeling uncomfortable in this shoot and I could tell as we went on. I wasn't really getting what I needed and I felt like she was trying, it wasn't like she wasn't hearing me but I kept giving direction and it just didn't seem to work. And I became aware because this has happened before and again, it takes time and practice. I became aware that she was feeling particularly vulnerable and when you stop and think about this situation, in this particular case there's me with the camera, that's enough vulnerability right there for most people. And then I've got an assistant over my shoulder watching her and then I've got a digital tech standing here watching her. And then I've got an art director from the magazine standing there and watching her. And then you've got the photo editor also there on this particular shoot. And then you've got hair, makeup and wardrobe and they're all watching for a good reason. They're like looking for their thing but the thing is if someone's feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable and we're not getting or all these eyes are not helping. And so, this is something again that I communicate with my crew in advanced. You know, it's real hard if you haven't talked about it before, if I just go, "Hey, why don't you leave." And like, "What do you mean, don't you want me here?" And it's like, "No, I want you to leave right now." "Oh, I thought." "No, go." Like that's gonna be awkward, like this is gonna draw attention to the fact. But in this particular case again because we've communicated upfront and we've worked together before through personal work, through practice and all these kind of stuff, we've had conversations. I can turn to my assistant and I can say, "I need to clear the room." And so, also what I don't want to happen is just everyone leaves at once. Like that also draws attention to like, oh, we just did something. So, when that happens what I want is I want my assistant to just like, "Oh, I need to go charge battery now real quick." Go charge the battery. Then I need them to call hair and makeup over and say like, "Hey, did you need to leave this plugged in?" And then I need them to come back over and talk to the digital tech and ask something. And I just need everyone to kind of from very natural seeming reasons leave. And that happened. It took maybe like 90 seconds. But if you think about it in hindsight you could be like, oh my gosh, that's interesting they left but in that moment hopefully usually people aren't really gonna notice. It's just gonna seem like life is happening on set and people are doing their thing. But as soon as people left and I said, hold on, I wanted to change something. I got to like reset my battery real quick and stuff. Just give her a moment to breathe, put the camera down. And then when we came back up it was like this weight had just like dropped off her shoulders and it was, we were starting over essentially. And we didn't even shoot much after that because we got it. It was just like, that was it. Getting those eyes off of her, allowing her to reset and giving her a sense of kind of privacy and some intimacy was what it took. And sometimes you may have to try several different approaches and maybe none of them will work. Maybe the person you're working with is just too nervous and there's no absolutes. But really being aware of your surroundings. Trying to be in tune with your subject and what they need, again, it's not all really about us and what I need or how I like to do things. I mean, you certainly have your process but if you're gonna stick to it you're gonna get what you get unless you're willing to kind of get outside of that. Another thing to consider with directing people is psychology. Again, feedback and kind of giving, reinforcing what you wanna see from people. Sometimes there's an example years ago where I wanted someone to look really kind of skeptical or kind of cautious. Cautiously look over like they're maybe somewhere between judging or, I'm losing my words right now. But they didn't really wanna do it. They were pushing against that idea and so, I kind of got them through various words like turn your head this way, squint your eyes a little bit kind of thing. Got there and then I said, "Oh, looks too skeptical." And instantly in that moment they were like oh, we're on the same page. Like he doesn't want me to look skeptical but I actually did. And then I was able to at that moment kind of turn him again and get him looking really skeptical. And it just depends, again, like if you're working with a paid model and they'll do anything you want, right? I mean it's paid if you're working with editorials. Sometimes you have different assignments. Like you have a magazine editor that's like we want this person, we wanna play in to this scandal or something. And they're thinking I wanna look like an angel who people wanna elect for office or whatever. You have to kind of know how to balance these things. Now again, if it's an ad campaign or if it's a personal shoot or something like that, those aren't necessarily really things you have to think about. But there's a lot of psychology in just understanding human emotion and human needs that go into getting people where you want them to go. And it took me a long time because just sitting there and saying, "Look angry. "Look angry, just look angry. "You're not looking angry enough." Like if that isn't working for someone, you've got to figure out another way to get them there if that's the particular look that you're going for. I like to always, whether it's a photo shoot or a still shoot, as best as possible, I like to sit with people not even just before the shoot but during the shoot. I find for me it's very helpful to just set the camera down and stand where they're standing, and try to do what I'm asking them to do myself. And sometimes you will realize like oh, actually that's really hard or that's not quite what I was expecting. So in this case, it's a dinner scene and he's working. In this picture I think we may have just been goofing off but I mean in general, I do like to sit down and kind of imagine myself and also kind of hopefully show them a little more of what