Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment


Lesson Info

Final Image Reveal - Retouching: Communication and Direction

So, retouching. As you know or may not know, I don't do my own retouching. I work with a retoucher. So, what I wanna do here is I wanna talk to you guys about my process, in terms of working with a retoucher, and what I do to convey my ideas. And, then, also what the retoucher is obviously bringing in, how we work together. To start off, this is an actual email that I sent to my retoucher, Viktor Fejes, he's at GILD Studio, and basically I went through all the images as we talked about, I picked my selects but then there was, like the rowboat scene, for example, there's other images where we need smoke and there's composite work to be done. One thing that I've learned over the years, the hard way, is the importance of really communicating clearly. It's really easy and tempting to just sent some stuff to your retoucher and be like, "make it look cool" and I've certainly done that. Especially for somebody like me who has anxiety and I, for whatever reason, just am afraid of committing to...

things. Sometimes it's easy to just be like, let's just see what happens and send him stuff, but you've really gotta have vision. You've gotta know what it is that you want. You've gotta be able to give them clear guidelines so they're not just shooting in the dark, too. That's not fun for a retoucher if you just say, "Do something" 'cause that's really, really vague. Here, as you can see, I sent him just a quick intro and then I have specific instructions on each image. And, that's not to say that we didn't change things later but as with anything, like if you're building a house or something, it gets more expensive when contractors call them "change orders". You say, "hey, build a house" and then you're halfway into it and you're like, "Actually, I want a window over there "and we didn't plan on that." That's gonna cost a lot more than if you said, from the beginning, I want a window over there, and it's the same with retouching. One thing to call out for the instructions on the portrait image, is I mentioned in the email treatment inspiration and what I sometimes do, typically do, is I'll put a folder on Dropbox or whatever it is you're using to transfer your assets, I'll put a folder of other images, sometimes that other people shot or images of my own, but it's images that convey a feeling or a color or an idea that will take place in the retouching process. I'll make sure to try to give as clear guidelines with words and also visuals as possible. And, then the other thing is, the more you work with a retoucher, it's like any relationship, the better you know each other. The more experience you have together. In the bottom here, I mentioned the Joe Quatrone portrait, which is an image that I shot and Viktor had retouched, so frequently, the more we work together, we kind of develop shorthand. We're like, let's do that such-and-such picture, let's do this. You can kind of reference specific treatments that you have developed together over time. There's a picture... A portrait, again, as I mentioned, of Joe that really hit at what I kind of wanted this portrait to look like. For the Cargo Dock, again, I included... There were several different images that went with this. We shot smoke and we had a light on the wall, so we needed plates where we needed to blend the light, and you'll see that as we get into the images that it was really important that image could look a bunch of different ways if you just give him the images, but I've gotta describe where it's suppose to end up. The Rowboat, again, was the most extensive in terms of explaining what I wanted it to look like. There's actually probably fewer revisions on that image than any of the other ones, but the work to lead up to that was the hardest, at least for me. We have different pieces of smoke that go on different sides of the boat. There was only one main image of the subject, thankfully, but we did have to kind of build around that a little bit. And, that's again, why, on that shot, and some of the other ones, I guess actually all of the images, we used tripod and I don't always use a tripod, but for this kind of stuff, if you're gonna be doing composite work, you need to have a tripod, so that you can take a piece and plug-and-play it, otherwise, if the whole image shifts, it's not really that easy. And, then, finally, on the last image, The Diver, the simplest of notes. We ended up making a few more revisions after the fact but this one was pretty straightforward, just kind of changing the picture in the porthole to an image that I had taken to make it look a little more realistic. So, let's dive into the images. This is the original image. This is raw, straight out of camera. This is the picture that... That I picked. And, then, you saw the notes, and so this is the first round that was sent back to me from Viktor. And, I really like this. It's a really good base. Typically, I will have notes still rarely... And this is not... This doesn't mean that the retoucher did anything wrong, It's a process and it's a conversation. So, typically I will have notes after the first round and sometimes we'll get to round seven or eight but typically it's round two or three or something like that. So, you can see, I'll go back and forth real quick. This is the raw. This is round one. And, then this is... This is round two, and basically what I did was I took his round one, and I made some changes to it. This is an actual image that I sent back to him. I make a layered file and so I will make notes with a red pen of things that I want removed. Or sometimes I'll write with red on there. But I will make some crude changes, as best I can and make a layered file and send it back to them. Obviously, you don't wanna do that yourself and call it a day because you're working from a... Not the master file at that point, so you're making some changes that aren't done as well as a retoucher can do them. This is, I'll go back and forth from round one and then I'll say, I love it. I'd like it to be a little darker. I'd like it to be a little more desaturated, it felt a little too saturated to me, and there's a hair and a couple little freckles that I wanna have taken out. And, I'll send it back and then this is the final image which he sent back to me. So, again, right there, based on those notes. This is the image that we picked for the Cargo Dock and this is the raw original, right out of camera, so, again, you can see we've got the seamless on the side and there's the edge of the paper, or the edge of the set that's not quite going off frame. And, then, here is round one. And, again, really great. For me, it was a little too oversaturated. And, the light on the wall feels really bright and punchy