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Lesson 16 from: Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

16. Gear

Next Lesson: Lighting


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


Alright, so, we are gonna talk a little bit about gear right now, which seems appropriate given we're talking about photography. As I mentioned earlier, I don't usually talk a lot about gear but I think there's a lot of value in covering that here. Starting out, one question last night actually, whenever it was, close to midnight driving home after being here all day, my Uber driver, unfortunately, was really interested in talking about gear and I really regretted telling him I was a photographer. (laughing) It was kind of the last thing I wanted. I usually don't wanna talk about it anyway but I definitely didn't wanna talk about it then. But, one question that I know gets thrown around a lot in the photography community is like what's the best camera? What camera do you use? And my general philosophy on lighting and cameras and all that kind of stuff is let your idea dictate your gear, not the other way around. Don't get caught up in gear because it's sexy or it's new or someone told ...

you that you have to have it. Use gear that is going to accomplish a specific goal or result for you and also on top of that, my general philosophy is the best gear is the gear that you don't really have to think about. Now, part of that is it takes time and so it's kind of a loaded statement. I don't really think about lighting that much anymore in the way that I used to but I'm only able to do that because I thought about light for so long and I did learn it. So I'm not saying ignore it, you have to learn it. But ultimately, my general philosophy is I like to let gear become secondary. It helps me achieve a goal and I'm focusing on the subject and the emotion and the feeling that I am gonna get and others are gonna get from the image. So, again, going back to kind of creating mood boards and all the things that we've talked about, figure out what is your idea, what do you wanna do with it, and then what do you need to accomplish that? That's kind of where you should start. What do you actually need? What are the very basic things that you need to create an image? You need a camera that's gonna fit your vision and ideally that's gonna be a camera that you're gonna feel really comfortable with. Now, generally I use a Hasselblad, a medium format digital camera, which I know everyone's like, "Well that's really expensive," and I know it is expensive. And it took me a long time to get there but there's a specific reason I use that camera, it's not just because it's expensive. Doing portraits, a lot of my work is vertical and for a long time, as everyone usually does, I used an SLR camera. And for me, I saw things in not square but more like medium format, 645, and it was this very aggravating feeling of taking pictures because I was not seeing in the viewfinder an image that I saw in my head. I was seeing too much down here and too much head room and so I was constantly thinking about, "Okay, I think if this is here "then I can crop that." I was thinking about the last thing that I should be thinking about when I was taking a picture, I was thinking about gear and technical details and completely ignoring what was actually happening with the subject, the emotion and the movement and the balance and stuff. And so, without getting too sidetracked, it became apparent after I was doing enough work that through a loan and a payment plan, getting that Hasselblad actually was doable and it made sense for me. But really, ultimately, the goal from that was it allowed me to finally like take a deep breath and enjoy making portraits. Now I'm not saying, you may have that realization and you still have to save up for a while. Just because we know we wanna work with a wardrobe stylist or just because we know we want a camera, it doesn't mean that it's gonna happen right away but it gives you a goal to work towards at least. So that's why I use a Hasselblad, it's not just because it's flashy or expensive or something. The other reason is because even 10 years ago when I started using it or whenever it was, I knew that someday I wanted, before I fully understood what fine art was, I knew I wanted to make large prints in my work and I didn't wanna create a body of work and then someday not be able to print it to the scale that I wanted to because it was all created with a smaller camera. So, I wanted to make that initial investment and invest in myself and my work so that someday, lord willing, if I ever was able to make large prints, I had the files that could actually back that up. The other thing that you need aside from a camera that you're comfortable with, that achieves your vision, is you need the ability to control light. You can control light in many different ways, which we'll talk about in a second. But really, it boils down to those two simple things. It boils down to a camera and controlling light. And I think if we can start kind of creating ideas with that in mind, it frees us up from making these excuses of like, "Well, I don't have this "and I don't have that "and this is too expensive." I think we just need to take a step back from that. One thing that really helped me with that approach, because for a while, I was very much a gear snob, and I thought that the gear made the photographer and all that kind of stuff. I