I'm expecting. One example was I did a short film where this character basically at the end she was running and she was sliding across the hood of a car. It was like her life's dream to do this and she was grocery shopping and life was just kind of mundane and all of a sudden she saw this car that took her back to her child, and she just dropped the groceries and starts running and she slides across the hood. And so we're doing this scene and I was trying to explain what I wanted and she kept just going really fast, and I was like, we've got to slow it down. Like, you're all over the place and I'm like, there was longer conversations but it was this real struggle. And we work together and I trust her but it was like, why isn't this working? And so, I got up and she's like it's really slippery. I was like, I know it's slippery, that's the point. You need to slide but you're going way too fast, like we've got to control it. And finally, I got up there and I was like, look, this is what I'm talking about and I just sat on it and I just flew off the hood. And I was like, wow, that is really slippery And she's like, "Yeah, I told you, you know?" So, you have to be able to again, you've got to be able to hear your subject or your model or whoever it is and there is great benefit in putting yourself in that position and understanding from their perspective what they're dealing with as well. And then maybe you don't, maybe you have to pivot, maybe you have to problem solve and think okay, maybe we need to put some different pants on so it's not so slippery or maybe we need to like try to take some of this polish off this car. Whatever it is. Another thing that I discovered just in the last year that I do all the time now and it was really by accident that this happened is I always bring samples of my work to a shoot now. It's really easy. Again, kind of tying in to what we discussed yesterday. Never assume. I mean, that's kind of a life rule anyway but it's really, really easy to make assumptions in this job. Don't ever assume that the people you're working with know who you are or have even seen your work. Now, maybe the person who actually hired you I mean, probably let's assume they've seen your work hopefully. Maybe the client has seen your work or something but when it comes to the subject, for years I was just like, yeah, they're going to a photo shoot of course they're gonna know who I am or like what my work looks like. I mean, I would probably look up someone. But I think the reality is people don't. Like they have better things to do. Like that's my world so I put an emphasis on that. But a lot of people they don't, they go have a photo shoot. They're not gonna think about, oh, I wonder who the photographer is, I wonder who the art director is or I wonder who the DP is. Like, that's not in their world so they probably don't think about it. Even in celebrity situations oftentimes a publicist is gonna know or something like that but it still doesn't mean that that subject or the talent knows. How this kind of came about for me was I had a celebrity shoot just a couple of years ago maybe and it was at their home which doesn't happen all the time but in this particular case it was at their home. And so, I showed up and I knew we didn't have a ton of time and it wasn't a big budget, it was a magazine so we had to keep the crew a little smaller than I typically would on a commercial project. But it showed up and there were several of us and we had quite a bit of gear, and we got there on time and I knocked. And his wife let us in and then I went up and introduced myself. And he's like, "Who are all these people men?" And I was like, "Oh, this is just a couple crew members." And he's like, "How long's this gonna take?" And I was like, "You know, probably a couple hours. "I mean, you don't have to be there the whole time. "We've got to set up and we'll probably need "at least 15 minutes with you if possible "if you don't mind. "And we got to tear it down "and we'll get out of here as fast as possible." And he's, "Holy cow man." He's like, "I thought this was just "like a quite little thing." He's like, "Isn't this a newspaper or something." I'm like, "No, actually it's for such and such magazine." He's like, "Oh my gosh." Man, he's like all right and he just wasn't like thrilled about it and I was thinking, oh man, this is not good. Like he doesn't wanna do this. And so, I had brought a couple of my printed pieces that I use for marketing and things that I give to clients, I had them with me. And I had them for a completely different reason but I brought them in and I gave one to his wife just because I had heard that she was interested in photography. So I thought, all right, well, I'll bring this and share it with her. Anyway, when her husband came down she was like, "Oh hey, check this out, this is his work." And he was like looking through and he's like, "Oh my gosh." He's like, "You did all these?" I was like, "Yeah, that's my work." He's like, "Wow, this is awesome." And he's like, "Well, you photographed them?" He's like, "Oh, that's so cool." And then his mood completely changed. And it was like, "Oh, can I get you guys something to drink." And like, "Oh, take your time, whatever you need." And we ended up staying there for like three and a half hours just hanging out and talking and taking pictures and stuff. And I think I realize in that moment, wow, I just assumed that everyone knows what's going on and the difference is again, if you're just taking, I mean, I don't wanna categorize people or mitigate but if you're taking a snapshot or something and someone doesn't really care about it, like yeah, they don't wanna put a lot of time into it. But if you can show someone whatever it is you do I can only talk about myself but my type of work is very stylize whether we put a lot into it and we try to make things look bigger than life. And it tends to be kind of more shiny and poppy. And so, if that's something that excites somebody then that's gonna get them to buy in. It's gonna get them to be like, wow, yeah. I wanna be a part of that. So, by all means like I'm not gonna rush. Now, it doesn't always work out that way. It