like it's taking too much attention for me. I want it to be there but I don't wanna be staring at it. So, I feel like the... I feel like it needed a little more spread. The bulb was maybe a little too bright. So, I put a series of notes and things on the image, and, again, just like last time, sent it back. This red might be a little hard to see here on the screen but, basically, it was taking some flyaway hairs and cleaning it up, so I'll give him another image with a piece of hair that's cleaner. You could obviously just take 'em out but if you have pieces that will work better, that's always a good way to go. I talked a little bit about trying to include some of the atmosphere, the smoke back in the image that we lost a little bit. And, that was kind of a question; I don't know how feasible that is 'cause we were also dealing with the light on the wall, so there may have to be some sort of trade-off there. And, then, also talking about how do we spread that light a little bit more over the wall so it's not so intense and focused around the light bulb. And then this is the final image that we got back. You can see here's the original, here's round one, and here's the final and you can see from round one to the final, the knife on the box came off. It felt like it was just a little too much. I think odd numbers are good general rule, doesn't always have to be the case, but we've got the boxes, the radio, and then there's a clipboard on the back, so the knife was four and it just... It felt like two and two just... It didn't feel right to me, so I thought the knife was a little much in this case. So, moving on to The Rowboat. This is the original and there's probably, despite the large amount of notes, there's probably less work done on this one than some of the other ones, but original... And then here's round one. And, it might be hard to see on the screen but in round one there was just a few little lines in the foreground where you could see some edges of paper and we had a few power cables that were just poking through the the smoke, and maybe for web it would be fine but if I want to print these large, which I do, then that kind of detail work is gonna definitely show, so I have to be really, really picky and get in there. Round one, this is some notes that I sent back. You'll see, also, on the top left, the light, the orange light shining through, personal preference, I'm not saying it's bad, but for me, it felt almost equally bright to the subject's face. So, I wanted her face to be the focus-point. I don't want people looking at the light or the fog, so I wanted to tone that down a little bit. And, I think that was actually maybe part of an email that I sent. It's not part of these notes here. But, you can see that that toned down a little bit. And, then, the other changes may be harder to see here. And, then, here is the final image. So, we'll go from original, to final. And, then, moving on to the last image, this is the original from the ship set. One thing that was a little tricky with this particular shot was this set is so symmetrical and balanced. I kind of eyeballed it and set up my tripod, so, once I was working with the image, it was a little crooked and little off, like my balance wasn't perfect, so that was one thing that will change. Here's round one from the original. So you can see, basically, we just added contrast. It was a little flat out of camera. And, then, I made some notes and did a little straightening. Also, there was not any molding. As you saw in the course, we didn't have molding on the ground at all when we were shooting and realized that we needed that, so John, on the fly, was able to come up with something. But, we didn't have a piece in the back, and I was actually... I was going to take one of the side molding pieces off after the shoot, and put it in the back and shoot it as a plate and I just forgot to do that. Sometimes that stuff happens, again, that's why I walk to much about being so detailed and taking notes and everything. So, I had to ask, is there any way to add molding here to the background using the assets... The assets that we have. And, one thing that's interesting, again, going back to communication is... I just would have never even thought about this, I asked to add molding to the bottom. And, I don't have it in here. But, what Viktor did was add mold, like black mold, to the wall, which makes total sense 'cause there's mold in the room. We have mold and aging all over the place, so we had this good laugh about it. Like, oh, okay, I didn't even think to differentiate what type of mold I'm talking about here. So, these are my notes. This is the final image and there were a few different rounds or revisions between here that I didn't include in this one but you will see from the original it was straightened. And then I did end up going in and cropping in quite a bit on my own at the end, too. I felt like this set, again, needed that balance and symmetry, so I ended up measuring the distance from all the corners and everything. The floor doesn't match the ceiling. It's not a true-force perspective. The angles are a little different but the center block is perfectly centered and that was something that was important to me and I felt like, gave her a little more balance, as well. We also did things like we darkened, you can see here, the vent was just something we screwed onto the ceiling, so you can see the blue through the vent, which a real vent wouldn't have a hole. It leads to duct work or something. So, little things like blacking out the inside of the vent to sell that idea. And, there was a few screws in the set that we just had to take out in post. The porthole was another tricky one. And, I don't know if it will necessarily show up on screen here but after looking at it more and more, I just felt like it didn't look like there was glass in the porthole, which there wasn't, but it was becoming distracting to me. I had to look at pictures of portholes and glass and try to figure out what a reflection looked like. And, finally we realized, potentially there was glass on the inside but we had to... We had to take the left side of the bevel of the porthole, we had to scratch it up in post and make it look like the glass was actually on the inside of the porthole and it took more time than I care to admit to figure that out, but Viktor hung in there and it really turned out really well. But, that was a really... Sometimes the little details are the trickiest parts to figure out. So, to wrap up here, we'll just go through and I'll give you a side-by-side of the original and the final images. Here's our before and after of the Tattoo Portrait. Here's our Cargo Dock. And the Rowboat. And, then, finally the Ship. And, the perspective did change quite a bit more, again, 'cause of the crop on this one.

