Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 50 of 52

Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting

 

Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 50 of 52

Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting

 

Lesson Info

Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting

It's been an exciting couple months getting these images ready for you guys and I'm really, really excited to finally share the pictures that I picked and that have been re-touched and it feels like a really good finale for the course and all the work that we've put in together. So basically, we did four shoots that were nautical themed and where that came from was I've really been interested for a long time in sea life and these nautical ideas. And these are a short series of portraits of sailors that I did and this was kind of the beginning of this concept that we shot here at CreativeLive. And so basically I took this general idea and reimagined it with female characters. And so with that, we picked four female models and Erin was our first. And what I was looking for when I was doing the casting was I wanted to see people who could convey expression in a way that was interesting to me and really maybe most importantly, I wanted to see people who could take instruction and mirror it...

back to me. A lot of that just comes down to personal style, but what you're looking for may vary, but for me, if I say I want a really serious, exhausted look and someone gives me a high-fashion kind of pose, that's something I'm looking for that might be a problem for me. So for example, there were people that did great and they did give me what I was looking for and in that case, it was really just boiling it down to who's gonna work for various reasons for these sets. But I was definitely using the casting as a way to kind of weed out people that I felt like had pre ideas in mind of what I wanted and they may have been different. So for example, as I mentioned, I said give me a really serious expression. There was a couple models that were kind of like, you know, catalog work kind of stuff, and that's the kind of stuff that you want to be really careful of 'cause those models in particular, actually, were some of the ones I was most excited about going into the shoot. I had seen just a picture of them and I was like, oh, that person's gonna be so great for this. But then when we did the casting, it turns out direction was gonna be a problem. So that's why I'm such a big advocate of making sure that you do everything you can to vet the people that you're gonna be working with, not just looking at a picture. 'Cause, as we all know, sometimes pictures can be deceiving. So the second model that we had was Trazie, and finally Jessica. And you can kinda see with all of them, they all have a little bit, there's some confidence, and attitude, and kinda some sass. So again, personal choice. You might look for something different, but for me there was a specific look and feel that I was going for. And Stephanie our final model, she had just like, she had a lot of, kind of, energy and, kind of like, intensity to her, and I knew for that final set that we'll get to in a second, I knew it was gonna need someone who could kind of, really carry a room, because she literally was going to be carrying a room, it was just a room and a person, so it needed to have someone that really had charisma. And height was really important for her because the room was scaled in a way where if someone was taller than 5'6", the set wouldn't work because it was kind of this forced perspective. So height was also something that we were taking into account there. So just to get you guys recapped visually, these were the four sets that we shot. So on the top left was our first shoot and basically it was a portrait and it was conceptual so there was a lot of work done on the model, but in terms of the environment in the physical space, it was really just seamless paper in the background. And then from there we built up to a slightly larger set where we had a wall and there was some props so we were trying to create this feeling of environment with still fairly limited number of pieces. And then we moved into trying to create this huge epic scene and in some ways, at least in my opinion, with really the fewest number of elements, we had a rowboat, obviously, which is significant, but beyond that it was just light and smoke and so we were trying to create this feeling of being out in open water but really we're in a room and there's not a lot going on. And then finally, as we just talked about, we ended up in the ship set, which was the interior of a ship with the porthole. And then our model inside there so we had full body and floor ceiling and all that. And I'll talk a little bit more specifically about those in a second. So this is the final image that I selected for the portrait and I think actually in the course I did a quick run-through and I think this is actually the same one that I had picked in the course as well. I don't think I ended up picking any of the other ones from the other shots, but this one I didn't end up straying away from my initial instinct. The reason I picked this photo, there was a lot of photos that I really liked from this set and there was some really interesting expression, but I think once I got 'em all down and looking at them together I realized... Also this image kind of dictates what the whole series is, it's the first one so you don't wanna do one thing here and then something completely different in another one, at least I didn't wanna do that. This was really the only really strong image that I had where she was kind of this confident, resting expression. A lot of the other ones were kind of her reacting, or kind of looking surprised or confused. And, again, for me that was interesting, but it felt more like an ad, like it felt like something, you're kind of telling people how to feel. And I didn't really want that. I want to create images that are compelling and interesting, but I want there to be room for imagination, I want the viewer to look at it and kind of feel something on their own. And this was the image for me that got that. It wasn't trying too hard. And I think the other thing with this image too was, with everything that's going on, the tattoos and the scar and the lipstick, there's just this fine line of too much and trying too hard. And then to talk about the challenges of this particular shoot, in hindsight this one was terrifying for a number of reasons, for me. First of all, this is the first one we did, it was the first shoot live on camera, how is this gonna turn out, is it gonna be terrible? Also, I felt like there was a really, and I can't remember if I talked about this, but there was a really fine line and balance of we have this beautiful model and I'm trying to make her look really rough and rustic and we're trying to create this kind of alternate