doesn't mean that 15 minutes is magically gonna turn into three hours every time just because you bring something. But I have noticed now as I do this in the same way that you don't wanna set your crew up for failure and be like, oh man, I don't wanna do this. I can't believe you guys showed up. Like if you can show them I really care about my work and this is what I do and this is what you're getting yourself into, hopefully that's exciting to you. You are giving yourself a real good chance to get your subject to buy in. Another instance was a travel job that I did after I had learned this and I took another promo with me and it was another celebrity shoot and it was very fast turnaround. And they were filming this big commercial and I was doing the stills like on break. So it was just kind of like let's get this done with kind of thing that usually in those cases the motion pieces is primary and the photography kind of like falls in whenever you can get it kind of thing. But I took a promo and I organized it so it was kind of more celebrity heavy and she's a comedienne so I put some comediennes in there. And I gave it to her and again, it was the same kind of thing. She's like, "Oh my gosh." She's like, "Tony and oh, you know, John. "And oh my gosh, you know them." She's like, "Those are my best friends." And so, all of a sudden like even though I don't really know those guys, I photograph them but it again, it instills some confidence and it makes you feel like. Imagine yourself if a stranger comes up to you and it's like, "Oh my gosh, you know, "I recognized him from online or something." It's like oh, that's kind of weird. We all probably get that these days or whatever social media and stuff where there's less human interaction. But if someone comes up to you and says, "Oh my goodness. "You know, someone says my best friend." And then you know them. It's like oh, there's a human connection there. So, any little thing like that where you can try to relate and give confidence in what you're doing and in how you're gonna handle that person, there's tremendous value in that. One thing I do wanna caution and thank you, yeah, this is the, I don't know how long it's been up but this is an example of like one of our printed pieces. I have a few different kinds so we'll take different ones for different situations. But it could be anything, it could be a postcard, it could be an actual print. It could be your portfolio or something. Whatever you have or whatever able to produce easily, it doesn't have to be fancy or expensive or anything like that but just something that show, it could even be your phone. You could just show them pictures on your phone. But if you feel confident, if you feel like it is helpful if you have work show them what you do and so they can understand kind of better where you're coming from. I was gonna tell you another story and I totally forgot but I'll come back to it if I remember. So moving on. What's their motivation? I think again I got a little ahead of myself earlier but again, motivation can come from you. Again, as we discussed giving them a scenario better explaining kind of what it is that you're looking for. Sometimes motivation can come from props and like we talked about a little bit yesterday. Actually painting them versus doing in a pose, like giving them something to feel, something to live into. In this particular case I didn't end up using any guns in the final image but we had a lot of stuff that didn't end up making in the edit. The edit definitely dictated the direction of that shoot for me. But sometimes just having those things and letting people kind of feel that is a really great way to allow them to live into this. And we'll see a lot of these examples actually in the shoots today as well. There's a lot of props that my gut says probably won't make it in the final images but we're gonna try and we're gonna have them in there, and we're gonna talk about them and things like that. One of the best things you can do as a photographer is to have your picture taken. I say portrait because I'm a portrait photographer. So, having my portrait taken is a really great practice for me. It's not always a fun experience but I learn a lot every time that it happens because again, it's really important for all of us to understand the other person's perspective. I mean, if you think about any relationship. Friendship, dating and marriage, whatever it is, if you only think about your own perspective it's not gonna last. And it's no different in photography or directing. Like, it's good to understand who you are and to know what you need but you certainly also need to understand and be open-minded about the other person's or people's perspectives and where they're coming from. And hopefully there's a place in the middle that you guys can meet and grow and learn from each other. There's been times where I've had my portrait taken and again, it's hard because everyone has different style. So, as the subject I do my best to just let them do their thing. Sometimes people as a photographer they say, what do you want me to do or whatever? It's like there's always a temptation of telling them how to take a picture but that would be my picture, it's not their picture. So, I think it's important to let people do what they need to do and create their own image. But there's been times where I've had my portrait taken and I was sitting there and the photographer was just like talking to me. And it was a nice conversation but then at some point I was like do you want me to move my hands or anything or like. It feels awkward and they're like, "No, no, it's great. "Just keep talking, I like this, this is cool." And so, okay. You're the photographer, you know? Like in that position it doesn't matter how much I know, like I don't know what I look like because there's no mirror, you know? So, I am really at your mercy and that's a great again thing to remember is that's how people often feel like they are at your mercy. There's no mirror and I wouldn't recommend putting a mirror up. That's another thing that I would say just don't do even if people ask for it because if you put a mirror up, it doesn't matter