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.


1Class Introduction
2Creative Photography Path
3Importance of Personal Work
4Concepts and Inspiration
5Choosing Your Environment
6Research and Mood Boards
7Finding Your Style
8Establishing a Team
9Jobs on Set
10Production Hurdles
11Working with an Art Director
12Pooling Resources
15Set Design and Props: Interview with John Lavin
18Technical vs. Flexible Lighting
19Creating Environment
20Gear Essentials vs. DIY Solutions
21Lighting for Your Subject
22Lighting for Your Environment
24Directing Your Subject
25Tips for Directing Talent
26Pre-Lighting and Test Shoots
27Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 1
28Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 2
29Shoot: Stylized Portrait - Close Up Part 3
30Set Tour and Lighting Set Up
31Shoot: Building Environment & Lighting Adjustments
32Shoot: Building Environment Part 1
33Shoot: Building Environment Part 2
34Photo Critique
35Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Set Tour
36Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 1
37Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 2
38Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 3
39Shoot: Row Boat in Fog Part 4
40Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 1
41Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 2
42Shoot: Scuba in the Hull Part 3
43Image Selection: Stylized Portrait
44Image Selection: Building Environment
45Image Selection: Row Boat in Fog
46Image Selection: Scuba in the Hull
47Next Steps: Create New Work
48Next Steps: Share Your Work
49Next Steps: Marketing and Branding Consistency
50Final Image Reveal - Concept and Casting
51Final Image Reveal - Retouching: Communication and Direction
52Final Image Reveal - Final Q&A