universe and there's this fine line of, like, okay it just looks cheesy, it's this pretty face, but it's not really working. And so I was not really sure going into it, is this actually gonna work, are we gonna be able to sell this? And we spent a lot of time, or I should say I spent a lot of time worrying and talking to people about, you know, are we going about this the right way? We tried a ton of different hairstyles, but it kind of felt like we were trying to be fashiony, which I did not want it to be. And through all these conversations, I think maybe the night before, talking with J Pop, our hair and makeup artist, she kind of threw out, she's like, "Well I could do a scar." And I was like oh my gosh, talk to me about that. And I think the scar, for me, as much as I love the tattoos, and that was kind of the beginning of this concept, the scar for me really tied it in, it allowed it to not become to distracting in any one direction, it didn't feel like too much. It also kind of justified the tattoos. It's not just like, oh, you put some tattoos on a beautiful person, and a beanie, you know. It kind of helped kind of create this full character. So that was the big thing for this particular image. This image there wasn't as much variety. As with all these images in hindsight, I had a pretty clear idea going in of what I wanted and so I didn't play too much, even with expression, although I will say the first portrait there was probably the most variety in terms of expression. But the challenge with this particular shot was, as you can see even here, the set wall, we still shot off a little bit. You can see the black strip on the left edge and on the right side we had to put a piece of seamless in for filler where the set wall ended. And the night before when we were doing pre-light, we kinda realized the set wall's a little smaller than maybe it would be ideally. So that dictated a little bit about where my camera has to go and the lens choice, and things like that. And so at first it was a little scary because I felt like I was being a bit limited in terms of how to approach this. But I think it ended up being a good thing, because it allowed me to focus in, and sometimes constraints, I think, can be good. They can be scary, but they can also dictate what you need to focus on and where you need to be and then you can kinda build from there. The hardest part about this, even though we just have a couple boxes and a coil of rope and a few little props, was, in addition to the set wall and kind of being stuck in a certain place, we worked for hours moving these props around and it just felt like a set. It felt very campy or fake and, for me, the goal was to create something that felt real, felt like you could actually be on a dock with a ship next to it. And so it took a long time to get those elements in the right place. I think, again, because of the pressure of you have to shoot the next day and there are gonna be people watching, it was maybe a little more nerve wracking than it normally would be if I were doing this in my own studio or something and just had no deadline and could play with it. But I'm really happy with how this one turned out. I love her expression, it feels very calm, but there's also some confidence there. I feel like, for me, it allows room to imagine a story around it. She's not telling me what I have to feel or necessarily what she's even feeling. And then this image was really difficult in terms of post, simply because I shot so many images, we shot hundreds of images, primarily trying to get different smoke elements to work with, but then when you're going through them in post, it's hard to differentiate what should I be looking at, the subject or the smoke or both? And so it was really going through hundreds of images and analyzing both and making multiple rounds, more than I would typically do. And you have to make notes. Okay, I like this image, but I'm only marking it because of this. And then I like this image, but I'm only marking it because of that. So I exhausted all my one through five stars in every single color, in terms of marking and labeling these images. But this one is one of my favorite images, I think, once it's all said and done, but there was a lot of post work in terms of note taking and analyzing and things like that. This photo, um... I love this photo. Again, this was a huge, I keep wanting to say this was the most challenging, they were all really challenging in certain ways, but as I kind of alluded to earlier, once we got the set built and we started thinking about who's this character, what's she doing? That was really the hardest part was realizing this is a big, empty, vulnerable space. You've gotta have something in there to make it work, otherwise it just looks weird. And so we tried lots of different outfits and things like that, and trying to figure out what's she doing in here, why should I care about this image. And actually it was when John Lavin, our art director, he was in there painting and he had these bright orange coveralls on as he was painting and when he was in there and I was just watching I realized I was really drawn to his outfit, it was kind of a thing. John and I talked a lot, in the section where we talked about art direction, we talked about "kind of a thing" a lot. And for me what that means is it was a graphic shape, it was a character, and there was a part of me, for a split second was like, let's just have her wearing your coveralls, that's really interesting. But as I started to think about that I realized just having her in jeans and a sweatshirt and a beanie cap wasn't gonna be enough. It was gonna feel like my assistant standing in a really cool set. So I realized we need to have a thing. We need something that's gonna add weight and help balance out this set and so we started thinking about all the different who would be in here, why would they be in here, what could be happening? And came up with this idea for a diving suit. And so the night before the shoot, we had someone running around town and calling different diving rental supply places and we were able to find, thankfully, a vintage diving outfit that was actually the right size. And we did some tests and it just felt like, for me it just, that was it, it worked perfectly. And at that point I didn't need really her to be doing a whole lot, I wanted to kind of create this awkward, vulnerable moment in this space where you see her full body, but hopefully creating an emotion where people can still read something into it on their own without telling them. In the shoot we had her hold the fake seagull and stuff, but again, that just felt a little campy to me. So that's why I ended up on this particular shot. And I love her expression and her stare right in the camera.

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

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

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!