who it is they will never look at you. They will only be looking at that mirror. I learned that very early on. That's just a huge no-no. Also, another thing and again, this depends on your perspective and vision but I don't ever let subjects see the pictures on screen either even though have in here, often times people say, "Oh, can I see one?" And I'll just say no. No, sorry. You don't get to see it. And the reason for that is because nobody ever likes their own picture. So, it doesn't matter how cool this picture is, they're not gonna like it and it's gonna get into your head and it's certainly gonna get into their head. And they're gonna start doing what they think they wanna do but again, it's not their picture, it's your picture so that's why you've got to have that vision but you've also got to be able to get them feeling comfortable. So, in very few circumstances there are times in the same way that I sense that that woman needed all eyes off of her, sometimes there is a situation where I get a sense that showing them the picture might actually help. And an example of that would be when someone is, confidence is not the issue. Like they are very confident but I'm having a hard time getting them in a place that they need to be. Maybe they did it once but they don't understand it. So then I can show them and be like, these pictures are cool but they feel a little off. This one when you did this, that was like, that's where I wanna go. And then they're like, oh, I get, you know, I see that. So, sometimes it is helpful but those are very rare instances for me. And that's also why personally as much as possible I try never to photograph my client. Some people depending on your job that you have to do that. And that's just for me why I didn't, I struggled I think with weddings and families and portraits for hire or for business people and stuff because very few people like their own portrait. And if they're the client, they dictate the terms like you're done when they say you're done kind of thing. So, I like to hire people and work with people who don't have a say in the picture because then hopefully they like it and I think a lot of times they do. But it's just human nature. It's not a reflection on you or your work or anything like that. We all are picking, we have these ideas about my nose is too big or my forehead's too, whatever, like and you'll just never be satisfied. Anyway, have your portrait taken. Going back to that story I was telling you, we were just talking and I was sitting there and just feeling kind of open and vulnerable. And the photographer's like, "No, it's great. "Just keep talking." And then the picture was printed in this magazine and I look like a total goof. I mean and I don't think this is and maybe this is like yeah, great example, John. Maybe I'm doing what I just told you about but it was and this was not the one. This was taken yesterday, I'm not talking about this picture. (audience laughs) I do like this picture. But my hands were open, I was just like my mouth was like half talking motion kind of thing. And I think it just boiled back to again the photographer didn't take any control. Like we were just talking. And there's instances where if that's what you're going for that can work but you've got to tell, you've got to direct and tell your subject in various ways where you want them to be. If you just want someone sitting there and talking and being random, you're gonna get what you get, you know? It's totally out of your control and I just don't think that's a great place to work from if you're trying to create something. But again, we did this yesterday after the thing and I always try when I'm sitting there, I always try to remember what it was like for me when I was creating and people didn't wanna do what I wanted to do so I try to let them mold me. But I think as a photographer you've got to have a vision as he did. Like he knew where he wanted me, he knew how he wanted me to sit. He was telling me about, he observed some things and wanted to play into that. And so, that's awesome. I feel like again, this person, it's like the story where I asked Michelle to cut my hair and she's nervous like I don't wanna be there even though I asked her to do it. But if someone says, "Okay, this is what we're gonna do "and here we go." And they're in control, you're gonna feel very comfortable and confident in that situation. Did wanna ask you a question about this portrait which was taken by our very own Casey Cosley here at CreativeLive that's here in our studios. But you said earlier that you've learned something from every shoot, from having, the importance of getting your photo taken. What did you learn from this shoot with Casey? Oh man, you put in the spot. That's what I do. I think I learned in this particular case to listen, to listen to what he was asking me to do and try to put myself. And that I don't know if I've done that in the past. In the past I was thinking more about things like being directed and how I'm feeling. And I think a lot of lessons I've taken from the past is like well, I feel really vulnerable right now or I feel like I need some feedback. I need them to kind of be my mirror so to speak. But I think having learned those and in this case, he was one of the first people I think that kind of talked to me a little bit about what they saw. I mean he said, it sounds weird saying. But he said, "I feel like you're someone who's thoughtful. "You seem to think about a lot of things." And I'm thinking, yeah, I overthink everything. But he's telling me what he saw in the class that day and so, he wanted to kind of feel like I'm thinking. And then he had this spot in the background because it was photography articles and things like that. And so, that was what he wanted. And so, I tried to live into that and tried to listen to him and realized, again, if I control it it's my picture and I've learned that in the past too. But I tried to more than anything live into and I'm not an actor, so, you know? But the more I learn about all these kind of stuff the more I wanna at least understand the best I can for myself, so.

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