remember actually the first day I brought my Hasselblad home and I took a picture and it looked like a raw, digital image just in higher resolution, I was freaking out. Like I think I had built it up so much in my head I expected this sucker to have like a retoucher inside of it, you know, like any time an image comes out it's like here it is, perfect. It's like, it's just a regular camera. I mean, it does different things but everybody's poop stinks. (audience laughing) Raw images are ugly. That's gonna happen in any camera, you know? So, don't expect that gear is gonna suddenly make you any better. This is an example of a project I referenced earlier. It's my iPhone portrait series and again, why did I start doing this? It was kind of an accident and it was just for fun. And several really interesting things that have come from doing this project for me is that it allowed me to stop worrying so much about being perfect all the time. We all know now, we've talked about my need for controlling greatness and stuff. And all of a sudden just realizing like I've got a person and I've got an iPhone and I've got some window light. I'm not gonna worry about, you know, setting this up, it allowed me to be spontaneous and just start working with people and feeling emotion and exploring. And I started doing this maybe four years ago and it was really the first time since I first picked up a camera, maybe 12 years before that, where I actually really was enjoying photography. I think at that point it had very much become a job for me and I was focusing on all the things that you have to get done and I kinda lost the joy. This project, inadvertently, taught me to kinda of fall in love with photography again. And so I use this as a reference because again, what do you need to make great work? I mean, I'm not gonna say if this is great work or not but for me, I love this portrait. I love this whole series. There is deep meaning in it for me and I love the emotion and the freedom that it's taught me to not hold onto certain things so tightly. But, basically the lesson from this is I do own a Hasselblad, a very nice, expensive camera. I could use it for every single picture I ever take but there are times when I set it down and I intentionally pick up in iPhone. And you know, no knock on anyone, iPhone's are great but I mean if we're talking about actual cameras, they're great for camera phones, but they're not the greatest camera if you're comparing it to like an SLR or something like that. So, the reason I use an iPhone in this sense is because I love how spontaneous it is, I love that it kind of reminds me of an old Polaroid, like it has a certain look and it's not perfect, it's a little grainy in certain situations. And also, there's like a familiarity with an iPhone where I can get up in someone's face like this and if we're being honest, we're all used to looking at people like this these days anyway so me taking a picture here is a pretty normal thing. Whereas if I bring up this big camera and they can't see my face, that can be a little intimidating. So I love how it allows me to interact with people a little bit better. I can be here and still looking at them in the eyes. It's a totally different interaction than when I'm using my big camera. So again, there is a specific reason for why I use anything I use. It's not to show off or it's not just because. If you start using gear just because, you need to rethink your process and you've probably gotten off track a little bit. Here is another situation, this is where I did use a Hasselblad and bigger lights. But there was a reason for it. This was an ad campaign for the San Francisco MOMA last year when they reopened. They were closed for a few years and did a really big remodel. I think they're currently the largest art museum in the country. But they wanted to photograph real people, well models, but they wanted to photograph people that felt kind of accessible and they wanted to try to reach a crowd that was outside of the fine art market, they wanted to expand their audience and so they had very specific casting details and demographics of who they were trying to reach and they wanted the people to be lit a certain way and they had all of these notes and ideas and things that they presented to me in the same way that we're talking today about, kind of presenting your notes to your team. And so based on what they wanted to achieve, we needed to be able to shoot images that were gonna fit large billboards. We needed to be able to have images that were gonna have like detail and a certain look and polish to them and so I felt most comfortable with this camera and these lights. I needed to be able to freeze action and I needed to be able to have consistency. I needed the light to look the same at eight in the morning as it would at five in the morning. So if you're gonna try to do window light, the light's gonna change throughout the day so maybe natural light's not the best situation there. So again, just to reiterate, when we're talking about gear and lighting and all that kinda stuff, there are no rules. You can do amazing work with the most unassuming pieces of gear, whatever it is, don't feel like you have to fit some sort of form. Every piece of gear has it's own set of strengths and weaknesses so the more you can understand what those options are, the better equipped you'll be to make decisions for yourself.

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