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Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 21 of 52

Lighting for Your Subject


Portrait Photography: Creating and Styling your Environment

Lesson 21 of 52

Lighting for Your Subject


Lesson Info

Lighting for Your Subject

Alright, so let's talk about lighting for your subject. We've covered this a little bit, but this is a grid that I pulled from my Con Man shoot. Typically, I will always start with my key light, the light that defines the subject. But in this particular case, the first thing that we did was we independently lit the background, and I wanted to make sure that the background light was not affecting the subject. So we got the background at the right tone that I wanted for the image, and we had him in there for perspective, and then also had him in there to make sure that light wasn't gonna be hitting him or wrapping around him or anything. Then, in the second image, we turned a key light on, and it's pretty good. You could kind of leave it there. Again, it's personal preference at this point. Excuse me. But we got the key light on there. This monitor is a little brighter than how the image actually appears, but so now you can see the background light hasn't changed at all. The subject's fa...

r enough away from the background light that my key light's not affecting the background and the background light's not affecting my subject, so they truly are both independent. But then, after that, I felt like the shadow was just a little too heavy on camera right, on his left side. So I wanted to bring that up a little bit. I still want there to be some definition. I want there to be shadow over there, but just not that heavy. So then I brought in a light right behind me at a slightly lower power than the key light, and you can see on this final frame, all that's changed is the shadow has gotten a little brighter, his eyes are a little brighter, and then from there I can add and control that contrast in post through retouching to the level that I want. This is an example of how I generally like to light things. Now, I've heard a lot of people ask about certain rules or things they've been told that you can never do. Rules are mean to be broken. Your images should feel like you want them to feel. I don't really have a lot of rules. I was trying to think of some things that I don't like or I try to avoid. One thing that jumped to mind is I do not like nose shadows crossing lips. Sometimes people will do that, maybe if it achieves a desired effect in terms of trying to feel spooky or something, but, in general, to me, it's like horrifying and it's distracting and I just hate it. So, I always try to make sure that that nose shadow doesn't cross somebody's mouth. I've heard various people ask me all the time about catch lights, which were basically like the lights reflecting in somebody's eyes, and I don't know if people still say this, but I think people have been taught over the years it's not a real portrait if you don't have catch lights. I could give two hoots about catch lights. It doesn't do a thing for me, and generally I think they're in my pictures because I'm using lights in front of people. But if they're not, it doesn't matter to me. I've seen it both ways and that's the last thing I'm concerned with. So, people have all kinds of rules and want to know what's the best way to light, what's the best place to put your key light or whatever, and the answer is it depends on what you're most interested in. There is no best way to do anything, really. I've seen and met photographers whose lighting is not that good, and they'll be the first to tell you that they don't even know the first thing about light, but their pictures are like so fascinating and amazing because there's so much soul in there. They put themselves into their work and it's like, especially when you meet them, you're like, "Holy cow, your work makes so much more sense to me now that I know you, because I get the same feeling having dinner with you as I do looking at your images." That should be the goal. That's the most interesting kind of work, when someone is able to pour themselves into their work. Not whether a portrait has catch lights or not, or even whether or not there's a nose shadow, but, again, you just have to decide what's important to you, what makes you feel most content and happy in your work, and those are your rules, but don't have to be anyone else's.

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

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.


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!